I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,
A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why
This awful key to my infinity
Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.
This poem is in the public domain.
The river is famous to the fish. The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so. The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse. The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek. The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom. The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors. The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured. I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back. I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 1995. Reprinted with permission of Far Corner Books, Portland, OR.
I have this, and this isn’t a mouth
full of the names of odd flowers
I’ve grown in secret.
I know none of these by name
but have this garden now,
and pastel somethings bloom
near the others and others.
I have this trowel, these overalls,
this ridiculous hat now.
This isn’t a lung full of air.
Not a fist full of weeds that rise
yellow then white then windswept.
This is little more than a way
to kneel and fill gloves with sweat,
so that the trowel in my hand
will have something to push against,
rather, something to push
against that it knows will bend
and give and return as sprout
and petal and sepal and bloom.
Copyright © 2016 Jamaal May. Used with permission of the author.
won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
Lucille Clifton, “won’t you celebrate with me” from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
My ancestors are made with water—
blue on the sides, and green down the spine;
when we travel, we lose brothers at sea
and do not stop to grieve.
Our mothers burn with a fire
that does not let them be;
they whisper our names
nomenclatures of invisibility
honey-dewed faces, eyes sewn shut,
how to tell them
the sorrow that splits us in half
the longing for a land not our own
the constant moving and shifting of things,
which words describe
the clenching in our stomachs
the fear lodged deeply into our bones
churning us from within,
and the loss that follows us everywhere:
behind mountains, past oceans, into
the heads of trees, how to swallow
a tongue that speaks with too many accents—
when white faces sprout
we are told to set ourselves ablaze
and this smell of smoke we know—
water or fire, or both,
because we have drowned many at a time
and left our bodies burning, or swollen, or bleeding
and purple—this kind of language we know,
naming new things into our invisibility
and this, we too, call home.
Copyright © 2017 by Mahtem Shiferraw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
We live in secret cities And we travel unmapped roads. We speak words between us that we recognize But which cannot be looked up. They are our words. They come from very far inside our mouths. You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city Inside us, and inside us There go all the cars we have driven And seen, there are all the people We know and have known, there Are all the places that are But which used to be as well. This is where They went. They did not disappear. We each take a piece Through the eye and through the ear. It's loud inside us, in there, and when we speak In the outside world We have to hope that some of that sound Does not come out, that an arm Not reach out In place of the tongue.
Copyright © 1998 by Alberto Rios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.