Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.

What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
I was myself the compass of that sea:

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

This poem is in the public domain.

(for Emmett Louis Till)

Your limbs buried
in northern muscle carry
their own heartbeat

Mississippi ...
alert with
conjugated pain

young Chicago
stutterer whistling
more than flesh

your pores
wild stars embracing
southern eyes

footprints blooming
in the night remember
your blood

in this southern
classroom summer settles
into winter

i hear your
pulse swallowing
neglected light

your limbs
fly off the ground
little birds ...

we taste the
blood ritual of
southern hands

blue midnite
breaths sailing on
smiling tongues

say no words
time is collapsing
in the woods

a mother’s eyes
remembering a cradle
pray out loud

walking in Mississippi
i hold the stars
between my teeth

your death
a blues, i could not
drink away.

Copyright © 2010 by Sonia Sanchez. From Morning Haiku (Beacon Press, 2010). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1973 by Adrienne Rich.

One’s is to feed. One’s is to cleave.
One’s to be doubled over under greed.
One’s is strife. One’s to be strangled by life.
One’s to be called and to rise.
One’s to stare fire in the eye.
One’s is bondage to pleasure.
One’s to be held captive by power.
One’s to drive a nation to its naked knees
in war. One’s is the rapture of stolen hours.
One’s to be called yet cower.
One’s is to defend the dead.
One’s to suffer until ego is shed.
One’s is to dribble the nectar of evil.
One’s but to roll a stone up a hill.
One’s to crouch low
over damp kindling in deep snow
coaxing the thin plume
of cautious smoke.
One’s is only to shiver.
One’s is only to blow.

Copyright © 2021 by Tracy K. Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 8, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

It is the smallest idea born in the interior will,

that has no fury nor ignorance,

no intruder but stranger, no scaffold of a plea,

no mote of the hungry, no pitchfork of instinct,

no ladder of pity, no carriage of lust,

no wavering foot on concrete, no parish of bees,

no mountains of coal, no limestone and ash,

no lie poured down the stairs of a house among them,

and this is the will of maker and offspring,

no boot in the hallway indicating more exit

than arrival, more straying than strategy, no more struggle

than contained in my body now, as I wander the rooms,

tearing curtains apart from their windows

separating material from light.

Copyright © 2010 by Tina Chang. Used by permission of the author.


Living is no laughing matter:
	you must live with great seriousness
		like a squirrel, for example—
   I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
		I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
	you must take it seriously,
	so much so and to such a degree
   that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                                            your back to the wall,
   or else in a laboratory
	in your white coat and safety glasses,
	you can die for people—
   even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
   even though you know living
	is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
   that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
   and not for your children, either,
   but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
   because living, I mean, weighs heavier.


Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
			from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
			about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
		for the latest newscast. . . 
Let’s say we’re at the front—
	for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
	we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
        but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
        about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
                        before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
                                I  mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
        we must live as if we will never die.


This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
               and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
	  I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even 
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
	  in pitch-black space . . . 
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
                               if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .

From Poems of Nazim Hikmet, translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, published by Persea Books. Copyright © 1994 by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk. Used with the permission of Persea Books. All rights reserved.


Stopped biting my nails when we started sheltering  
and the next week they scratched my daughter  
when I held her. Seldom had I ever seen nails intact  
on my troubled fingers, but now I persevered to grow  
abundant enough to touch any other person.  
We ate and uttered grace, my own thanks diminished  
by sincerity. Thank you for not being dead! 
Seven o’clock. The sunset breathes pink as a gill. 
We plead applause out open windows desperate  
to once more belong to we. Pandemic, pan demos, means all people,  
but our clapping sounds dumb cause it’s not.  
I wonder if the virus is only envoi, a final sickness following  
the first: that burst of capital scouring the earth for returns. 
How gluttonous money flies as half alive as any virus!  
Superstructural germ, does the wage like you borrow the body’s life 
until investment finally sunders people extra, mere clippings? 
The corona seems only the sun’s thin halo,  
a white keratin rim, and now they say crisis comes  
when people consume too little, so when my nails grow back 
I chew them hope hungry, cannibal of my hands,  
fearing each hangnail a door for the contaminant.  
Does such solipsism tell you I’ve suffered  
only paper cuts? It seems that being New Yorkers means  
we share only one thing. We each hear the red wound wailing  
in the air, soaking the siren red. The siren burns,  
the siren spins, but now a different return from that of ambulances  
and profits. Now spring strikes. Now the workers walk out  
of warehouses. A judge orders ten migrants unthawed  
from ice. Is something turning for the people  
called surplus? Dread of anticipation before no future.  
Stop biting your nails, says my mother  
on Skype. She tells me to save the bearded roots  
of leeks. If you plant them, new shoots  
regenerate from the trimmings.  

