You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.
Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:
head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:
the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return
"Theories of Time and Space" from Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
I Celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.
This poem is in the public domain.
As one within a moated tower, I lived my life alone; And dreamed not other granges’ dower, Nor ways unlike mine own. I thought I loved. But all alone As one within a moated tower I lived. Nor truly knew One other mortal fortune’s hour. As one within a moated tower, One fate alone I knew. Who hears afar the break of day Before the silvered air Reveals her hooded presence gray, And she, herself, is there? I know not how, but now I see The road, the plain, the pluming tree, The carter on the wain. On my horizon wakes a star. The distant hillsides wrinkled far Fold many hearts’ domain. On one the fire-worn forests sweep, Above a purple mountain-keep And soar to domes of snow. One heart has swarded fountains deep Where water-lilies blow: And one, a cheerful house and yard, With curtains at the pane, Board-walks down lawns all clover-starred, And full-fold fields of grain. As one within a moated tower I lived my life alone; And dreamed not other granges’ dower Nor ways unlike mine own. But now the salt-chased seas uncurled And mountains trooped with pine Are mine. I look on all the world And all the world is mine.
This poem is in the public domain.
A bookkeeping man,
tho one sure to knock on wood,
and mostly light
at loose ends—my friend
who is superstitiously funny, & always
after I’d told him
about Simone’s first time
almost alone, she’d
gripped her sweater, right hand
then, she held on to herself
so, so took a few
oh, he said, you know what? Leonard
Cohen, when he was 13,
after his father’s
out-of-the-blue heart attack, he slit
one of the old man’s
ties, & slipped a
message into it, then buried it
in his backyard—
73 now, he can’t
recall what he wrote—(threadbare
heartfelt prayer perhaps,
his first writing anyway.
The need to comfort
ourselves is always
strongest at the start,
do you think
that’s true? my friend asked.
I don’t, he said,
I think the need
gets stronger, he said, it
just gets stronger.
Copyright © 2015 by David Rivard. Used with permission of the author.
I thought that there were two
The good voice
And my voice
I thought the good voice was buried
And I would have to go
Under my voice
Which is glittery and cold
To get there
Then I heard them
A drumbeat and hawks
Many wild voices
Do you hear it?
I hear it now
Taking me up
Copyright @ 2014 by Melissa Broder. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on August 26, 2014.
If it were up to me, the bible would begin: A man steps into a field... I'd forgotten what was in the background when you took the photo of me I wouldn't see until later. When I did, it was just a wall, and my smile was a mouthful of rocks. A little after it was clicked off the T.V. screen's light condensed down a drain. Even when the television had become an aquarium full of black water that last bright dot burned in my eye. On the back of my photo you wrote, This isn't you, and you were right, it no longer was.
Copyright © 2012 by Matt Rasmussen. Used with permission of the author.
I am baptized by coins with a faint smell of elderflower. I transfigure, blink in one part of the house and then another. A holy night unfolds and stands weakly. A child chemist mixes a star in a test tube. Glass shatters lightly. I am a saint. I soothe with marmalade and tonic. I embroider a pillow and give it a squeeze. I attach a heavy gold necklace to a horse rump. We clang along across the empire. Every church window flies open in greeting. Every bell rings weary. I stretch my arms out and receive light. My face appears on a tree. Red flowers spring forward. I attend a funeral, and then another. My face appears in water, lightly distorted. I am tired like the ancients were tired.
Copyright © 2011 by Natalie Lyalin. Used with permission of the author.
Is is. There is no distinction between ideology and image. One. He records his name on a gold medallion. Two. The philosopher must say is. The world is legion. The self is a suffering form. Is is. Waves rise and fall, but the sea remains.
