The cry of the cicada
Gives us no sign
That presently it will die.
—Translation by William George Aston
This poem is in the public domain.
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.
But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .
Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.
"So Much Happiness" from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, copyright © 1995. Reprinted with the permission of Far Corner Books.
I am tired of work; I am tired of building up somebody else's civilization.
Let us take a rest, M’Lissy Jane.
I will go down to the Last Chance Saloon, drink a gallon or two of gin, shoot a game or two of dice and sleep the rest of the night on one of Mike’s barrels.
You will let the old shanty go to rot, the white people’s clothes turn to dust, and the Calvary Baptist Church sink into the bottomless pit.
You will spend your days forgetting you married me and your nights hunting the warm gin Mike serves the ladies in the rear of the Last Chance Saloon.
Throw the children into the river; civilization has given us too many. It is better to die than it is to grow up and find out that you are colored.
Pluck the stars out of the heavens. The stars mark our destiny. The stars marked my destiny.
I am tired of civilization.
This poem is in the public domain, and originally appeared in Others for 1919; An Anthology of the New Verse (Nicholas L. Brown, 1920).
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.
When the big clock at the train station stopped,
the leaves kept falling,
the trains kept running,
my mother’s hair kept growing longer and blacker,
and my father’s body kept filling up with time.
I can’t see the year on the station’s calendar.
We slept under the stopped hands of the clock
until morning, when a man entered carrying a ladder.
He climbed up to the clock’s face and opened it with a key.
No one but he knew what he saw.
Below him, the mortal faces went on passing
toward all compass points.
People went on crossing borders,
buying tickets in one time zone and setting foot in another.
Crossing thresholds: sleep to waking and back,
waiting room to moving train and back,
war zone to safe zone and back.
Crossing between gain and loss:
learning new words for the world and the things in it.
Forgetting old words for the heart and the things in it.
And collecting words in a different language
for those three primary colors:
staying, leaving, and returning.
And only the man at the top of the ladder
understood what he saw behind the face
which was neither smiling nor frowning.
And my father’s body went on filling up with death
until it reached the highest etched mark
of his eyes and spilled into mine.
And my mother’s hair goes on
never reaching the earth.
Copyright © 2021 by Li-Young Lee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 8, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
You tell me to live each day
as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen
where before coffee I complain
of the day ahead—that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors.
But why the last? I ask. Why not
live each day as if it were the first—
all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing
her eyes awake that first morning,
the sun coming up
like an ingénue in the east?
You grind the coffee
with the small roar of a mind
trying to clear itself. I set
the table, glance out the window
where dew has baptized every
From Insomnia, published by W. W. Norton. Copyright © 2015 by Linda Pastan. Used with permission of Linda Pastan in care of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc.
I married you for all the wrong reasons, charmed by your dangerous family history, by the innocent muscles, bulging like hidden weapons under your shirt, by your naive ties, the colors of painted scraps of sunset. I was charmed too by your assumptions about me: my serenity— that mirror waiting to be cracked, my flashy acrobatics with knives in the kitchen. How wrong we both were about each other, and how happy we have been.
"I Married You", from Queen of a Rainy Country by Linda Pastan. Copyright © 2006 by Linda Pastan. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Some people presume to be hopeful
when there is no evidence for hope,
to be happy when there is no cause.
Let me say now, I’m with them.
In deep darkness on a cold twig
in a dangerous world, one first
little fluff lets out a peep, a warble,
a song—and in a little while, behold:
the first glimmer comes, then a glow
filters through the misty trees,
then the bold sun rises, then
everyone starts bustling about.
And that first crazy optimist, can we
forgive her for thinking, dawn by dawn,
“Hey, I made that happen!
And oh, life is so fine.”
Copyright © 2022 by Kim Stafford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.