translated by Cola Franzen
A woman sleeps on an island
and from her hair is born the dwelling place
of memories and wild birds.
Her body is a figurehead,
and they say that since
she fell asleep on the island
she seems to have been touched by the rains
of madness, that her hair blossoms each evening
next to the music of the sea. Others say
her eyelids trace maps of strange geographies,
savage tattoos kept only in the tenuous
circle of her dreams.
A woman sleeps on an island
and stops being herself,
free now of the land.
She sails and drinks
the vastness of the sea.
Seeds fill her floating hair;
she is an island
surrounded by stars.
Una mujer duerme en una isla
y del cabello nacen las moradas
de memorias y pájaros salvajes.
Su cuerpo es un mascarón de proa
y dicen que desde
que durmió en la isla
pareciera haber sido tocada por las lluvias
de la demencia, que su pelo florece en los atardeceres
junto a la música del mar. Otros dicen
que sus párpados dibujan mapas de extrañas geografías,
tatuajes salvajes que ella guarda sólo
en la redondez tenue del sueño.
Una mujer duerme en una isla
y deja de ser ella misma
libre ahora de la tierra.
Navega y bebe
la inmensidad del mar.
Las semillas llenan su pelo que flota
y ella es una isla
rodeada de estrellas.
Marjorie Agosín, “Un mujer duerme en una isla / A Woman Sleeps on an Island,” translated by Cola Franzen, from Sargasso. Copyright © 1993 by Marjorie Agosin. Translation copyright © 1993 by Cola Franzen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of White Pine Press, www.whitepine.org.
translated by Eugene Richie
for Grace Schulman
Lounging in a beach chair
I am moved by the meekness of the ocean,
the distances it has traveled
to unfold in frothing ringlets by my feet.
At high tide, rippling iridescent serpents
form under the aquamarine skin.
The sky is a luminous scarlet arch;
the spring sunset, a perfect cliché.
In the warm glow of the setting sun,
the images are serene, gentle, stripped of all haste—
the hush of this supple silence
makes me close my eyes,
and the old white swan
I saw yesterday in the twilight appears.
I see it crane its neck toward the sky
opening its beak ever so briefly
to puncture my heart
with its desolate song.
In the gathering darkness
I hear the desperate fanning of its ruffled feathers
as it sails toward the magenta shroud of its fate.
Elegía al cisne
para Grace Schulman
Recostado en una silla playera
me conmueve la humildad del océano,
las distancias que ha recorrido
para desdoblarse en rizos espumosos a mis pies.
En la pleamar, iridiscentes serpientes ondulantes
se forman bajo la epidermis aguamarina.
El cielo es una resplandeciente bóveda escarlata;
el atardecer primaveral, un clisé perfecto.
En el caluroso resplandor del sol poniente,
las imágenes son serenas, apacibles, despojadas de toda urgencia.
La paz de este dócil sosiego
me induce a cerrar los ojos,
y el viejo cisne blanco
que contemplé ayer en el crepúsculo aparece.
Lo veo lanzar su cuello hacia el cielo,
abriendo su pico brevemente
para agujerear mi corazón
con un canto desolado.
Y, en la oscuridad circundante,
escucho el desesperado abanicar de sus plumas despeinadas
cuando zarpa hacia la mortaja purpúrea de su suerte.
From My Night with / Mi noche con Federíco García Lorca by Jaime Manrique. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2003 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.
I wake myself imagining the shape
of the day and where I will find
myself within it. Language is not often
in that shape,
but sentences survive somehow
through the islands of dark matter,
the negative space often more important
than the positive.
Imagine finding you look at the world
completely different upon waking one day.
You do not know if this is permanent.
Anything can change, after all,
for how else would you find yourself
in this predicament or this opportunity,
depending on the frame? A single thought
can make loneliness seem frighteningly new.
We destroy the paths of rivers to make room for the sea.
Copyright © 2016 by Adam Clay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 24, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Balancing on crutches in the shallows
near her mother, a girl missing her right lower leg
swings her body and falls, laughing.
Behind them, her father and brother play catch.
Up the beach, the incoming tide nibbles
a sleeping woman, another beer is opened.
A young veteran walks by with a high and tight
buzz cut and Semper Fi shoulder tattoo, his right leg
a prosthesis to mid-thigh. He approaches
the family, removes the prosthesis, and joins
the girl in the water. They lift shorn legs high
and smack them down. No one talks about the war.
Copyright © 2010 by Marie-Elizabeth Mali. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Thirty seconds of yellow lichen.
Thirty seconds of coil and surge,
fern and froth, thirty seconds
of salt, rock, fog, spray.
moving slowly to the left―
A door in a rock through which you could see
laved by the weedy tide.
Like filming breathing―thirty seconds
of tidal drag, fingering
the smaller stones
down the black beach―what color
was that, aquamarine?
their salmon-colored hands.
I stood and I shot them.
I stood and I watched them
right after I shot them: thirty seconds of smashed sea
while the real sea
thrashed and heaved―
They were the most boring movies ever made.
to mount them together and press play.
