He kisses me before he goes. While I,
still dozing, half-asleep, laugh and rub my face

against the sueded surface of the sheets,
thinking it’s him I touch, his skin beneath

my hands, my body curving in to meet
his body there. I never hear him leave.

But I believe he shuts the bedroom door,
as though unsure if he should change his mind,

pull off his boots, crawl beneath the blankets
left behind, his hand a heat against my breast,

our heart rates slowing into rest. Perhaps
all good-byes should whisper like a piece of silk—

and then the quick surprise of waking, alone
except for the citrus ghost of his cologne.

From Stateside. Copyright © 2010 by Jehanne Dubrow. Used by permission of Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Don’t be foolish. No, be foolish.
Each of these trees was once a seed.

Look down the road till it’s all mist and fumes:
Of course your journey is impossible.

It’s stupidly hot for September and yet here’s
an eddy, a gust, something to stir you

as the high leaves of the walnut are stirred,
as fine droplets touch you, touch the table

and the deck, no explanation, no design.
And beauty is like God, mystery

in plain sight, silent, hesitating
in leaves and the shadows of leaves,

in the carved fish painted and nailed
to the railing, in skeins of cloud

and searching fly and pale blue
scrim of sky and seas of emptiness

and dazzle, fusion and spin,
fire and oblivion and all that lies

on the other side of oblivion.

Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Atkinson. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets’
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps
the truth is that every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we absent-mindedly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the shortgrass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.

I pick you up
& you are a child made of longing
clasped to my neck. Iridescent,
lovely, your inestimable tantrums,
I carry you back & forth
from the famine in your mind.

Your alphabet wraps itself
like a tourniquet
around my tongue.

Speak now, the static says.

A half-dressed woman named Truth
tells me she is a radio.

I'm going to ignore happiness
& victory.
I'm going to undo myself
with music.

I pick you up
& the naked trees lean
into the ocean where you arrived,
shaking chains & freedom
from your head.

No metaphor would pull you
out of your cage.

Light keens from the dead.
& I'm troubled
by my own blind touch.

Did the ocean release
my neck? Did the opal waves
blow our cries to shore?

You don't feel anything
in the middle of the night.

From Lighting the Shadow. Copyright © 2015 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Appears with permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.

Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing
flowers home.
         —
Wisława Szymborska

In the Kashmir mountains,
my brother shot many men,
blew skulls from brown skins,
dyed white desert sand crimson.

What is there to say to a man
who has traversed such a world,
whose hands and eyes have
betrayed him?

Were there flowers there? I asked.

This is what he told me:

In a village, many men
wrapped a woman in a sheet.
She didn't struggle.
Her bare feet dragged in the dirt.

They laid her in the road
and stoned her.

The first man was her father.
He threw two stones in a row.
Her brother had filled his pockets
with stones on the way there.

The crowd was a hive
of disturbed bees. The volley
of stones against her body
drowned out her moans.

Blood burst through the sheet
like a patch of violets,
a hundred roses in bloom.

Copyright © 2012 by Natalie Diaz. From When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon Press, 2012). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

For Stella

I dreamt we were already there.
Some things were right
and some were not.

And somehow Tuesday
was Wednesday
was Monday again.

I slept then woke
and then fell asleep again
and when I slept again

I dreamt we were already there.
Things were right some
and were some not.

My father died yesterday, she said.
Yesterday, some things were and.
Today some are not.

Copyright © 2018 Lynley Edmeades. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Because we named the land in blood and ink
and everything held by the land
to our use     we named—
                                        dirty with the name—

because we bought this land
when ash became sky
and the smell of burning
                              drifted

because my grandmother dreamed it
instead of eating death
and now new trees 
grow over the graves

because the ruined promise
because two pounds of shrapnel drawn from Noams back
because Salim's house forced open like a jaw
a bag of pita scattered where the kitchen was

because we can survive in any soil
like rats
because until the end of the world
we will scratch out the name

Copyright © 2011 by Elana Bell. Used by permission of the author.

