Like everything delicious, I was warned against it.
Those mornings, I’d slowly descend the stairs
in my plaid Catholic school uniform skirt, find my parents
eating behind newspapers, coned in separate silences.
The only music was the throat-clearing rasp of toast
being scraped with too-little butter, three passes
of the blade, kkrrrrr, kkrrrr, kkrrr, battle hymn of the eighties.
When I pulled the butter close, my mother’s eyes
would twitch to my knife, measuring my measuring--
the goal, she’d shared from Weight Watchers,
a pat so thin the light shines through. If I disobeyed,
indulged, slathered my toast to glistening lace,
I’d earn her favorite admonition, predictable as Sunday’s
dry communion wafer: “A moment on the lips . . .”
I couldn’t stop my head from chiming, forever on the hips.
Hips? They were my other dangerous excess.
I was growing them in secret beneath my skirt,
and when I walked the dog after breakfast
and a truck whooshed past from behind, the trucker’s eyes
sizzling mine in his rear view, I knew my secret
wouldn’t stay a secret long. They were paired, up top,
by a swelling, flesh rising like cream to fill, then overfill
the frothy training bra. Everything softening on the shelf,
milk-made. Meanwhile, at breakfast, sitting on my secret,
I’d concede, scrape kkrrrrr, kkrrrr, kkrrr, lay down
my weapon, dry toast sticking in my craw. I’d think
of the girl from school, seventeen to my fourteen,
who crawled out the window of first-period bio
to meet her boyfriend from the Navy base. She’d collar
his peacoat, draw his mouth to her white neck,
or so I kept imagining. Slut, the girls whispered, watching
her struggling back through the window, throat
pinked from cold and his jaw’s dark stubble,
kkrrrrr, kkrrrr, kkrrr. Only fourth period,
and already I was hungry for lunch, or something.
Thank you, Republican parents, thank you,
Catholic education, thank you, Reganomics—
words I never knew I’d write. But I hereby acknowledge
repression’s inadvertent gifts. Folks who came of age
in liberal families, permissive cities, the free-love sixties,
how far they must go to transgress—
Vegas, latex, sex tapes, a sugaring of the nostrils?
Yet how close at hand rebellion is for me.
Merely making married love with my married husband,
I’m a filthy whore. Merely sitting down to breakfast
and raising the butter knife, I’m living on the edge.
Published in American Poetry Review (March/April, 2020: 40). Used with permission by the author.
Do you know what I was, how I lived?
It is a goldfinch
one of the two
of a friend,
sees hit the window
and fall into the fern.
No one hears
the small thump but she,
the youngest, sees
the flash of gold
against the mica sky
as the limp feathered envelope
crumples into the green.
How many times
in a life will we witness
the very moment of death?
She wants a box
and a small towel
some kind of comfort
for this soft body
that barely fits
in her palm. Its head
rolling side to side,
neck broke, eyes still wet
and black as seed.
Her sister, now at her side,
wears a dress too thin
for the season,
white as the winter
only weeks away.
She wants me to help,
wants a miracle.
Whatever I say now
I know weighs more
than the late fall’s
the jeweled leaves
of the maple and elm.
I know, too,
it is the darkest days
I’ve learned to praise —
the calendar packages up time,
the days shrink and fold away
until the new season.
We clothe, burn,
then bury our dead.
I know this;
they do not.
So we cover the bird,
story its flight,
imagine his beak
They pick the song
and sing it
over and over again.
Copyright © 2019 by Didi Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23 , 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
for my grandfather We don’t have heirlooms. Haven’t owned things long enough. We’re hoarding us in our stories. Like October 26—the Oklahoma Quick Stop gas at 90¢ and, in 158 more days, Passion of the Christ in a wildlife refuge with Rabbits foot and Black Capped birds—when Edgar Whetstone shoots himself. Like August 4, 1919. Like Ada Willis births the boy conceived with Boy gone somewhere. Like her prayers and circa 10 years past and Mr. Charlie saying, Edgar reads (you call that clean?) but please, girl, coloreds don’t become doctors. Like Edgar trashed his books. Like served, discharged. Like funeral director close to doctor as it got. Formaldehyde wrecked him like Time to get up out the South Detroit inspect dynamics burn a house down torch the county jail. Like now, October. Like I found, searching the internet, one shot of the asylum’s blurry hall empty but for an organ’s pipes. I saw Edgar deluding hymns rousing the two of us in Rock of Ages followed by Philippians 1:21—to die is gain. No way to prove the claim, you die in dream, you die for real. Our family still hanged from trees. Like if they ever fall, no one will hear it someday for a while.
Copyright © 2019 by Erica Dawson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
your now finished no-longer-aching no-longer-being
body in it, the candle beside you still lit—no other
light for now. I sit by it and look at it. Another in
from the one I was just peering-out towards now, over
rooftops, over the woods, first stars.
