What was rampant in me was not wisteria. Perhaps decay, or loss of reflection.
No one like me gets old, or so I thought, even as I watched the days fade into each other.
Was I no one? Which phrase means a grown-up girl: mica-gilded; pure myth; gone?
Thoreau might say I was trying to find the door to nothingness, that the wild was already in me.
However, I walked out my bed to find my skin, only to return moondrunk, bramble-laden,
stripped to sinew, a broken syntax. No denying how I got here, I laid down among the tall grass
and came up a specter. I came up everywhere.
Copyright © 2017 Taylor Johnson. This poem originally appeared in Tin House. Used with permission of the author.
No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss'd
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
This poem is in the public domain, and was published in Keats: Poems Published in 1820 (The Clarendon Press, 1909).
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
From Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, published by Harper & Brothers Publishers. Copyright © 1956 by Norma Millay Ellis.
Translated by Robin Myers
I don’t understand how we walk around the world
as if there were a single way for each of us, a kind
of life stamped into us like a childhood injection,
a cure painstakingly released into the blood with every passing year
like a poison transmuted into antidote
against any possible disobedience that might
awaken in the body. But the body isn’t mere
submissive matter, a mouth that cleanly swallows
whatever it’s fed. It’s a lattice
of little filaments, as I imagine
threads of starlight must be. What can never
be touched: that’s the body. What lives outside
the law when the law is muscled and violent,
a boulder plunging off a precipice
and crushing everything in its path. How do they manage
to wander around so happily and comfortably in their bodies, how
do they feel so sure, so confident in being what they are: this blood,
these organs, this sex, this species? Haven’t they ever longed
to be a lizard scorching in the sun
every day, or an old man, or a vine
clutching a trunk in search of somewhere
to hold on, or a boy sprinting till his heart
bursts from his chest with sheer brute energy,
with sheer desire? We’re forced
to be whatever we resemble. Haven’t
you ever wished you knew what it would feel like to have claws
or roots or fins instead of hands, what it would mean
if you could only live in silence
or by murmuring or crying out
in pain or fear or pleasure? Or if there weren’t any words
at all and so the soul of every living thing were measured
by the intensity it manifests
once it’s set free?
Yo no sé cómo se hace para andar por el mundo
como si solo hubiera una posibilidad para cada cual,
una manera de estar vivos inoculada en las venas durante la niñez,
un remedio que va liberándose lentamente en la sangre
a lo largo de los años igual que un veneno
que se convierte en un antídoto
contra cualquier desobediencia que pudiera
despertarse en el cuerpo. Pero el cuerpo no es
una materia sumisa, una boca que traga limpiamente
aquello con que se la alimenta. Es un entramado
de pequeños filamentos, como imagino que son los hilos
de luz de las estrellas. Lo que nunca podría
ser tocado: eso es el cuerpo. Lo que siempre
queda afuera de la ley cuando la ley es maciza
y violenta, una piedra descomunal cayendo
desde lo alto de una cima
arrasando lo que encuentra. ¿Cómo pueden entonces
andar tan cómodos y felices en su cuerpo, cómo hacen
para tener la certeza, la seguridad de que son eso: esa sangre,
esos órganos, ese sexo, esa especie? ¿Nunca quisieron
ser un lagarto prendido cada día del calor del sol
hasta quemarse el cuero, un hombre viejo, una enredadera
apretándose contra el tronco de un árbol para tener de dónde
sostenerse, un chico corriendo hasta que el corazón
se le sale del pecho de pura energía brutal,
de puro deseo? Nos esforzamos tanto
por ser aquello a lo que nos parecemos. ¿Nunca
se te ocurrió cómo sería si en lugar de manos tuvieras garras
o raíces o aletas, cómo sería
si la única manera de vivir fuera en silencio o aullando
de placer o de dolor o de miedo,
si no hubiera palabras
y el alma de cada cosa viva se midiera
por la intensidad de la que es capaz una vez
que queda suelta?
© 2019 Claudia Masin and Robin Myers. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) on September 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
There's a movie on, so I watch it.
The usual white people
in love, distress. The usual tears.
Good camera work, though:
sunshine waxing the freckled curves
of a pear, a clenched jaw—
more tragedy, then.
I get up for some scotch and Stilton.
I don’t turn on the lights.
I like moving through the dark
while the world sleeps on,
serene as a stealth bomber
nosing through clouds…
call it a preemptive strike,
“a precautionary measure
so sadly necessary in these perilous times”.
I don’t call it anything
but greediness: the weird glee
of finding my way without incident.
I know tomorrow I will regret
having the Stilton. I will regret
not being able to find
a book to get lost in,
and all those years I could get lost
in anything. Until then
it’s just me and you,
plunked down behind enemy lines
with no maps, no matches.
The woods deep.
Copyright © 2007 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Slate. Used with the permission of the poet.
When I rose into the cradle
of my mother’s mind, she was but
a girl, fighting her sisters
over a flimsy doll. It’s easy
to forget how noiseless I could be
spying from behind my mother’s eyes
as her mother, bulging with a baby,
a real-life Tiny Tears, eclipsed
the doorway with a moon. We all
fell silent. My mother soothed the torn
rag against her chest and caressed
its stringy hair. Even before the divergence
of girl from woman, woman from mother,
I was there: quiet as a vein, quick
as hot, brimming tears. In the decades
before my birthday, years before
my mother’s first blood, I was already
prized. Hers was a hunger
that mattered, though sometimes
she forgot and I dreamed the dream
of orange trees then startled awake
days or hours later. I could’ve been
almost anyone. Before I was a daughter,
I was a son, honeycomb clenching
the O of my mouth. I was a mother—
my own—nursing a beginning.
Copyright © 2019 by Ama Codjoe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I'm few deja-vus from repeating my whole life I need to study the shapes of things before death Before declaring myself a better failure: waiting mostly for files to get uploaded or downloaded. My movements are by the book. I will remember history, all of it, before uttering the next sentence And in its silence, I will navigate my headache “something is not what it is" And we are lost several worlds over Exploring the art of other civilizations After we subjugate them And leave the trees behind To carry on the sensitive task Of clearing the air Stop and think of the pointlessness of desire We keep going, wasting days between orgasms And thousands of poems To keep the pleasantness of clothes We are all implicated In the father's death, The mother’s death etc.
Copyright © 2018 by Maged Zaher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 16, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
There's nothing I can't find under there. Voices in the trees, the missing pages of the sea. Everything but sleep. And night is a river bridging the speaking and the listening banks, a fortress, undefended and inviolate. There's nothing that won't fit under it: fountains clogged with mud and leaves, the houses of my childhood. And night begins when my mother's fingers let go of the thread they've been tying and untying to touch toward our fraying story's hem. Night is the shadow of my father's hands setting the clock for resurrection. Or is it the clock unraveled, the numbers flown? There's nothing that hasn't found home there: discarded wings, lost shoes, a broken alphabet. Everything but sleep. And night begins with the first beheading of the jasmine, its captive fragrance rid at last of burial clothes.
From Book of My Nights (BOA, 2001) by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2001. Appears with permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.