You who pass coldly by when the police rush upon us,
When they wrench away our banners,
(Beautiful banners whose colors cry a demand for liberty)
You who criticize or condemn
(Declaring you “believe in suffrage,
Worked for it in your state, and your mother
knew Susan B. Anthony”)
Can you think in terms of a nation?
Could you die, (or face ridicule) for your belief?
For the freedom of women, for your freedom,
we are fighting;
For your safety we face danger, bear torture;
For your honor endure untellable insult.
To win democracy for you we defend the banners of democracy
Till our banners and our bodies
Are flung together on the pavement,
Waiting at the gates of government,
We have made of our weariness a symbol
Of women’s long wait for justice.
We have borne the hunger and hardship of prison,
To open people’s eyes
To men’s determination to imprison the power of women.
You women who pass coldly by,
Do you imagine your freedom is coming
As a summer wind blows over fields?
Slowly it has advanced by a sixty-years’ war,
(Those who have fought in it have not forgotten)
And that war is not won.
Strongly entrenched, the foe sits plotting.
Close to his lines our banners fly,
Signalling where to direct the fire,
Greater forces are needed, reserves and recruits.
Are you for winning or for waiting,
Women who watch the banners go down?
Women who say, “Suffrage is coming,”
While suffrage goes by you into Prussia?
Case to be content with applauding speeches, and praising politicians.
Patience is shameful.
Awake, rise, and act.
This poem is in the public domain.
translated from the Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and edited by Patricia Marsh Stefanovska
Time trampled on you the moment you set out.
In the coach across the border
the conductor wiped the seats
with a brochure on human rights someone left behind.
Rain didn’t beat against the windows of the other passengers,
it was only yours that the raindrops hit like stones,
just like at the exit from a metro station you know
where it’s always raining
and the little orphans sniff glue from plastic bags
sprawled on the escalators.
Your soul shivered in the buffer zone,
your body gaped like a cupboard emptied before moving out,
the night was the senselessness of the daytime sense.
You dreamt in snatches an unending dream of how
the nineteenth century travels around with a beard
like a drunk loser,
how the twentieth century has a haircut and a shave
at the town barber’s,
and how the twenty-first runs frantically between the two.
In the first city the Politkovskaya Club awaits you
in the second—the Joyce Irish Pub,
in the third—white houses with lace curtains
and a notice: Today is Dr. Roberto’s funeral.
White underwear hung
from the balconies of Hell.
But Heaven’s balconies
have long run out of clotheslines and pegs
to hang washed brains out to dry.
Grannies in the corners of the neighbourhood
didn’t even hold out a hand any more.
On the table in the small room of your fellow countryman:
two volumes of Das Kapital and a key for the toilet.
An empty noose dangled from the ceiling light.
If everything is all right, one day
you too will become a postman here.
You’ll unlock the town’s cemetery
with a key from a big keyring
and read to the dead women
the letters from their dead husbands.
And then the neighbourhood boys
in their long black coats
will come upon you
and afterwards no one will
remember you any more,
not that you were here nor that you were born somewhere else.
Времето те прегази во мигот кога тргна.
Во автобусот преку границата
кондуктерот ги избриша седиштата
со заборавена брошура за човековите права.
Врз прозорците на другите патници не врнеше,
само врз твојот капките удираа како камења,
исто како на излезот од едно познато метро
кај што врне без престан
и малите сирачиња дуваат лепак во пластични ќесиња
исполегнати на подвижните скали.
Душата ти трепереше во тампон зоната,
телото ти зјаеше како испразнет шкаф пред селидба,
ноќта беше бесмислата на денската смисла.
Со прекини сонуваше нераскинлив сон:
како деветнаесеттиот век патува наоколу брадосан
божем пијан губитник,
како дваесеттиот век се стрижи и бричи во градска берберница,
а дваесет и првиот безглаво трча помеѓу нив.