Thirty seconds of waves colliding.
with its open attitudes, seals
riding the swells, curved in a row
just under the water―
over and over.
Before it’s over.
Copyright @ 2014 by Dana Levin. Used with permission of the author.
(at St. Mary’s)
may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that
From Quilting: Poems 1987–1990 by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 2001 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions Ltd. All rights reserved.
Mine are the night and morning,
The pits of air, the gulf of space,
The sportive sun, the gibbous moon,
The innumerable days.
I hid in the solar glory,
I am dumb in the pealing song,
I rest on the pitch of the torrent,
In slumber I am strong.
No numbers have counted my tallies,
No tribes my house can fill,
I sit by the shining Fount of Life,
And pour the deluge still;
And ever by delicate powers
Gathering along the centuries
From race on race the rarest flowers,
My wreath shall nothing miss.
And many a thousand summers
My apples ripened well,
And light from meliorating stars
With firmer glory fell.
I wrote the past in characters
Of rock and fire the scroll,
The building in the coral sea,
The planting of the coal.
And thefts from satellites and rings
And broken stars I drew,
And out of spent and aged things
I formed the world anew;
What time the gods kept carnival,
Tricked out in star and flower,
And in cramp elf and saurian forms
They swathed their too much power.
Time and Thought were my surveyors,
They laid their courses well,
They boiled the sea, and baked the layers
Or granite, marl, and shell.
But he, the man-child glorious,—
Where tarries he the while?
The rainbow shines his harbinger,
The sunset gleams his smile.
My boreal lights leap upward,
Forthright my planets roll,
And still the man-child is not born,
The summit of the whole.
Must time and tide forever run?
Will never my winds go sleep in the west?
Will never my wheels which whirl the sun
And satellites have rest?
Too much of donning and doffing,
Too slow the rainbow fades,
I weary of my robe of snow,
My leaves and my cascades;
I tire of globes and races,
Too long the game is played;
What without him is summer's pomp,
Or winter’s frozen shade?
I travail in pain for him,
My creatures travail and wait;
His couriers come by squadrons,
He comes not to the gate.
Twice I have moulded an image,
And thrice outstretched my hand,
Made one of day, and one of night,
And one of the salt sea-sand.
One in a Judaean manger,
And one by Avon stream,
One over against the mouths of Nile,
And one in the Academe.
I moulded kings and saviours,
And bards o’er kings to rule;—
But fell the starry influence short,
The cup was never full.
Yet whirl the glowing wheels once more,
And mix the bowl again;
Seethe, fate! the ancient elements,
Heat, cold, wet, dry, and peace, and pain.
Let war and trade and creeds and song
Blend, ripen race on race,
The sunburnt world a man shall breed
Of all the zones, and countless days.
No ray is dimmed, no atom worn,
My oldest force is good as new,
And the fresh rose on yonder thorn
Gives back the bending heavens in dew.
From American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, Volume I, published by Library of America.
You should lie down now and remember the forest, for it is disappearing-- no, the truth is it is gone now and so what details you can bring back might have a kind of life. Not the one you had hoped for, but a life --you should lie down now and remember the forest-- nonetheless, you might call it "in the forest," no the truth is, it is gone now, starting somewhere near the beginning, that edge, Or instead the first layer, the place you remember (not the one you had hoped for, but a life) as if it were firm, underfoot, for that place is a sea, nonetheless, you might call it "in the forest," which we can never drift above, we were there or we were not, No surface, skimming. And blank in life, too, or instead the first layer, the place you remember, as layers fold in time, black humus there, as if it were firm, underfoot, for that place is a sea, like a light left hand descending, always on the same keys. The flecked birds of the forest sing behind and before no surface, skimming. And blank in life, too, sing without a music where there cannot be an order, as layers fold in time, black humus there, where wide swatches of light slice between gray trunks, Where the air has a texture of drying moss, the flecked birds of the forest sing behind and before: a musk from the mushrooms and scalloped molds. They sing without a music where there cannot be an order, though high in the dry leaves something does fall, Nothing comes down to us here. Where the air has a texture of drying moss, (in that place where I was raised) the forest was tangled, a musk from the mushrooms and scalloped molds, tangled with brambles, soft-starred and moving, ferns And the marred twines of cinquefoil, false strawberry, sumac-- nothing comes down to us here, stained. A low branch swinging above a brook in that place where I was raised, the forest was tangled, and a cave just the width of shoulder blades. You can understand what I am doing when I think of the entry-- and the marred twines of cinquefoil, false strawberry, sumac-- as a kind of limit. Sometimes I imagine us walking there (. . .pokeberry, stained. A low branch swinging above a brook) in a place that is something like a forest. But perhaps the other kind, where the ground is covered (you can understand what I am doing when I think of the entry) by pliant green needles, there below the piney fronds, a kind of limit. Sometimes I imagine us walking there. And quickening below lie the sharp brown blades, The disfiguring blackness, then the bulbed phosphorescence of the roots. But perhaps the other kind, where the ground is covered, so strangely alike and yet singular, too, below the pliant green needles, the piney fronds. Once we were lost in the forest, so strangely alike and yet singular, too, but the truth is, it is, lost to us now.
