Here a thousand birds dispute
The gun going off
the random back fire
who handled who
and who rose to be recognized
and how the body came to be fresh
and why the girl was tacked
and how her wrists looked slight in hand cuffs
and the exact nature of the orange pin
and the load glassing her eyes
the load incalculable and
the incalculable load.
Here a thousand birds dispute
the fresh blood on the sidewalk
the battle line, how it was drawn
how the sides were chosen
had there been a trial
Or any doubt and if so
how it was framed
did the shot hang in the air and who
was there to hear it, and here
Hold this thought—4 are shot per day
As xenon follows its element
Or night its day time shadow
As penumbra fades into solids
and endures a rain of blows
—there falls a reign of blows
Here a thousand birds dispute
What went wrong
the stopped clock
the orange pin
the random call
the fall from childhood
the fall, the incalculable fall,
the fall incalculable
this time to not let the familiar
obsequies masking obscenity
twist lips, the birds dispute
these too, the televised worship of cinders is riveting
junk heartache abetted by hollow gestures
The birds’ disputations grow louder
frantic against glass
stunned splintered and hushed,
in shadowy, honeyed innocence
The gun going off
The random back fire…..
appears as random as asking
who’s got the gun
who owns the gun
who sold the gun
who pulls the gun
and who does the gun let sleep.
From Jump the Clock: New and Selected Poems (Nightboat Books, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Erica Hunt. Used with the permission of the poet.
with some help from Ahmad
I wanna write lyrical, but all I got is magical.
My book needs a poem talkin bout I remember when
Something more autobiographical
Mi familia wanted to assimilate, nothing radical,
Each month was a struggle to pay our rent
With food stamps, so dust collects on the magical.
Each month it got a little less civil
Isolation is a learned defense
When all you wanna do is write lyrical.
None of us escaped being a criminal
Of the state, institutionalized when
They found out all we had was magical.
White room is white room, it’s all statistical—
Our calendars were divided by Sundays spent
In visiting hours. Cold metal chairs deny the lyrical.
I keep my genes in the sharp light of the celestial.
My history writes itself in sheets across my veins.
My parents believed in prayer, I believed in magical
Well, at least I believed in curses, biblical
Or not, I believed in sharp fists,
Beat myself into lyrical.
But we were each born into this, anger so cosmical
Or so I thought, I wore ten chokers and a chain
Couldn’t see any significance, anger is magical.
Fists to scissors to drugs to pills to fists again
Did you know a poem can be both mythical and archeological?
I ignore the cataphysical, and I anoint my own clavicle.
Copyright © 2021 by Suzi F. Garcia. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
for the cloak of despair thrown over our bright & precious
corners but tell that to the lone bird who did not get the memo
dizzy & shouting into the newly unfamiliar absence of morning
light from atop a sagging branch outside my window—a branch
which, too, was closer to the sky before falling into the chorus
line of winter’s relentless percussion all of us, victims to this flimsy math
of hours I was told there was a cure for this. I was told the darkness
would surrender its weapons & retreat I know of no devils who evict themselves
to the point of permanence. and still, on the days I want
to be alive the sunlight leaves me stunned like a kiss
from someone who has already twirled away by the time my eyes open
on the days I want to be alive I tell myself I deserve a marching band
or at least a string section to announce my arrival above
ground for another cluster of hours. if not a string section, at least one
drummer & a loud-voiced singer well versed in what might move me
to dance. what might push my hand through a crowded sidewalk
towards a woman who looks like a woman from my dreams
which means nothing if you dream as I do, everyone a hazy quilt
of features only familiar enough to lead me through a cavern of longing
upon my waking & so I declare on the days I want to be alive I might drag
my drummer & my singer to your doorstep & ask you to dance
yes, you, who also survived the groaning machinery of darkness
you who, despite this, do not want to be perceived in an empire
awash with light in the sinning hours & we will dance
until our joyful heaving flows into breathless crying, the two often pouring
out of the chest’s orchestra at the same tempo, siblings in their arrival & listen,
there will be no horns to in the marching band of my survival.
the preacher says there will be horns at the gates of the apocalypse & I believed even myself
the angel of death as a boy, when I held my lips to a metal mouthpiece & blew out a tune
about autumn & I am pressing your ear to my window & asking if you can hear the deep
moans of the anguished bird & how the wind bends them into what sounds like a child
clumsily pushing air into a trumpet for the first time & there’s the joke:
only a fool believes that the sound at the end of the world would be sweet.