Во првиот град те пречека Клубот Политковскаја,
во вториот - ирскиот паб Џојс,
во третиот - бели куќи со завеси од тантели
и со некролог: денес ќе го погребеме д-р Роберто.
Од балконите на пеколот
висеше долна бела облека.
На балконите во рајот, пак,
одамна снема јажиња и штипки
за сушење испрани мозоци.
Бабичките во ќошињата на квартот
не пружаа повеќе ни рака.
На масата во сопчето на твојот сонародник:
два тома од Капиталот и клуч за тоалетот.
Од лустерот се нишаше слободна јамка.
Ако биде сѐ добро, еден ден овде
ќе станеш и ти поштар
кој со врзопче клучеви
ќе ги отклучува градските гробишта
и на мртвите жени ќе им ги чита
писмата од мртвите мажи.
И тогаш ќе те пресретнат
во долги црни капути
и потоа никој повеќе
нема да се сеќава на тебе
ни дека си бил тука ни дека си се родил некаде.
Copyright © 2020 by Lidija Dimkovska. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The gospel of the journey is realizing
that eating is a political act,
that the Woodstock of the mind
is everywhere on a tiny planet like ours,
that the inventory of the body
is equivalent to the trauma
that comes from crop-dust in our eyes,
carcinogens in the crotches of our panties,
black women doing the math
that put white men on the moon.
And there are always
more questions for consideration—
like admitting that it’s hard to tell who’s shooting
while we’re praying with our eyes closed.
Copyright © 2017 by Rosemarie Dombrowski. Originally published in West Texas Literary Review (March 2017). Used with the permission of the author.
chucking rocks at the wasps’ nest,
their gathered hum then sudden sting
at the nape of my neck. Oh, how I paid—
still pay—for the recklessness
of boys. Little Bretts. Little Jeffs.
Little knives to my breast.
How lucky they were to never
be held down, to never see
their voices crawl the air like fire!
How desperately I yearned to be them,
to storm the halls in macho gospel:
matching blue jackets, blood-filled
posture and made-you-flinch.
How different would I be,
how much bigger, if I had been
given room enough to be
a country's golden terror?
Copyright © 2020 by Rachel McKibbens. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Flower-decked, wide-skirted, from her oval frame
She watches us between the drooping curls
And smiles a little as she always smiled.
She was a woman of the older day:
She could not cry of elemental things,
She suffered them, scarce knowing what they were—
She could not speak of them aloud to men.
Lady and slave, saint and barbarian,
She was not just cold or merciful,
She only swiftly hated or adored;
Her heart was narrow-bound and passionate,
Smoothed out and wreathed with blue forget-me-nots
Valentine-fashion, lest the red should show.
She could not speak of love aloud to men—
She could have died for love:
Brave for her love’s sake against gods or friends,
Brave for her love’s sake against even men
(The more real gods of her idolatry)
She was not wise nor public-spirited;
She could bear heroes, never understand them.
Her passions hid themselves in sentiment
Or broke in sobs at night-time silently
Lest anyone should hear them and be grieved.
She drugged her mind when all her work was through
For a brief time, with other women’s work,
Stories of feverish love she dreamed might be,
Or knew was not, or wished could be for her,
Of women like herself, men she had seen
Through the rose-glow of courtship long ago,
Ere she was flung from haloed ignorance
Into the pit of Truth her wedding-ring
Was trap to—and through all the shock held still
And smiled a little as she always smiled.
She lived within a world with walls made proof
From noise of evil or suffering,
Shut in her cell from other women’s pain;
But then she hated other women still
Beneath her gentleness and courtesy;
They might desire to win some man of hers,
Husband or son or brother that she loved.
Sincere in self-deception, loving God,
(That personal God who could not help the ill,
But it must be thanked for good), doing for Him
Kind concrete little deeds to palliate
The great world-sores the while she shut her eyes
To the sores’ causes—
Still she sits, a sphinx,
Half goddess, half a tigress! Silent still
And smiling: gentle, good, she bends and smiles
Between the drooping curls, below the wreath,
Down at the fetter-bracelets on her hands,
Smiles up a little still from out the frame
That circumscribes her like her world of old.