The candle burns. It is so quiet you can hear it burn.
Only I breathe. I hear that too.
Listen I say to you, forgetting. Do you hear it Dad. Listen.
What is increase. The cease of increase.
The cease of progress. What is progress.
What is going. The cease of going.
What is knowing. What is fruition.
The cease of. Cease of.
What is bloodflow. The cease of bloodflow
of increase of progress the best is over, is over-
thrown, no, the worst is yet to come, no, it is
7:58 p.m., it is late spring, it is capital’s apogee, the
flow’s, fruition’s, going’s, increase’s, in creases of
matter, brainfold, cellflow, knowing’s
pastime, it misfired, lifetime’s only airtime—candle says
you shall out yourself, out-
perform yourself, grow multiform—you shall self-identify as
mortal—here in this timestorm—this end-of-time
storm—the night comes on.
Now I wait here. Feel I can think. Feel there are no minutes in you—
Put my minutes there, on you, as hands—touch, press,
feel the flying-away, the leaving-sticks-behind under the skin, then even the skin
abandoned now, no otherwise now, even the otherwise gone.
I lay our open book on you, where we left off. I read. I read aloud—
grove, forest, jungle, dog—the words don’t grip-up into sentences for me,
it is in pieces,
I start again into the space above you—grandeur wisdom village—
tongue, street, wind—hornet—feeler runner rust red more—oh
more—I hear my voice—it is so raised—on you—are you—refinery portal
land scald difference—here comes my you, rising in me, my feel-
ing your it, my me, in-
creasing, elaborating, flowing, not yet released from form, not yet,
still will-formed, swarming, mis-
informed—bridegroom of spume and vroom.
I touch your pillowcase. I read this out to you as, in extremis, we await
those who will come to fix you—make you permanent. No more vein-hiss. A
masterpiece. My phantom
father-body—so gone—how gone. I sit. Your suit laid out. Your silver tie. Your
shirt. I don’t know
needed now. It’s day. Read now, you’d say. Here it is then, one last time, the
read. There is no
precedent for, far exceeds the ability of, will not
adapt to, cannot
but not for a while yet, not yet, but not for much longer, no, much
sooner than predicted, yes, ten times, a hundred times, all evidence
What do I tell my child.
Day has arrived and crosses out the candle-light. Here it is now the
silent summer—extinction—migration—the blue-jewel-
butterfly you loved, goodbye, the red kite, the dunnock, the crested tit, the cross-
billed spotless starling (near the top of the list) smokey gopher—spud-
wasp—the named storms, extinct fonts, ingots, blindmole-made-
tunnels—oh your century, there in you, how it goes out—
how lonely are we aiming for—are we there
yet—the orange-bellied and golden-shouldered parrots—
I read them out into our room, I feel my fingers grip this
page, where are the men who are supposed to come for you,
most of the ecosystem’s services, it says,
will easily become replaced—the soil, the roots, the webs—the organizations
of—the 3D grasses, minnows, mudflats—the virtual carapace—the simulated action of
forest, wetland, of all the living noise that keeps us
company. Company. I look at you.
Must I be this machine I am
become. This brain programming
blood function, flowing beating releasing channeling.
This one where I hold my head in my hands and the chip
slips in and click I go to find my in-
formation. The two-headed eagle, the
beaked snake, the feathered men walking sideways while looking
ahead, on stone, on wall, on pyramid, in
sacrifice—must I have already become when it is all still
happening. Behind you thin machines that ticked and hummed until just now
are off for good. What I wouldn’t give, you had said last night, for five more
minutes here. You can’t imagine it. Minutes ago.
Ago. It hums. It checks us now, monitoring
this minute fraction of—the MRI, the access-zone, the
aura, slot, logo, confession-
al—I feel the hissing multiplying
satellites out there I took for stars, the bedspread’s weave, your being tucked-in—
goodnight, goodnight—Once upon a time I say into my air,
and I caress you now with the same touch
as I caress these keys.
Copyright © 2015 by Jorie Graham. Originally published in the September/October 2015 issue of the Boston Review. Used with permission of the author.
Glinting golden through the trees, Apples of Hesperides! Through the moon-pierced warp of night Shoot pale shafts of yellow light, Swaying to the kissing breeze Swings the treasure, golden-gleaming, Apples of Hesperides! Far and lofty yet they glimmer, Apples of Hesperides! Blinded by their radiant shimmer, Pushing forward just for these; Dew-besprinkled, bramble-marred, Poor duped mortal, travel-scarred, Always thinking soon to seize And possess the golden-glistening Apples of Hesperides! Orbed, and glittering, and pendent, Apples of Hesperides! Not one missing, still transcendent, Clustering like a swarm of bees. Yielding to no man's desire, Glowing with a saffron fire, Splendid, unassailed, the golden Apples of Hesperides!
This poem is in the public domain.