Sad is the man who is asked for a story
and can't come up with one.

His five-year-old son waits in his lap.
Not the same story, Baba. A new one.
The man rubs his chin, scratches his ear.

In a room full of books in a world
of stories, he can recall
not one, and soon, he thinks, the boy
will give up on his father.

Already the man lives far ahead, he sees
the day this boy will go. Don't go!
Hear the alligator story! The angel story once more!
You love the spider story. You laugh at the spider.
Let me tell it!

But the boy is packing his shirts,
he is looking for his keys. Are you a god,
the man screams, that I sit mute before you?
Am I a god that I should never disappoint?

But the boy is here. Please, Baba, a story?
It is an emotional rather than logical equation,
an earthly rather than heavenly one,
which posits that a boy's supplications
and a father's love add up to silence.

Li-Young Lee, "A Story" from The City In Which I Love You. Copyright © 1990 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

Great God, I ask for no meaner pelf
Than that I may not disappoint myself,
That in my action I may soar as high
As I can now discern with this clear eye.

And next in value, which thy kindness lends, 
That I may greatly disappoint my friends,
Howe'er they think or hope that it may be,
They may not dream how thou'st distinguished me.

That my weak hand may equal my firm faith
And my life practice what my tongue saith
That my low conduct may not show
Nor my relenting lines
That I thy purpose did not know
Or overrated thy designs. 

This poem is in the public domain.

O Hope! into my darkened life
    Thou hast so oft’ descended;
My helpless head from failure’s blows,
    Thou also hast defended;
When circumstances hard, and mean,
    Which I could not control,
Did make me bow my head with shame,
    Thou comforted my soul. 

When stumbling blocks lay all around,
    And when my steps did falter,
Then did thy sacred fires burn
    Upon my soul’s high altar.
Oft’ was my very blackest night
    Scarce darker than my day,
But thou dispelled those clouds of doubt,
    And cheered my lonely way.

E’en when I saw my friends forsake, 
    And leave me for another,
Then thou, O Hope, didst cling to me
    Still closer than a brother;
Thus with thee near I groped my way
    Through that long, gloomy night
Till now; yes, as I speak, behold, 
    I see the light! the light!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 24, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

    Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
    How shall I lure thee to my haunts forlorn!
For me wilt thou renew the wither’d rose,
    And clear my painful path of pointed thorn?
Ah come, sweet nymph! in smiles and softness drest,
    Like the young hours that lead the tender year,
Enchantress! come, and charm my cares to rest:—
    Alas! the flatterer flies, and will not hear!
A prey to fear, anxiety, and pain,
    Must I a sad existence still deplore?
Lo!—the flowers fade, but all the thorns remain,
    “For me the vernal garland blooms no more.”
Come then, “pale Misery’s love!” be thou my cure,
And I will bless thee, who, tho’ slow, art sure.

This poem is in the public domain.

I am in a common despair. So in order for me to have hope, it is crucial to stack fifty pounds of books on the left-hand side of my bed. I cover him tightly with my warmest woolen blankets. This boyfriend is named Shiver. He is best left alone to his thoughts. But one night, I will accidentally roll into him. He’ll fall on me with such grace and with the acceleration of all of history.

Copyright © 2013 by Amy Lawless. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on July 16, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

There is such change in all those fields,
Such motion rhythmic, ordered, free,
Where ever-glancing summer yields
Birth, fragrance, sunlight, immanency,
To make us view our rights of birth.
What shall we do? How shall we die?
We, captives of a roaming earth,
’Mid shades that life and light deny.
Blank summer’s surfeit heaves in mist;
Dumb earth basks dewy-washed; while still
We whom Intelligence has kissed
Do make us shackles of our will.
And yet I know in each loud brain,
Round-clamped with laws and learning so,
Is madness more and lust of strain
Than earth’s jerked godlings e’er can know
The false Delilah of our brain
Has set us round the millstone going.
O lust of roving! lust of pain!
Our hair will not be long in growing.
Like blinded Samson round we go.
We hear the grindstone groan and cry.
Yet we are kings, we know, we know.
What shall we do? How shall we die?
Take but our pauper’s gift of birth,
O let us from the grindstone free!
And tread the maddening gladdening earth
In strength close-braced with purity.
The earth is old; we ever new.
Our eyes should see no other sense
Than this eternally to DO—
Our joy, our task, our recompense;
Up unexploréd mountains move,
Track tireless through great wastes afar,
Nor slumber in the arms of love
Nor tremble on the brink of war;
Make Beauty and make Rest give place,
Mock Prudence loud—and she is gone,
Smite Satisfaction on the face
And tread the ghost of Ease upon.
Light-lipped and singing press we hard
Over old earth which now is worn,
Triumphant, buffeted and scarred,
By billows howled at, tempest-torn,
Toward blue horizons far away
(Which do not give the rest we need,
But some long strife, more than this play,
Some task that will be stern indeed)—
We ever new, we ever young,
We happy creatures of a day!
What will the gods say, seeing us strung
As nobly and as taut as they?

This poem is in the public domain.

May I master love, undo its luster
do in the thing that makes us lust? 
 
May I speed through the body’s sinew 
to marrow? Or is toiling a part of 
 
the gaining of trust? May I pare and narrow 
your body down, and open it to my 
 
cupidity’s arrow? May I find my 
response to body’s unanswered call, 
 
(if the want leaves you wanting, at all)?

Copyright @ 2014 by Hannah Sanghee Park. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 22, 2014.

Riches I hold in light esteem,
   And Love I laugh to scorn;
And lust of fame was but a dream,
   That vanished with the morn:

And if I pray, the only prayer
   That moves my lips for me
Is, "Leave the heart that now I bear,
   And give me liberty!"

Yes, as my swift days near their goal:
   ’Tis all that I implore;
In life and death a chainless soul,
   With courage to endure.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on July 14, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive. This poem is in the public domain.

My friend and I snickered the first time
we heard the meditation teacher, a grown man,
call himself honey, with a hand placed
over his heart to illustrate how we too 
might become more gentle with ourselves
and our runaway minds. It’s been years
since we sat with legs twisted on cushions,
holding back our laughter, but today
I found myself crouched on the floor again,
not meditating exactly, just agreeing
to be still, saying honey to myself each time
I thought about my husband splayed
on the couch with aching joints and fever
from a tick bite—what if he never gets better?—
or considered the threat of more wildfires,
the possible collapse of the Gulf Stream,
then remembered that in a few more minutes, 
I’d have to climb down to the cellar and empty
the bucket I placed beneath a leaky pipe
that can’t be fixed until next week. How long
do any of us really have before the body
begins to break down and empty its mysteries
into the air? Oh honey, I said—for once
without a trace of irony or blush of shame—
the touch of my own hand on my chest
like that of a stranger, oddly comforting
in spite of the facts.

Copyright © 2021 by James Crews. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.