How a house is a self
     & else, a seeping into
of light deciding the day.
     A house so close

it breathes as the lake
     breathes. How a lake
is a shelf, an eye,
     a species of seeing,

burbling of tongues
     completing the shore.
How a loon is a probing,
     a genus of dreams,

encyclopedia of summer.
     Unsummable house
by the lake, generous hinge
     opening us. I loved,

in folds of sleep, to hear
     the back door’s yawn
& click. You gliding
     down toward shore

& dawn, beyond all frames,
     reconciling yourself to
bracing Long Lake.
     Into its ever-opening, you—

Copyright © 2018 Philip Metres. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Summer 2018.

Days come and go:
this bird by minute, hour by leaf,
a calendar of loss.

I shift through woods, sifting
the air for August cadences
and walk beyond the boundaries I’ve kept

for months, past loose stone walls,
the fences breaking into sticks,
the poems always spilling into prose.

A low sweet meadow full of stars
beyond the margin
fills with big-boned, steaming mares.

The skies above are bruised like fruit,
their juices running,
black-veined marble of regret.

The road gusts sideways:
sassafras and rue.
A warbler warbles.

Did I wake the night through?
Walk through sleeping?
Shuffle for another way to mourn?

Dawn pinks up.
In sparking grass I find beginnings.
I was cradled here.
I gabbled and I spun.
And gradually the many men inside me
found their names,

acquired definition, points of view.
There was much to say,
not all of it untrue.

As the faithful seasons fell away,
I followed till my thoughts
inhabited a tree of thorns

that grew in muck of my own making.
Yet I was lifted and laid bare.
I hung there weakly: crossed, crossed-out.

At first I didn’t know
a voice inside me speaking low.
I stumbled in my way.

But now these hours that can’t be counted
find me fresh, this ordinary time
like kingdom come.

In clarity of dawn,
I fill my lungs, a summer-full of breaths.
The great field holds the wind, and sways.

From New and Collected Poems: 1975–2015 by Jay Parini (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

                                              One river gives
                                              Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.
 

Copyright © 2014 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author.

Two hours between classes.
The short Metro ride home.
Coffee table, plates, glasses,

the TV flickering afternoon
news, sometimes a car bomb…
And in the kitchen the singular tune

of his voice, his jokes, recounting this
or that—plot of a novel, book
he’s put down, I bought for his

monthly fix (how he’d love
reading in the park what I took
half an hour to choose). Above

all, the sofa: digestion a nap,
my head nestled in his lap.


Hora del almuerzo

Dos horas entre clases.
El viaje breve en Metro a casa.
Mesa de salón, platos, vasos,

la tele luciendo noticias
de tarde, a veces un coche-bomba…
Y en la cocina el tono único

de su voz, sus chistes, contando esto
y aquello—argumento de novela, libro
que ha dejado, que le compré:

sus dosis mensual (cómo le encantaba
leer en el parque lo que tardé
madia hora en escoger). Sobre

todo, el sofá: la digestión una siesta,
mi cabeza recostada en su regazo


From Puerta del Sol​. Copyright © 2005, Bilingual Press / Editorial Bilingüe, Arizona State University.

The one right in front of me
on e-mail, a chain message
forwarded by my mother
on the first day of this new year.
She’s tangled in nets and lines
and there’s only one way to
get her out, she tells us
with her bathtub-sized eyes
one at a time because we
have to swim around to see.

From Late Empire (Copper Canyon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Olstein. Used with the permission of the author.

An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.

I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He pays.
He ain't no average joe.

The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop, spit spit. . .
pssss. . .
The counter girls laugh.
I concentrate.
It is the crucial point--
they are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fries done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
Thirty cheeseburgers! Thirty fries!
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success.
Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.

From Show and Tell: New and Selected Poems by Jim Daniels. Originally appeared in Places/Everyone. Copyright © 1985 by Jim Daniels. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. All rights reserved.