Copyright © 2022 by Hanif Abdurraqib. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
The scientists say fungi are more closely related to animals—to us—
than multicellular plants. The truth: the shiitake in your fridge
would treat you better than half the men in the bar tonight,
and it’d taste better too.
I won’t cry when the Anthropocene ends.
Instead, I’ll breathe in the spores and thank God.
You’re calling it the apocalypse,
and I tell you that it means lifting the veil—
I tell you this thing is ancient—a revelation. This is the last orgasm.
It’s Eternity. Soft skulls of mushrooms are pushing up
through our pores
and I’m whispering to you that they’re loving us like men would—
eating us raw, sucking on our bones, marrying our bodies—
only, this is better than men.
But when the mycelium fills my mouth, and I can no longer
breathe, I want to tell you how
you remind me of the moon; to hold your hand;
to let you know
I’m still here, but this
You’re looking at me with eyes that ask
if this is the end, but I think:
This feels like
Copyright © 2021 Edwin WIlliamson. This poem originally appeared on poets.org as part of the 2021 University and College Poetry Prizes. Used with permission of the author.
Your child is a little lion cub
ready to tear into
a hunk of antelope is
a fuse bursting into
electric sprays of light
is trouble, you
say, like me. Has
your eyes though, pale
as the eggs of quail.
Yes. And also, shouting
No! as I reach for her balled fist
I wonder if she is
our negative capability.
Dare I say she’s beautiful
or that seeing another photo
I feel inexplicably like a father
though I am nothing other
than an ex-girlfriend
falling in and out of touch?
I like to study
her features exactly,
but all her small perfect shadows.
Her sleeves like swallow’s wings,
the oblong ring she casts
moving down a slide,
some latent echo inside you
now there of me, some remnant
of the night we longed to
against the drum of a water tower,
but did it instead again and again
on a bed too small for one.
Would it stretch wonder
if all our immaterial actions
could sire the ambition that ignites
when we let a child sit
too long with her own design,
let her stack blocks
one cube at a time, sturdy as
a well-pointed chimney
or a giraffe’s dorsal spine
or a tower of solid cheerleaders
kneeling into sweaty backs and thighs,
until the pyramid’s gotten too high
and without warning
all the bodies tumble down,
dare I tell you
what your mother and I made?
Firsts and fights
that left the kitchen
whitened by a fine silt of flour
and bras twisted into
the untidy nests of lyrebirds
and closety love
at the drunken end of straight parties,
and in shower stalls.
Without sheet music
we were prodigious,
learning by ear and mouth
how to produce
each vocal score,
and when we were done
and we felt like making more,
we made it. And we made
sweet, fast nothings
with other people, too.
I could tell you stories of
late ovulation in garter snakes,
the courting rituals of macaques
playing hide and seek
behind tree trunks,
how when seals stay out to sea
months after mating
biologists call all that waiting
Which is to say that
making you took time.
From In Full Velvet. Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Johnson. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Sarabande Books, www.sarabande.org.
A picture in a newspaper
She has been burning palaces. “To see
The sparks look pretty in the wind?” Well, yes—
And something more. But women brave as she
Leave much for cowards, such as I, to guess.
But this is old, so old that everything
Is ashes here—the woman and the rest.
Two years are—oh! so long. Now you may bring
Some newer pictures. You like this one best?
You wish that you had lived in Paris then?
You would have loved to burn a palace, too?
But they had guns in France, and Christian men
Shot wicked little Communists like you.
You would have burned the palace?—Just because
You did not live in it yourself! Oh! why
Have I not taught you to respect the laws?
You would have burned the palace—would not I?
Would I? Go to your play. Would I, indeed?
I? Does the boy not know my soul to be
Languid and worldly, with a dainty need
For light and music? Yet he questions me.
Can he have seen my soul more near than I?
Ah! in the dusk and distance sweet she seems,
With lips to kiss away a baby’s cry,
Hands fit for flowers, and eyes for tears and dreams.
Can he have seen my soul? And could she wear
Such utter life upon a dying face:
Such unappealing, beautiful despair:
Such garments— soon to be a shroud—with grace?
Has she a charm so calm that it could breathe
In damp, low places till some frightened hour;
Then start, like a fair, subtle snake, and wreathe
A stinging poison with shadowy power?
Would I burn palaces? The child has seen
In this fierce creature of the Commune here,
So bright with bitterness and so serene,
A being finer than my soul, I fear.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994) by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the author.