No, love is not dead in this heart these eyes and this mouth
that announced the start of its own funeral.
Listen, I've had enough of the picturesque, the colorful
and the charming.
I love love, its tenderness and cruelty.
My love has only one name, one form.
Everything disappears. All mouths cling to that one.
My love has just one name, one form.
And if someday you remember
O you, form and name of my love,
One day on the ocean between America and Europe,
At the hour when the last ray of light sparkles
on the undulating surface of the waves, or else a stormy night
beneath a tree in the countryside or in a speeding car,
A spring morning on the boulevard Malesherbes,
A rainy day,
Just before going to bed at dawn,
Tell yourself-I order your familiar spirit-that
I alone loved you more and it's a shame
you didn't know it.
Tell yourself there's no need to regret: Ronsard
and Baudelaire before me sang the sorrows
of women old or dead who scorned the purest love.
When you are dead
You will still be lovely and desirable.
I'll be dead already, completely enclosed in your immortal body,
in your astounding image forever there among the endless marvels
of life and eternity, but if I'm alive,
The sound of your voice, your radiant looks,
Your smell the smell of your hair and many other things
will live on inside me.
In me and I'm not Ronsard or Baudelaire
I'm Robert Desnos who, because I knew
and loved you,
Is as good as they are.
I'm Robert Desnos who wants to be remembered
On this vile earth for nothing but his love of you.
A la mysterieuse
By Robert Desnos, translated and edited by William Kulik, and published by Ecco Press in The Selected Poems of Robert Desnos. © 1991 by William Kulik. Used with Permission. All rights reserved.
My pants could maybe fall down when I dive off the diving board. My nose could maybe keep growing and never quit. Miss Brearly could ask me to spell words like stomach and special. (Stumick and speshul?) I could play tag all day and always be "it." Jay Spievack, who's fourteen feet tall, could want to fight me. My mom and my dad—like Ted's—could want a divorce. Miss Brearly could ask me a question about Afghanistan. (Who's Afghanistan?) Somebody maybe could make me ride a horse. My mother could maybe decide that I needed more liver. My dad could decide that I needed less TV. Miss Brearly could say that I have to write script and stop printing. (I'm better at printing.) Chris could decide to stop being friends with me. The world could maybe come to an end on next Tuesday. The ceiling could maybe come crashing on my head. I maybe could run out of things for me to worry about. And then I'd have to do my homework instead.
From If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries . . ., published by Macmillan, 1981. Used with permission.
I dreamed I was a mannequin in the pawnshop window of your conjectures. I dreamed I was a chant in the mouth of a monk, saffron-robed syllables in the religion of You. I dreamed I was a lament to hear the deep sorrow places of your lungs. I dreamed I was your bad instincts. I dreamed I was a hummingbird sipping from the tulip of your ear. I dreamed I was your ex-boyfriend stored in the basement with your old baggage. I dreamed I was a jukebox where every song sang your name. I dreamed I was in an elevator, rising in the air shaft of your misgivings. I dreamed I was a library fine, I've checked you out too long so many times. I dreamed you were a lake and I was a little fish leaping through the thin reeds of your throaty humming. I must've dreamed I was a nail, because I woke beside you still hammered. I dreamed I was a tooth to fill the absences of your old age. I dreamed I was a Christmas cactus, blooming in the desert of my stupidity. I dreamed I was a saint's hair-shirt, sewn with the thread of your saliva. I dreamed I was an All Night Movie Theater, showing the flickering black reel of my nights before I met you. I must've dreamed I was gravity, I've fallen for you so damn hard.
Copyright © 2011 by Sean Thomas Dougherty. Reprinted from Sasha Sings the Laundry on the Line with the permission of BOA Editions.
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold,
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d,
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceiv’d:
For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.
This poem is in the public domain.
If music be the food of love, play on.
This is the house that music built:
each note a fingertip’s purchase,
rung upon rung laddering
across the unspeakable world.