You are a nobody
until another man leaves
a note under your wiper:
I like your hair, clothes, car—call me!
Late May, I brush pink
Crepe Myrtle blossoms
from the hood of my car.
Again spring factors
into our fever. Would this
affair leave any room for error?
What if I only want
him to hum me a lullaby.
To rest in the nets
of our own preferences.
I think of women
I’ve loved who, near the end,
made love to me solely
for the endorphins. Praise
be to those bodies lit
with magic. I pulse
my wipers, sweep away pollen
from the windshield glass
to allow the radar
detector to detect. In the prim
light of spring I drive
home alone along the river’s
tight curves where it bends
like handwritten words.
On the radio, a foreign love
song some men sing to rise.

Copyright © 2018 by Christopher Salerno. Used with the permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Quarterly West Issue 94.

 

recovered letter from Obour Tanner

 

To Phillis Wheatley in Boston [Massachusetts]
                                                                                        New Port, February 6th, 1772
Dear Sister,

I'm a savage. There is a savage-me inside, wild-thick as sin, so much, my Soul
is clabbered, but there is a Change, I sense, inside my curdled mess, Christ hung

and crucified in me, daily, a Saving Change. The ship. Do you feel the ship, pitching,
sometimes, inside the skin under your skin  -chanting-    as the Atlantic whispered,

lulling us, fluid as hymn and semen, in wet languages we couldn't understand?
                                                                                                  Remember the ships

that brought us over the bent world. Let us praise these wooden beasts that saved
the evil beast of us. Do you remember the ship, Phillis, do you remember rocking...

the rocking black milk, like I do? Remember the bowels from the reek
inside the deathly ship? There was nothing in us to recommend us to God,

except the bowels of divine love. Remember inky black, starless black,
blue-black with moaning, smelled like salt and salvation: God's skin hammered

with long nails like our breath, bleeding.

                                      But we converted—we have been saved by a Saving
Change: my Heart is a true snow-white-snow Heart, Of true Holiness, pure

as buttermilk, evangelical as buttermilk. But Repentance can save our people
from a land of seeming Darkness, and where the divine Light of revelation

(being cloaked) is as Darkness. What was darker than the bowels of that ship
you were named after, do you remember Phillis, how black, black is?

The mold? Our sin, the trigger—that mist was on everything, fuzzing our damp
little bodies with spores, encircling the air, emerald rust crawled and blossomed

inside our young lungs—it coughs and rackets the bright blood from us, like a claw
scraping, no, like soft applause from the balcony for the swarthy to sit upon

during church, like when we met, I was a dozen broken roses, bruised as velvet,
                                                             English and reaching desire       for you,

across        the pews, across          the vast|empty spaces, where two slaves
       (who could read and write) could touch—each other—there, as women

and call it: Praise.

Let us marvel at the Love and Grace that bought
                                                                                     and brought us here.     Amen.

 

Your very humble servant and friend,

Obour Tanner

From I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood. Copyright © 2018 by Tiana Clark. Used with the permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

REASON                /               UNREASON

 

the brain is                 

           an unlit synagogue 

easily charted               

           in dark waters

using machines            

           it can baffle faith

& therapy        

           it can asphyxiate

don’t worry                 

           the drowning dogs

your pretty head          

           painted for the gods

it’s simple                    

           to rage & riot & rot

to manage                    

           the vacant parking lot

with the appropriate     

           knives   do what some

medicines                    

           can not

Copyright © 2017 by sam sax. “Post-Diagnosis” originally appeared in Madness (Penguin, 2017). Reprinted with permission of the author.

It is always the dispossessed—
someone driving a huge rusted Dodge   
that’s burning oil, and must cost   
twenty-five dollars to fill.

Today before seven I saw, through
the morning fog, his car leave the road,   
turning into the field. It must be
his day off, I thought, or he’s out
of work and drinking, or getting stoned.   
Or maybe as much as anything
he wanted to see
where the lane through the hay goes.

It goes to the bluff overlooking   
the lake, where we’ve cleared   
brush, swept the slippery oak
leaves from the path, and tried to destroy   
the poison ivy that runs
over the scrubby, sandy knolls.

Sometimes in the evening I’ll hear   
gunshots or firecrackers. Later a car   
needing a new muffler backs out
to the road, headlights withdrawing   
from the lowest branches of the pines.

