We say he is dead; ah, the word is too 
      somber; 
’Tis the touch of God, on the weary 
      eyes,
That has caused them to close, in peace-
      ful slumber, 
   To open with joy, in the upper skies. 

We say he is gone; we have lost him for- 
      ever; 
His face and his form we will cherish no 
      more; 
While happy and safe, just over the river, 
   He is waiting for us, where partings 
      are o’er. 

Ah, sad are our hearts, as we gaze on
      him sleeping,
And bitter and sad are the tears gush-
      ing down; 
And yet,— but we cannot see, for the 
      weeping,—
   He has only exchanged the cross, for 
      the crown.

And though the dark mists of grief may 
      surround us, 
   Obscuring the face of the Father above, 
And blindly we grope, still His arms are 
      around us, 
   To guide and sustain with His pitying 
      love. 

And he whom we love, is safe in His 
      keeping, 
   Yes, safe and secure, whatever may 
      come; 
But ne’er will we know how sweetly he’s 
      sleeping. 
   Till God, in His mercy, shall gather us 
      home.

Songs from the Wayside (Self published, 1908) by Clara Ann Thompson. Copyright © 1908 by Clara Ann Thompson. This poem is in the public domain. 

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
     I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
     He did a lazy sway . . .
     He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
     O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
     Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man’s soul.
     O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
     "Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
       Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
       I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
       And put ma troubles on the shelf."

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
     "I got the Weary Blues
       And I can’t be satisfied.
       Got the Weary Blues
       And can’t be satisfied—
       I ain’t happy no mo’
       And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.

From The Weary Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) by Langston Hughes. This poem is in the public domain. 

                The world is a beautiful place 
                                                           to be born into 
if you don’t mind happiness 
                                             not always being 
                                                                        so very much fun 
       if you don’t mind a touch of hell
                                                       now and then
                just when everything is fine
                                                             because even in heaven
                                they don’t sing 
                                                        all the time

             The world is a beautiful place
                                                           to be born into
       if you don’t mind some people dying
                                                                  all the time
                        or maybe only starving
                                                           some of the time
                 which isn’t half so bad
                                                      if it isn’t you

      Oh the world is a beautiful place
                                                          to be born into
               if you don’t much mind
                                                   a few dead minds
                    in the higher places
                                                    or a bomb or two
                            now and then
                                                  in your upturned faces
         or such other improprieties
                                                    as our Name Brand society
                                  is prey to
                                              with its men of distinction
             and its men of extinction
                                                   and its priests
                         and other patrolmen
                                                         and its various segregations
         and congressional investigations
                                                             and other constipations
                        that our fool flesh
                                                     is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
                                                           for a lot of such things as
         making the fun scene
                                                and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
                                         and singing low songs of having 
                                                                                      inspirations
and walking around 
                                looking at everything
                                                                  and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
                              and even thinking 
                                                         and kissing people and
     making babies and wearing pants
                                                         and waving hats and
                                     dancing
                                                and going swimming in rivers
                              on picnics
                                       in the middle of the summer
and just generally
                            ‘living it up’

Yes
   but then right in the middle of it
                                                    comes the smiling
                                                                                 mortician

                                           

From A Coney Island of the Mind, copyright ©1955 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

after Gwendolyn Brooks

My wild grief didn’t know where to end.
Everywhere I looked: a field alive and unburied.
Whole swaths of green swallowed the light.
All around me, the field was growing. I grew out
My hair in every direction. Let the sun freckle my face.
Even in the greenest depths, I crouched
Towards the light. That summer, everything grew
So alive and so alone. A world hushed in green.
Wildest grief grew inside out.

I crawled to the field’s edge, bruises blooming
In every crevice of my palms.
I didn’t know I’d reached a shoreline till I felt it
There: A salt wind lifted
The hair from my neck.
At the edge of every green lies an ocean.
When I saw that blue, I knew then:
This world will end.

