Copyright © 2017 Stephen Gibson. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.
Four less one is three.
Three less two is one.
One less three
is what, is who,
The first cell that learned to divide
learned to subtract.
add salt to hunger.
add time to trees.
Zero plus anything
is a world.
and no other,
by each breath changed.
add death to life.
love without swerve what this will bring.
Sister, father, mother, husband, daughter.
Like a cello
forgiving one note as it goes,
Originally published in The Beauty (Knopf, 2015); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
Every head should have a body. Every body a soul the size of a jukebox loaded with tunes our bodies know without us. My hips begin to remember the pleasure I was born to my mouth to hum the songs I never knew I didn’t know. My body moving alone among others moving and singing until I am one with the other bodies my soul sings to. Each honkytonk hymn making holy what my head forgot to love.
From Filched (Dos Madres Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by James Tolan. Used with the permission of Holly Messitt.
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.
It must be coming, mustn’t it? Churches
and saloons are filled with decent humans.
A mother wants to feed her daughter,
fathers to buy their children things that break.
People laugh, all over the world, people laugh.
We were born to laugh, and we know how to be sad;
we dislike injustice and cancer,
and are not unaware of our terrible errors.
A man wants to love his wife.
His wife wants him to carry something.
We’re capable of empathy, and intense moments of joy.
Sure, some of us are venal, but not most.
There’s always a punchbowl, somewhere,
in which floats a…
Life’s a bullet, that fast, and the sweeter for it.
It’s the same everywhere: Slovenia, India,
Pakistan, Suriname—people like to pray,
or they don’t,
or they like to fill a blue plastic pool
in the back yard with a hose
and watch their children splash.
Or sit in cafes, or at table with family.
And if a long train of cattle cars passes
along West Ridge
it’s only the cattle from East Ridge going to the abattoir.
The unbroken world is coming,
(it must be coming!), I heard a choir,
there were clouds, there was dust,
I heard it in the streets, I heard it
announced by loudhailers
mounted on trucks.
Copyright © 2015 by Thomas Lux. Used with permission of the author.
Once, I knew a fine song,
—It is true, believe me,—
It was all of birds,
And I held them in a basket;
When I opened the wicket,
Heavens! They all flew away.
I cried, “Come back, little thoughts!”
But they only laughed.
They flew on
Until they were as sand
Thrown between me and the sky.
This poem is in the public domain.