This poem is in the public domain.
Banks are the temples of America.
This is a holy war.
Our economy is our religion.
Giannina Braschi on the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001
This is my son that you have taken,
Guard lest your gold-vault walls be shaken,
Never again to speak or waken.
This, that I gave my life to make,
This you have bidden the vultures break—
Dead for your selfish quarrel’s sake!
This that I built all of my years,
Made with my strength and love and tears,
Dead for pride of your shining spears!
Just for your playthings bought and sold
You have crushed to a heap of mold
Youth and life worth a whole world’s gold—
This was my son, that you have taken,
Guard lest your gold-vault walls be shaken—
This—that shall never speak or waken!
This poem is in the public domain.
To love a country as if you’ve lost one: 1968,
my mother leaves Cuba for America, a scene
I imagine as if standing in her place—one foot
inside a plane destined for a country she knew
only as a name, a color on a map, or glossy photos
from drugstore magazines, her other foot anchored
to the platform of her patria, her hand clutched
around one suitcase, taking only what she needs
most: hand-colored photographs of her family,
her wedding veil, the doorknob of her house,
a jar of dirt from her backyard, goodbye letters
she won’t open for years. The sorrowful drone
of engines, one last, deep breath of familiar air
she’ll take with her, one last glimpse at all
she’d ever known: the palm trees wave goodbye
as she steps onto the plane, the mountains shrink
from her eyes as she lifts off into another life.
To love a country as if you’ve lost one: I hear her
—once upon a time—reading picture books
over my shoulder at bedtime, both of us learning
English, sounding out words as strange as the talking
animals and fair-haired princesses in their pages.
I taste her first attempts at macaroni-n-cheese
(but with chorizo and peppers), and her shame
over Thanksgiving turkeys always dry, but countered
by her perfect pork pernil and garlic yuca. I smell
the rain of those mornings huddled as one under
one umbrella waiting for the bus to her ten-hour days
at the cash register. At night, the zzz-zzz of her sewing
her own blouses, quinceañera dresses for her nieces
still in Cuba, guessing at their sizes, and the gowns
she’d sell to neighbors to save for a rusty white sedan—
no hubcaps, no air-conditioning, sweating all the way
through our first vacation to Florida theme parks.
To love a country as if you’ve lost one: as if
it were you on a plane departing from America
forever, clouds closing like curtains on your country,
the last scene in which you’re a madman scribbling
the names of your favorite flowers, trees, and birds
you’d never see again, your address and phone number
you’d never use again, the color of your father’s eyes,
your mother’s hair, terrified you could forget these.
To love a country as if I was my mother last spring
hobbling, insisting I help her climb all the way up
to the U.S. Capitol, as if she were here before you today
instead of me, explaining her tears, cheeks pink
as the cherry blossoms coloring the air that day when
she stopped, turned to me, and said: You know, mijo,
it isn’t where you’re born that matters, it’s where
you choose to die—that’s your country.
Copyright © 2019 by Richard Blanco. From How to Love a Country (Beacon Press, 2019). Reprinted with permission by Beacon Press.
This is how a country goes bad.
Reason does not govern
The social order, in the Republic.
The old philosophers thought reason
If spoken plainly could alter
The governing order of the world.
Was it a comfort to believe
That someone held the Word
In their mind to establish
The world beyond thinking
The world on the ground
Upheld and upholding
The mind in its cottage
The thought of the world
Apart from the mind
Stable of immortal horses?
And the long disputations of Abelard...
What was the discourse?
What was the virtue of speech
Had there not been a world
To uphold and a mind to think
Of worlds that were not itself
The mind echoing the outside
Creak of tree-frogs at night—
The window and witness—
To tell the story of what it saw?
Was there never a song
A dogma close to Paradise
Worthy of our tenderness?
Were the tongues always
Deceived and the spoils
Bestowed by conquerors
The purchase of blindness?
