Answers crowdsourced from the author’s Instagram. Italics denote direct quotes.

Absent parent(s) 
and the man who made me 

mistrust every man after. 

I haven’t earned it yet—
what is love if not a salary? 

The sweet treat we get 

for being demure.
It feels too selfish,

too vulgar, unladylike 

to gorge myself
on the moist cake of it. 

I’ve got bad credit, 

a prettier sibling, a rank 
history of mistakes,

each one more foul 

than the last. The timing
was all wrong. 

The timing was right 

but I was afraid 
of losing it.

I am disorganized.

My brain is broken, 
and it was stuck on something 

I thought was love.

I’ve spit out it before
just to prove that I can.

I believe I am ugly.

and in the end, 
it’s just easier this way,

familiar as a callous, 

tongued over like 
a cracked tooth:

suffering feels cleaner, 

because if I start to believe
I actually deserve love,

I’d have to find 

unacceptable all 
those incapable of 

giving it.

“I Asked Why Have You Denied Yourself Love” by Sierra DeMulder. Copyright 2023. Courtesy of Button Publishing Inc.

You are enough

Divinity flows in your fingertips
        with light so radiant
        every beat of your heart
a victory march
made of whole universes
        stitched by the hands of creation
        with flawless design
a prophecy You fulfill perfectly with every breath


The sun wouldn’t shine the same without it
Creation is only waiting for You
                to smile back at it

Do you see it yet?

You are enough
        For the birds to sing about
        For the seeds to sprout about
        For the stars to shoot about

        Do you see it yet?

        Gardens in your speech
Fields of wildflowers in your prayers
        Lighthouses in your eyes
    No one else can see it for you

You have always been enough
You will always be enough

Your simple act of being is enough

            Do you see it yet?

Copyright © 2022 by Andru Defeye. Sacramento Poetry Center Anthology (2022). Used with permission of the poet. 

O Me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

This poem is in the public domain.

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
--"Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
--Aunt Consuelo's voice--
not very loud or long.
I wasn't at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn't. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I--we--were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
--I couldn't look any higher--
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities--
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts--
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How--I didn't know any
word for it--how "unlikely". . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn't?

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.

From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Used with permission.

Each time the carpenter with a sharp rap sets a nail
then whangs it head and shaft into the tan flesh of the wood
and slips the hammer back into the leather belt,

I think of Achilles casting his spear so fast
it pinned the Amazon queen and her horse together
“as a man might impale some innards on a spit.”

Each time he sinks a nail he says below his breath,
“mmn-hmn,” as if to say, “Yes, that will do,”
then sets and sinks the next. Yes, he’s my brother,

but it’s enough to make me want to whack him one
as I jag my cuts, and ding the wood,
and warp the nail, and skew the screw.

His rhythmic hammerings make perfect stress,
tap-tap, tap-tap, tap-tap, but half my mind’s
trying to write a poem, so my hammering’s a mess,

like the failed lines I mouth below my breath
––until a hopeful phrase sends me scrabbling
for the flat, fat-tipped carpenter’s pencil and a square of plywood,

something about swimming at Spy Lake after work,
white flashes diving from the canoe
and concentric moonlight like rippled music,

the lake water turned to black vinyl and my body
the needle that moves within the groove.
I wanted to write something about the shout

ripped out of the mouth by joy, the strangeness of being
a being channeled through time,  
pierced by the needle of right now, and the way 

I kill my life by living it, and the song of 
all I was unraveling behind me, the song that plays 
as a record spins to its end, and the sorrow 

of that, and how I still sing in the shower.
That’s the poem that I wanted to write
but that was twenty years ago,

and every line I wrote that summer
went into the scrap and sawdust pile,
and all that sun-moist morning I hoisted

the pickaxe and made it sing on asphalt,
sank post holes, fucked up cuts with the SkilSaw,
thought literary thoughts, and screwed up.

And since I was more a poet than a man,
my brother sent me to buy studs at the yard
ten blocks off, and when I got lost in Boston

and hours later dragged in like a bedraggled sailor,
the crew just laughed and went back to their tasks.
And it’s time to tell the truth:

that was thirty years ago and I’ve gone on
to other crafts, the way today I take the pen shaft
in my hand and cast my mind into the void

and with each line I give a little “huh!” of joy.
And you don’t have to tell me how after he bragged
about his feat Achilles removed the queen’s helmet

and her blonde hair spilled free in strands of light,
and her goddess face shone, and, pierced himself,
he fell to his knees and mourned

the beauty he’d killed with his great shaft.
I know it’s not heroic to fix my mind to the page
in lines like a butterfly pinned and dried,

and I know just this of carpentry:
once the house is built the rot sets in.
But since making is what I have,

I make what I can out of this long unmaking
with what tools I have at hand
now that my power tools are powered down

and crusted with a powder of old sawdust,
now that my yellow leather carpenter’s belt has stiffened,
its pockets stuffed with nails long turned to rust.

From Beast in the Apartment (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014) by Tony Barnstone. Copyright © 2014 by Tony Barnstone. Used with the permission of the author. 

What seeps in me from weeks of rain 
making me forget 
the life-give part in water. 

The world this morning 
reminds me too much 
of my insides that night I almost 

abandoned the balcony. 
Three pages deep of furious 
language. Scratching 

worry into my journal 
before I can say, please, 
let me 

stop. Notice, 
on the outside table 
this jagged bouquet: 

tobacco seeds, dried, 
still attached to the cut 
few inches of their last-year stalks, 

wrinkled fire 
in a mini vase. It doesn’t look much 
like promise, but it is. 

Copyright © 2024 by Hari Alluri. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 1, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.