Grief is not the only geography I know.
Every wound closes. Repair comes with sweetness,
Come spring. Every empire will fall:
I must believe this. I felt it
Somewhere in the field: my ancestors
Murmuring Go home, go home—soon, soon.
No country wants me back anymore and I’m okay.

If grief is love with nowhere to go, then
Oh, I’ve loved so immensely.
That summer, everything I touched
Was green. All bruises will fade
From green and blue to skin.
Let me grow through this green
And not drown in it.
Let me be lawless and beloved,
Ungovernable and unafraid.
Let me be brave enough to live here.
Let me be precise in my actions.
Let me feel hurt.
I know I can heal.
Let me try again—again and again.

Copyright © 2022 by Laurel Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 21, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

The line-storm clouds fly tattered and swift, 
  The road is forlorn all day, 
Where a myriad snowy quartz stones lift, 
  And the hoof-prints vanish away. 
The roadside flowers, too wet for the bee,
  Expend their bloom in vain. 
Come over the hills and far with me, 
  And be my love in the rain. 

The birds have less to say for themselves 
  In the wood-world’s torn despair
Than now these numberless years the elves, 
  Although they are no less there: 
All song of the woods is crushed like some 
  Wild, easily shattered rose. 
Come, be my love in the wet woods; come,
  Where the boughs rain when it blows. 

There is the gale to urge behind 
  And bruit our singing down, 
And the shallow waters aflutter with wind 
  From which to gather your gown.    
What matter if we go clear to the west, 
  And come not through dry-shod? 
For wilding brooch shall wet your breast 
  The rain-fresh goldenrod. 

Oh, never this whelming east wind swells   
  But it seems like the sea’s return 
To the ancient lands where it left the shells 
  Before the age of the fern; 
And it seems like the time when after doubt 
  Our love came back amain.      
Oh, come forth into the storm and rout 
  And be my love in the rain.

This poem is in the public domain.

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

This poem is in the public domain.

The splendid body is meat, flexor
and flesh pumping, pulling, anti-
gravity maverick just standing
upright all over museums and
in line for the bus and in the laundry
aisle where it’s just standing there
smelling all the detergent like
it’s no big deal. So what if a couple
of its squishy parts are suspended
within, like beach-bungled jellyfish
in a shelved jar, not doing anything?
Nothing on this side of the quantum
tunnel is perfect. The splendid body,
though, is splendid in the way
it keeps its steamy blood in, no matter
how bad it blushes. And splendid
in how it opens its mouth and
these invisible vibrations come
rippling out—if you put your wrist
right up to it when that happens
it feels somewhat like the feet
of many bees. The splendid body
loves the juniper smell of gin, loves
the warmth of printer-fresh paper,
and the sound fallen leaves make
under the wheel of a turning car.
If you touch it between the legs,
the splendid body will quicken
like bubbles in a just-on teakettle.
It knows it can’t exist forever, so
it’s collecting as many flavors as it can—
saffron, rainwater, fish-skin, chive.
Do not distract it from its purpose,
which is to feel everything it can find.

Copyright © 2023 by Rebecca Lindenberg. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

Going home the longest way around,
we tell stories, build
from fragments of our lives
maps to guide us to each other.
We make collages of the way
it might have been
had it been as we remembered,
as we think perhaps it was,
tallying in our middle age
diminishing returns.

Last night the lake was still;
all along the shoreline
bright pencil marks of light, and
children in the dark canoe pleading,
“Tell us scary stories.”
Fingers trailing in the water,
I said someone I loved who died
told me in a dream
to not be lonely, told me
not to ever be afraid.

And they were silent, the children,
Listening to the water
Lick the sides of the canoe.

It’s what we love the most
can make us most afraid, can make us
for the first time understand
how we are rocking in a dark boat on the water,
taking the long way home.

From Another River: New and Selected Poems (Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 2005) by Pat Schneider. Copyright © 2005 by Pat Schneider. Used with the permission of the Estate of Pat Schneider.