From The Forest by Susan Stewart, published by the University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 1995 by Susan Stewart. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
I saw the civil sun drying earth’s tears —
Her tears of joy that only faster flowed,
Fain would I stretch me by the highway side,
To thaw and trickle with the melting snow,
That mingled soul and body with the tide,
I too may through the pores of nature flow.
But I alas nor tinkle can nor fume,
One jot to forward the great work of Time,
‘Tis mine to hearken while these ply the loom,
So shall my silence with their music chime.
This poem is in the public domain.
Is this a time to be cloudy and sad, When our mother Nature laughs around; When even the deep blue heavens look glad, And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground? There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren, And the gossip of swallows through all the sky; The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den, And the wilding bee hums merrily by. The clouds are at play in the azure space And their shadows at play on the bright-green vale, And here they stretch to the frolic chase, And there they roll on the easy gale. There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower, There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree, There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower, And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea. And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray, On the leaping waters and gay young isles; Ay, look, and he'll smile thy gloom away.
This poem is in the public domain.
The white violet
is scented on its stalk,
fragile as agate,
lies fronting all the wind
among the torn shells
on the sand-bank.
The greater blue violets
flutter on the hill,
but who would change for these
who would change for these
one root of the white sort?
your grasp is frail
on the edge of the sand-hill,
but you catch the light—
frost, a star edges with its fire.
This poem is in the public domain.
Poetry makes nothing happen
—W. H. Auden
the people in the streets
are plucked up like
radishes from dark earth,
heads beat the purplish-red
of ripeness. the women lead
the stupid & brutish to a
future they don’t deserve.
the organized are still
unbearably human, they
still fuck & hurt & harm
& are not actually sorry.
the people still fight
each other too much &
the system not enough
& too often it is not a fight
but a bullet. too many men
want to be in the front
& don’t want to march
anywhere in particular.
some of us have degrees
& noses to look down.
so many want a version
of old days that never
existed. many are still unwilling
to grow a vocabulary for personhood,
even from the words already in them.
so many will deny they to a sibling
simply because. our people are
messy & messed up & a mess.
nothing about our people is romantic
& it shouldn’t be. our people deserve
poetry without meter. we deserve our
own jagged rhythm & our own uneven
walk toward sun. you make happening happen.
we happen to love. this is our greatest
Copyright © 2017 by Nate Marshall. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I was a real cute kid. Ask anybody. My father
likes to tell a story about a modeling scout
who spotted us out midday shopping
at the Briarwood Mall. Imagine five-year-old me,
all sailor stripes & junior afro, doing a full pull-up
on the magazine kiosk: Got any Keats? No doubt
something I’d heard watching Jeopardy
with granny, but it mattered not
to the tickled pink lady. Oh, you’re just soooo
sweet! What a cutie-sweet! she decreed, handing dad
her flowery card. It wouldn’t stop there.
My 10th birthday, whole neighborhood invited,
I strutted down the stairs in a white sports coat
like, Look, folks. In case you’re wondering,
I’m the host! My mother told Mrs. Holbrook
He was born full-grown with a briefcase. As I’m sure
you will be, little sewn seed, undone. Future me.
Dear son, the defacing starts much later.
After desegregation sparks the awkward clutch
of Coach clutches on campus busses, but before
the riots in Baltimore. It started a few days before
I turned thirty, Invisibility. Home from teaching
the sons & daughters of Indiana farm hands
it’s ok to write poems, same briefcase slung
tired across wrinkled linen, you’d have thought
I accosted her—Maria—when I stooped down
to pluck my mother a pair of magenta tulips
from her own thriving garden, & she shrieked
Why are you staring at my lawn! Maria who
used to slide teen-me a twenty to occupy her
daughter in the playpen while she grabbed
a bottle of Bordeaux from the basement
before the real nanny arrived. She must have seen
straight through me, into the distant past, alternate
reality when your grandparents’ neighboring
residence would have been a servants’, & I
in that moment, for the first time, unsaw her.
As primer. A kind of manila cardstock
I’d failed to imprint. Son, sometimes this happens.
It happens in gated spaces when you look like
a lock pick. See the 44th president. Scratch that.
It happens in gated spaces, as the lone
locksmith. & if I’m being honest,
the happy way things are going between
me & E., you may well resemble him.
Don’t count yourself precious. Truth is,
too soon, you will bend down to rob a few
bright blossoms from your own land &
look away from the earth
to make certain you haven’t been ogled.
This phantom guilt applied to a nape
through the eyes of every blind Maria,
here’s the key: try not to let it die.
Now run to the closest mirror, quickly
remember how sweet the fleeting love.
Copyright © 2017 by Marcus Wicker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.