Next day I find beer cans, crushed;   
sometimes a few fish too small   
to bother cleaning and left
on the moss to die; or the leaking   
latex trace of outdoor love....

Once I found the canvas sling chairs   
broken up and burned.

Whoever laid the fire gathered stones   
to contain it, like a boy pursuing
a merit badge, who has a dream of work,   
and proper reward for work.

Jane Kenyon, "Private Beach" from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, graywolfpress.org.

              for My Daughter
 

Your body can unzip 

like a boned bodice. 
 

Your body is a knife— 

both slicing point 
 

& handle.  Your body is the diamond 
 

blade arm 

but the bleeding is not yours.  
 

On the ground at your feet 

your body is becoming rocks.  
 

Heat-baked by centuries into basalt,

canyons of you, black-mouthed & sharp-edged. 
 

Lift the largest rock 

of yourself and throw 
 

with all the rocks in your gut.


Ghost the mother of your gut—she birthed you 

for rocks. 


In the ghost story, a woman goes to hell 

for a man who’d unravel her. 


Use the hell

of your body, 


unravel for no one but yourself. 

Originally published in Origins. Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Givhan. Used with the permission of the author.

for Marilyn Monroe

I buried Mama in her wedding dress
and put gloves on her hands,
but I couldn’t do much about her face,
blue-black and swollen,
so I covered it with a silk scarf.
I hike my dress up to my thighs
and rub them,
watching you tip the mortuary fan back and forth.
Hey. Come on over. Cover me all up
like I was never here. Just never.
Come on. I don’t know why I talk like that.
It was a real nice funeral. Mama’s.
I touch the rhinestone heart pinned to my blouse.
Honey, let’s look at it again.
See. It’s bright like the lightning that struck her.

I walk outside
and face the empty house.
You put your arms around me. Don’t.
Let me wave goodbye.
Mama never got a chance to do it.
She was walking toward the barn
when it struck her. I didn’t move;
I just stood at the screen door.
Her whole body was light.
I’d never seen anything so beautiful.

I remember how she cried in the kitchen
a few minutes before.
She said, God. Married.
I don’t believe it, Jean, I won’t.
He takes and takes and you just give.

At the door, she held out her arms
and I ran to her.
She squeezed me so tight:
I was all short of breath.
And she said, don’t do it.
In ten years, your heart will be eaten out
and you’ll forgive him, or some other man, even that
and it will kill you.

Then she walked outside.
And I kept saying, I’ve got to, Mama,
hug me again. Please don’t go.

From The Collected Poems of Ai. Copyright © Copyright 2010 by Ai. Used with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company Ltd.

Everybody is doing trigger warnings now, so
To Whom It May Concern, I hated God
when my sister died. I didn’t know it was
coming, but we were at the hospital in a private
room for family, and our pastor
was there, the one who baptized me, and 
he said Let us pray, and I kept my eyes
open to watch everybody, but
listened, and when he said Sometimes
God has to take back his angels,
I was smart enough to know, I was 14, that
he was saying she was gone or going
and I loathed him so much, he didn’t see
the look on my face, that blazing anger
blank heart f-you-forever look, but then
my parents told us we were going to
take her off life support, and I died then,
and after they took away the machines we had
solitude, family time the five of us, mom,
dad, me, my brother, and my sister. Holding her
body she was warm she wasn’t conscious
but she could hear us I know it, then they
opened the door for other family to 
say goodbye and I was hugging her back
in her bed, my face against her face, my tears
wetting her cheek it was flush and her wavy
hair, I wanted to hold her forever I was
hurting but felt selfish like other people
wanted to say goodbye too so I let go,
and her head kind of tilted to the side and
I straightened it so I was a mess then
goodbye goodbye we left there to clean
the house for mourners to come.

Copyright © 2018 by CM Burroughs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

It's just getting dark, fog drifting in,
damp grasses fragrant with anise and mint,
and though I call his name
until my voice cracks,
there's no faint tinkling
of tag against collar, no sleek
black silhouette with tall ears rushing
toward me through the wild radish.

As it turns out, he's trotted home,
tracing the route of his trusty urine.
Now he sprawls on the deep red rug, not dead,
not stolen by a car on West Cliff Drive.