On the wall is the writing
By hand of the last poet
To leave the last city behind.
Her words are calligraphy.
The drawing made by them
The letters of the writing
What it says is that here
A hand once made a mark.
O liberty to write your precious
Freedom like a faulty wire.
Through the window the maple trees
Shining and swaying.
Lights sputter as the hand moves.
Well then, to write dark letters
On dark pages in the dark hall.
It matters that the words hold on
And the meanings cling like iron.
Copyright © 2020 by Mark McMorris. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 1, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Half broken on that smoky night,
hunched over sake in a serviceman's dive
somewhere in Naha, Okinawa,
nearly fifty years ago,
I read of the Saigon Buddhist monks
who stopped the traffic on a downtown
so their master, Thich Quang Dúc, could take up
the lotus posture in the middle of the street.
And they baptized him there with gas
and kerosene, and he struck a match
and burst into flame.
That was June, nineteen-sixty-three,
and I was twenty, a U.S. Marine.
The master did not move, did not squirm,
he did not scream
in pain as his body was consumed.
Neither child nor yet a man,
I wondered to my Okinawan friend,
what can it possibly mean
to make such a sacrifice, to give one's life
with such horror, but with dignity and conviction.
How can any man endure such pain
and never cry and never blink.
And my friend said simply, "Thich Quang Dúc
had achieved true peace."
And I knew that night true peace
for me would never come.
Not for me, Nirvana. This suffering world
is mine, mine to suffer in its grief.
Half a century later, I think
of Bô Tát Thich Quang Dúc,
revered as a bodhisattva now—his lifetime
building temples, teaching peace,
and of his death and the statement that it made.
Like Shelley's, his heart refused to burn,
even when they burned his ashes once again
in the crematorium—his generous heart
turned magically to stone.
What is true peace, I cannot know.
A hundred wars have come and gone
as I've grown old. I bear their burdens in my bones.
Mine's the heart that burns
today, mine the thirst, the hunger in the soul.
Old master, old teacher,
what is it that I've learned?
Copyright © 2012 by Sam Hamill. From Border Songs (Word Palace Press, 2012). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
The lover's footprint in the sand the ten-year-old kid's bare feet in the mud picking chili for rich growers, not those seeking cultural or ethnic roots, but those whose roots have been exposed, hacked, dug up and burned and in those roots do animals burrow for warmth; what is broken is blessed, not the knowledge and empty-shelled wisdom paraphrased from textbooks, not the mimicking nor plaques of distinction nor the ribbons and medals but after the privileged carriage has passed the breeze blows traces of wheel ruts away and on the dust will again be the people's broken footprints. What is broken God blesses, not the perfectly brick-on-brick prison but the shattered wall that announces freedom to the world, proclaims the irascible spirit of the human rebelling against lies, against betrayal, against taking what is not deserved; the human complaint is what God blesses, our impoverished dirt roads filled with cripples, what is broken is baptized, the irreverent disbeliever, the addict's arm seamed with needle marks is a thread line of a blanket frayed and bare from keeping the man warm. We are all broken ornaments, glinting in our worn-out work gloves, foreclosed homes, ruined marriages, from which shimmer our lives in their deepest truths, blood from the wound, broken ornaments— when we lost our perfection and honored our imperfect sentiments, we were blessed. Broken are the ghettos, barrios, trailer parks where gangs duel to death, yet through the wretchedness a woman of sixty comes riding her rusty bicycle, we embrace we bury in our hearts, broken ornaments, accused, hunted, finding solace and refuge we work, we worry, we love but always with compassion reflecting our blessings— in our brokenness thrives life, thrives light, thrives the essence of our strength, each of us a warm fragment, broken off from the greater ornament of the unseen, then rejoined as dust, to all this is.
From Selected Poems/Poemas Selectos, by Jimmy Santiago Baca, translated by Tomas H. Lucero and Liz Fania Werner. Copyright © 2009. Used by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved.