The moon will shine for God
knows how long.
As if it still matters. As if someone
is trying to recall a dream.
Believe the brain is a cage of light
& rage. When it shuts off,
something else switches on.
There’s no better reason than now
to lock the doors, the windows.
Turn off the sprinklers
& porch light. Save the books
for fire. In darkness,
we learn to read
what moves along the horizon,
across the periphery of a gun scope—
the flicker of shadows,
the rustling of trash in the body
of cities long emptied.
Not a soul lives
in this house &
this house & this
house. Go on, stiffen
the heart, quicken
the blood. To live
in a world of flesh
& teeth, you must
learn to kill
what you love,
& love what can die.
Copyright © 2016 by Burlee Vang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Someone must’ve gone fetched him out, towed the drowned, wing-wrecked bird through a slick of his own feathery want, though, more likely, he passed out from knowing, and the falling distance made the surface turn hard to his body. It must’ve mattered to his father, who, winged himself, had to watch fishermen circle his son, like figures in a painting, pondering as if there were meaning in water. Is this any way to treat the ones who flee and wash ashore, prodding their bodies with toe, stick, a disbelieving finger? This morning, walking along the road, I found a hummingbird against the curb, marveled at the glasswork of its stillness, how the light was falling too, so I could see shifting green and blue, the tiny cage, the dark needle of its bill, the dark eyes the ants will carry away. I can’t say if it died from wanting too much or from finding what it wanted too much. Surely, Icarus had the heart of a hummingbird. If they revived him, would he have risen back into the sky, damaged wiser, or, bratty, simply blamed his crap wings? I nudged the bird with my shoe, not expecting, but half wishing, a startling burst through our myth-brightened world. But the boy who ODed in a Porta-Potty, was no bird at all. When his father found him, his sun-jonesing heart large from hovering, his friends—junk-caked, booze-skanked themselves—turned away, puked in a ditch, praying he’d break the surface of his misery. Even outside the funeral home, dark coats blocks long, dragging in suits they last wore at graduation, for some sliver of rachis and vane jutting out where wings might be, they do not want to die, they only want to feel less, less this. The way we, too, standing in a line of pity and scorn, curse all this away, we who love those who love the air, the sudden lift and veer.
Copyright © 2017 James Hoch. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2017
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands
From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.
The sheep get up and make their many tracks
And bear a load of snow upon their backs,
And gnaw the frozen turnip to the ground
With sharp quick bite, and then go noising round
The boy that pecks the turnips all the day
And knocks his hands to keep the cold away
And laps his legs in straw to keep them warm
And hides behind the hedges from the storm.
The sheep, as tame as dogs, go where he goes
And try to shake their fleeces from the snows,
Then leave their frozen meal and wander round
The stubble stack that stands beside the ground,
And lie all night and face the drizzling storm
And shun the hovel where they might be warm.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 17, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.