Every time I look at him, the wide head
resting on outstretched paws,
joy does another lap around the racetrack
of my heart. Even in sleep
when I turn over to ease my bad hip,
I'm suffused with contentment.

If I could lose him like this every day
I'd be the happiest woman alive.

From The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

after Bobby Chacon
 

I don’t care about the title
I’m in this for the money

I care about the title
I care about the money

I’m in this for the title
I don’t care about the money

I’m for the money I don’t care
I don’t care I’m for the title

the title don’t care about I
the money don’t care about the title

I’m about the money
I’m about the title

I’m the money I care about in this

Copyright © 2018 Eloisa Amezcua. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Oh how I wanted to be a dancer
those Saturday mornings in the
living room, neglecting chores

to gape at the whirling people
on our television: the shapely
and self-knowing brownskinned

women who dared stare straight
at the camera, the men strong,
athletically gifted as they

leaped, landed in full splits.
No black people I knew lived
like this—dressed in sequins,

make-up, men’s hair slicked
back like 40’s gangsters,
women in skin-tight, merciless

spandex, daring heels higher
than I could imagine walking in,
much less dancing. And that

dancing!—full of sex, swagger,
life—a communal rite where
everyone arched, swayed, shimmered

and shimmied, hands overhead
in celebration, bodies moving
to their own influences, lithe

under music pumping from studio
speakers, beneath the neon letters
that spelled out SOUL TRAIN—

the hippest trip in America.
I’d try to dance, to keep up,
moving like the figures on

the screen, hoping the rhythm
could hit me in that same
hard way, that same mission

of shake and groove, leaving
my dust rag behind, ignoring
the furniture and the polish

to step and turn as they did,
my approximation nowhere near
as clever or seductive, faking

it as best I knew how, shaking
my 12 year old self as if something
deep depended upon the right move,

the righteous step, the insistent
groove I followed, yearning to get
it right, to move like those dancers—

blessed by funk, touched with rhythm,
confident in their motions, clothes,
their spinning and experienced bodies.

From Soul Train (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1997). Copyright © 1997 by Allison Joseph. Used with the permission of the author.

We build these
into the dream-

house, holes drilled
into window sills,

so rainy days
drain out. No

dream’s complete
without looking

ahead, without
seeing ourselves

looking back
at who—

dreaming—
we’d been.

Copyright © 2018 Andrea Cohen. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Rose of all Roses, Rose of all the World!
The tall thought-woven sails, that flap unfurled
Above the tide of hours, trouble the air,
And God's bell buoyed to be the water's care;
While hushed from fear, or loud with hope, a band
With blown, spray-dabbled hair gather at hand,
Turn if you may from battles never done,
I call, as they go by me one by one,
Danger no refuge holds, and war no peace,
For him who hears love sing and never cease,
Beside her clean-swept hearth, her quiet shade:
But gather all for whom no love hath made
A woven silence, or but came to cast
A song into the air, and singing passed
To smile on the pale dawn; and gather you
Who have sought more than is in rain or dew,
Or in the sun and moon, or on the earth,
Or sighs amid the wandering, starry mirth,
Or comes in laughter from the sea's sad lips,
And wage God's battles in the long grey ships.
The sad, the lonely, the insatiable,
To these Old Night shall all her mystery tell;
God's bell has claimed them by the little cry
Of their sad hearts, that may not live nor die.

Rose of all Roses, Rose of all the World!
You, too, have come where the dim tides are hurled
Upon the wharves of sorrow, and heard ring
The bell that calls us on; the sweet far thing.
Beauty grown sad with its eternity
Made you of us, and of the dim grey sea.
Our long ships loose thought-woven sails and wait,
For God has bid them share an equal fate;
And when at last, defeated in His wars,
They have gone down under the same white stars,
We shall no longer hear the little cry
Of our sad hearts, that may not live nor die.

This poem is in the public domain.

I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let's be honest, I like
that they're ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don't you want to believe it?
Don't you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it's going to come in first.

From Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission from Milkweed Editions, milkweed.org.