From Voyager, published by University of California. Copyright © 2011 by Srikanth Reddy. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
For Carl Solomon
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford’s floated out and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate Fugazzi’s, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox,
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge,
a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills off Empire State out of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark’s bleak furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,
who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary indian angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz or sex or soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to converse about America and Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took ship to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago,
who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the FBI in beards and shorts with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incomprehensible leaflets,
who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also wailed,
who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and trembling before the machinery of other skeletons,
who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in policecars for committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication,
who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked angel came to pierce them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden threads of the craftsman’s loom,
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a sweetheart a package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the bed, and continued along the floor and down the hall and ended fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt and come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset, and were red eyed in the morning but prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked in the lake,
who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver—joy to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses’ rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too,
who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams, woke on a sudden Manhattan, and picked themselves up out of basements hung-over with heartless Tokay and horrors of Third Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemployment offices,
who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the snowbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steam-heat and opium,
who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of the Hudson under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion,
who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of Bowery,
who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of onions and bad music,
who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and rose up to build harpsichords in their lofts,
who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned with flame under the tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of theology,
who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish,
who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom,
who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg,
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade,
who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave up and were forced to open antique stores where they thought they were growing old and cried,
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,
who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free beer,
who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway window, jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed phonograph records of nostalgic European 1930s German jazz finished the whiskey and threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans in their ears and the blast of colossal steamwhistles,
who barreled down the highways of the past journeying to each other’s hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude watch or Birmingham jazz incarnation,
who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity,
who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver & brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,
who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each other’s salvation and light and breasts, until the soul illuminated its hair for a second,
who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for impossible criminals with golden heads and the charm of reality in their hearts who sang sweet blues to Alcatraz,
who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the daisychain or grave,
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism & were left with their insanity & their hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy pingpong & amnesia,
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong table, resting briefly in catatonia,
returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and tears and fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of the madtowns of the East,
Pilgrim State’s Rockland’s and Greystone’s foetid halls, bickering with the echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a nightmare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the moon,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 A.M. and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little bit of hallucination—
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time—
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipsis catalogue a variable measure and the vibrating plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America’s naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible madhouses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river!
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years’ animal screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!
From Collected Poems 1947-1980 by Allen Ginsberg, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1984 by Allen Ginsberg. Used with permission.
There were feathers and the light that passed through feathers. There were birds that made the feathers and the sun that made the light. The feathers of the birds made the air soft, softer than the quiet in a cocoon waiting for wings, stiller than the stare of a hooded falcon. But no falcons in this green made by the passage of parents. No, not parents, parrots flying through slow sleep casting green rays to light the long dream. If skin, dew would have drenched it, but dust hung in space like the stoppage of time itself, which, after dancing with parrots, had said, Thank you. I'll rest now. It's not too late to say the parrot light was thick enough to part with a hand, and the feathers softening the path, fallen after so much touching of cheeks, were red, hibiscus red split by veins of flight now at the end of flying. Despite the halt of time, the feathers trusted red and believed indolence would fill the long dream, until the book shut and time began again to hurt.
From The Last Skin by Barbara Ras. Copyright © 2010 by Barbara Ras. Used by permission of Penguin.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes published by Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. All rights reserved.
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
My father was an enormous man Who believed kindness and lack of size Were nothing more than sissified Signs of weakness. Narrow-minded, His eyes were the worst kind Of jury — deliberate, distant, hard. No one could out-shout him Or make bigger fists. The few Who tried got taken for bad, Beat down, their bodies slammed. I wanted to be just like him: Big man, man of the house, king. A plagiarist, hitting the things he hit, I learned to use my hands watching him Use his, pretending to slap mother When he slapped mother. He was sick. A diabetic slept Like a silent vowel inside his well-built, Muscular, dark body. Hard as all that With similar weaknesses — I discovered writing, How words are parts of speech With beats and breaths of their own. Interjections like flams. Wham! Bam! An heir to the rhythm And tension beneath the beatings, My first attempts were filled with noise, Wild solos, violent uncontrollable blows. The page tightened like a drum Resisting the clockwise twisting Of a handheld chrome key, The noisy banging and tuning of growth.
Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Sayers Ellis. From Maverick Room. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.
O little root of a dream you hold me here undermined by blood, no longer visible to anyone, property of death. Curve a face that there may be speech, of earth, of ardor, of things with eyes, even here, where you read me blind, even here, where you refute me, to the letter.
Reproduced from The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology: Selections from the 2001 Shortlist, published by House of Anansi Press. Originally from Glottal Stop: 101 Poems by Paul Celan. Copyright © 2000 by translators Nikolai Popov and Heather McHugh and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.
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.
I divested myself of despair and fear when I came here. Now there is no more catching one's own eye in the mirror, there are no bad books, no plastic, no insurance premiums, and of course no illness. Contrition does not exist, nor gnashing of teeth. No one howls as the first clod of earth hits the casket. The poor we no longer have with us. Our calm hearts strike only the hour, and God, as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.
From Constance by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. © 1993 by Jane Kenyon. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission. All rights reserved.