we let our hair down. It wasn't so much that we worried about what people thought or about keeping it real but that we knew this was our moment. We knew we'd blow our cool sooner or later. Probably sooner. Probably even before we got too far out of Westmont High and had kids of our own who left home wearing clothes we didn't think belonged in school. Like Mrs. C. whose nearly unrecognizably pretty senior photo we passed every day on the way to Gym, we'd get old. Or like Mr. Lurk who told us all the time how it's never too late to throw a Hail Mary like he did his junior year and how we could win everything for the team and hear the band strike up a tune so the cheer squad could sing our name, too. Straight out of a Hallmark movie, Mr. Lurk's hero turned teacher story. We had heard it a million times. Sometimes he'd ask us to sing with him, T-O-N-Y-L-U-R-K Tony Tony Lurk Lurk Lurk. Sin ironia, con sentimiento, por favor, and then we would get back to our Spanish lessons, opening our thin textbooks, until the bell rang and we went on to the cotton gin in History. Really, this had nothing to do with being cool. We only wanted to have a moment to ourselves, a moment before Jazz Band and after Gym when we could look in the mirror and like it. June and Tiffany and Janet all told me I looked pretty. We took turns saying nice things, though we might just as likely say, Die and go to hell. Beauty or hell. No difference. The bell would ring soon. With thanks to "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time—
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend
Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene
An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.
I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You—
Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.
If I've killed one man, I've killed two—
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
12 October 1962
From The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Used with permission.
If when my wife is sleeping and the baby and Kathleen are sleeping and the sun is a flame-white disc in silken mists above shining trees,— if I in my north room dance naked, grotesquely before my mirror waving my shirt round my head and singing softly to myself: "I am lonely, lonely, I was born to be lonely, I am best so!" If I admire my arms, my face, my shoulders, flanks, buttocks against the yellow drawn shades,— Who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?
Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.
When we could no longer walk or explore, we decided to wear
the maps and would sit talking, pointing to places, sometimes
touching mountains, canyons, deserts on each other’s body,
and that was how we fell in love again, sitting next to
each other in the home that was not our home, writing letters
with crooked words, crooked lines we handed back and forth,
the huge hours and spaces between us growing smaller and smaller.
Copyright © 2017 Mark Irwin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.
Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre
These poisoned sensations have to be
Accepted if they’re to be
Up calories on my phone
Not that I’m counting
Don’t even like numbers
It’s something vestigial
It comes in bad minutes
To teach my body something's in control
Something little & unholy, wrong idea
Of information, chiseling a transparent minute
Into myself with the afterimage of a form
If I did this kind of thing
On the bigger machine it’d be
Things than this are bombing
The world. A terrible
Fate is coming to power tomorrow. I’m reading
The early poems of Sherman Alexie. Desolation
Of secular life. I remember the luxury of speculating
All mystical traditions grew up
In the souls of a disciplined few
Turned in on themselves while under
Occupation by tyrants. That was then. This
Morning I could see one comfort: to become rock
Hard. Could imagine one comfort:
To have become rock. I had no
Imagination. I had his. I had theirs. “Formalism
& grammar are ways to be thin...” masochism
Merely thought of, the idea of a calorie
Most boring way to feel womanly doing itself to me
This morning I was panicking, burning, I was desperate
Scanning the body of my bedfellow
Its beautiful cheeks & chin
& long smooth abdomen
My silence growing fat like an old fruit
Still making me sick
It makes me sick I longed
For the wrong thing
I longed for death. I dreamed of stone
sent by hand
19 January 2017
Copyright © 2017 by Ariana Reines. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 5, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Sometimes I don’t know if I’m having a feeling
so I check my phone or squint at the window
with a serious look, like someone in a movie
or a mother thinking about how time passes.
Sometimes I’m not sure how to feel so I think
about a lot of things until I get an allergy attack.
I take my antihistamine with beer, thank you very much,
sleep like a cut under a band aid, wake up
on the stairs having missed the entire party.
It was a real blast, I can tell, for all the vases
are broken, the flowers twisted into crowns
for the young, drunk, and beautiful. I put one on
and salute the moon, the lone face over me
shining through the grates on the front door window.
You have seen me like this before, such a strange
version of the person you thought you knew.
Guess what, I’m strange to us both. It’s like
I’m not even me sometimes. Who am I? A question
for the Lord only to decide as She looks over
my résumé. Everything is different sometimes.
Sometimes there is no hand on my shoulder
but my room, my apartment, my body are containers
and I am thusly contained. How easy to forget
the obvious. The walls, blankets, sunlight, your love.
Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Siegel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 8, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.