As for those other shrill facades,
composed to soothe regiments
of eyes, guilt-reddened,
lining the parade route
(horn flash, woodwind wail) . . .
well, let them cheer.
I won’t speak judgment on
the black water passing for coffee,
white water for soup.
We supped instead each night
on Chopin—hummed our grief-
soaked lullabies to the rapture
rippling through. Let it be said
while in the midst of horror
we fed on beauty—and that,
my love, is what sustained us.
[Alice Herz-Sommer, survivor of the Theresienstadt ghetto / concentration camp]
Copyright © 2016 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 5, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
the blk(est) night
be a blk girl
& her waist
& her fit
& her jeans
& her mama ain't nothing
& the bitches
on the corner
ain't nothing like her
& can't nobody sweat her style
Copyright © 2015 by Mahogany Browne. From Smudge (Button Poetry, 2015). Used with permission of the author.
He winds through the party like wind, one of the just who live alone in black and white, bewildered by the eden of his body. (You, you talk like winter rain.) He's the meaning of almost-morning walking home at five A.M., the difference a night makes turning over into day, simple birds staking claims on no sleep. Whatever they call those particular birds. He's the age of sensibility at seventeen, he isn't worth the time of afternoon it takes to write this down. He's the friend that lightning makes, raking the naked tree, thunder that waits for weeks to arrive; he's the certainty of torrents in September, harvest time and powerlines down for miles. He doesn't even know his name. In his body he's one with air, white as a sky rinsed with rain. It's cold there, it's hard to breathe, and drowning is somewhere to be after a month of drought.
"A Muse" from Some Are Drowning, by Reginald Shepherd. Copyright © 1995. Reprinted by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed. And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.
From In a Time of Violence, published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994. Copyright © 1994 by Eavan Boland. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
The devil’s in my neck.
Everything I hear is overviolined,
even the wind, even the wind.
It’s like walking in nurdles up to my chest,
squeaky and slow.
It’s spring, the blooming branches
nearly hide the many dead ones.
A squirrel, digging for a nut, upends my frail
tomato plant and fails
to replant it, even though he has the tools.
I find this kind of squirrely oblivion everywhere.
I was a man filled to the top
of my spine, filled to the lump
on the back of my head, with hope.
Then I read a few thousand history books.
Little, and nothing, perturbs me now.
Even the beheadings, even the giant meat hooks
in the sky, more frequent each day,
bother me not
a tittle, not a jot.
"Blue with Collapse" from To the Left of Time by Thomas Lux. Copyright © 2016 by Thomas Lux. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The mirror is dirty from the detritus of dailiness—
I look in the mirror and am freckled.
A week out from being cleaned, maybe two, maybe more,
The Milky Way shows itself in the secret silver,
This star chart in my own bathroom,
Aglow not in darkness but with the lights on,
Everything suddenly so clear.
It is not smear I am looking at, but galaxies.
It is not toothpaste and water spots—
When I look in the mirror, it is writing and numbers,
Musical notes, 1s and 0s, Morse-like codes, runes.
I am looking over into the other side,
And over there, whoever they are, it turns out
They look a lot like me. Like me, but freckled.
Copyright © 2016 by Alberto Ríos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Aya at fifteen Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself upside down across the sofa, reading, one hand idly sunk into a bowl of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on. I think they are growing gills, swimming up the sweet air to reach you. Small girl, my slim miracle, they multiply. In the black hours when I lie sleepless, near drowning, dread-heavy, your face is the bright lure I look for, love's hook piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.
From Tell Me by Kim Addonizio. Copyright © 2000 by Kim Addonizio. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.
Patience is wider than one once envisioned, with ribbons of rivers and distant ranges and tasks undertaken and finished with modest relish by natives in their native dress. Who would have guessed it possible that waiting is sustainable— a place with its own harvests. Or that in time's fullness the diamonds of patience couldn't be distinguished from the genuine in brilliance or hardness.
From Say Uncle by Kay Ryan, published by Grove Press. Copyright © 2000 by Kay Ryan. Used by permission. All rights reserved.