Come,
The primrose blooms in the garden.
The mourning dove calls in the sycamore tree.
Rain on the sill of the window,
sounds of every kind of weather
are sweet in this old house.
Come.

In the pantry, jars of beans,
lentils, sunflower seeds. Sesame. Jars
of preserves, small cans
of spices stand in rows.

It is here.

A woman stands in the doorway
and calls. Her apron bleached from washings
and from hanging in the sun. Behind her,
through the doorway, the house
is dark and cool, and word
that she calls into the late afternoon,
into the shadows gathering under the lilacs,
into the long, long shadow of the sycamore tree
is come.
Come home.

From Another River: New and Selected Poems (Amherst Writers & Artists Press, 2005) by Pat Schneider. Copyright © 2005 by Pat Schneider. Used with the permission of the Estate of Pat Schneider. 

I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn't,
So I jumped in and sank.

I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn't a-been so cold
I might've sunk and died.

     But it was      Cold in that water!      It was cold!

I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.

I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn't a-been so high
I might've jumped and died.

     But it was      High up there!      It was high!

So since I'm still here livin',
I guess I will live on.
I could've died for love—
But for livin' I was born

Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I'll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.

     Life is fine!      Fine as wine!      Life is fine!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

There is an evening twilight of the heart, 
    When its wild passion-waves are lulled to rest, 
And the eye sees life’s fairy scenes depart, 
    As fades the day-beam in the rosy west. 
’Tis with a nameless feeling of regret
    We gaze upon them as they melt away, 
And fondly would we bid them linger yet, 
    But Hope is round us with her angel lay, 
Hailing afar some happier moonlight hour;
Dear are her whispers still, though lost their early power. 

In youth the cheek was crimsoned with her glow;
    Her smile was loveliest then; her matin song
Was heaven’s own music, and the note of woe
    Was all unheard her sunny bowers among. 
Life’s little word of bliss was newly born;
    We knew not, cared not, it was born to die,
Flushed with the cool breeze and the dews of morn,
    With dancing heart we gazed on the pure sky, 
And mocked the passing clouds that dimmed its blue,
Like our own sorrows then—as fleeting and as few. 

And manhood felt her sway too—on the eye, 
    Half realized, her early dreams burst bright, 
Her promised bower of happiness seemed nigh, 
    Its days of joy, its vigils of delight;
And though at times might lower the thunder-storm,
    And the red lightnings threaten, still the air
Was balmy with her breath, and her loved form,
    The rainbow of the heart was hovering there. 
’Tis in life’s noontide she is nearest seen,
Her wreath the summer flower, her robe of summer green. 

But though less dazzling in her twilight dress, 
    There’s more of heaven’s pure beam about her now;
That angel-smile of tranquil loveliness, 
    Which the heart worships, glowing on her brow;
That smile shall brighten the dim evening star 
    That points our destined tomb, nor e’er depart
Till the faint light of life is fled afar, 
    And hushed the last deep beating of the heart;
The meteor-bearer of our parting breath, 
A moonbeam in the midnight cloud of death. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 22, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

If the pain doesn’t come back, 
what will I write about? Will the poems 
have tendon and teeth? I didn’t get 
right the sonnet of all its colors. 
I did not find the exact dagger of phrase 
about the long loss of my life.

Hope is all I do and am. 
I don’t think I’m poet enough 
to make you taste this mango; 
or see that sutured sunset unless 
from a hospital bed. 
I was good for carving. 

There will be kisses, music, street names. 
Loved ones will go where the gone do. 
What if I don’t want to (write it: can’t) 
write about these things. 
What if I would rather feel 
than create feeling? 
What then? Go ahead. 

Copyright © 2024 by Liv Mammone. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 3, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

If you can keep your head when all about you
   Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
   But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
   Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
   And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
   If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
   And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
   Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
   And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
   And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
   To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
   Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
   Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
   If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—
   Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

This poem is in the public domain.