Copyright © 2020 by Ken Chen. Originally published with the Shelter in Poems initiative on 

It is natural to live in an era
            when no one uttered—
and silence was glamour

so I could cast one glance westward
            and you’d know what I was
going to kill. Murder in my gaze,

treachery in my movements:
            if I bared the grooves
in my spine, made my lust known,

the reel would remind me
            that someone with my face
could never be loved.

How did you expect my characters
            to react? In so many shoots,
I was brandishing a dagger.

The narrative was enchanting
            enough to make me believe
I, too, could live in a white

palace, smell the odorless gardens,
            relieve myself on their white
petals. To be a star in Sun City—

to be first lady on the celluloid
            screen—I had to marry
my own cinematic death.

I never wept audibly—I saw my
            sisters in the sawmills,
reminded myself of my good luck.

Even the muzzle over my mouth
            could not kill me, though I
never slept soundly through the silence.

From Oculus. Copyright © 2019 by Sally Wen Mao. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press. 

I was profligate like a floodlight to the sun.

Hoarded saccharine and toothmarks,
wanted only the thickest rhymes, two of each.

Full I was of promises I never intended to keep:
puckered laughter, lines to feast.

I let everyone who entered my life enter through me.
Demanded nonsense love and bodies that would ring.

Not to mention higher kilowatts
of creeping joy, more red in everything—

From Eye Level. Copyright © 2018 by Jenny Xie. Used by permission of Graywolf Press.

What is your face?
          A house, of sorts.

What is your foot?
          A chipped stone blade.

What did you dream?
          A rain-washed road.

What did it mean?
          It meant nothing.

What have you learned?
          The sky forgives.

What does it forgive?
          Each jet its wake.

What do you want?
          A smile, of sorts.

No, what do you want?
          I want nothing.

What’s in your hand?
          A leafless twig.

No. Show me. What’s that in your hand?

Monica Youn, “Interrogation of the Hanged Man," from Blackacre. Copyright © 2016 by Monica Youn. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press,

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother's face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

English translation, translator's introduction, and translator's notes copyright © 2001 by Annemarie S. Kidder. Published 2001. All rights reserved.

The worst work of my hands is in English—: I’m a chiral body writing into what I cannot coincide. 

I’ve come to the mountain to bless these hands back. Clay clod & gypsum—: a way my body has been & will become. I rename one hand Occupied Territory, call to the other Amante Verde. & the mountain sobs its hornblende to the surface. 

I am known in this place—: of Creation & cascabel. Mojave Greens are my relatives. I holograph in the ambient heat, green quicked with copper. Don’t play with snakes they say Don’t play with your own power.

Beneath the granite boulders the hibernaculum cools, empty with shed skins—: their spectered shells, curled ribbons of fried light.  

The pressure of molecule & memory—: atmosphere bears touch on loop, apparates everything it has held. The salted swastiks of their bodies, thick, rope-heavy, a scent you have to lift. 

My flesh-light cleaves their old energy eyes, slips each slit of limonite & aperture. In them I am struck—: a fever image. They coil into their handless work of transmutation, into radio sensation, rattling the hair on my forearms. 

She recognizes me not as human but as her own imagination. I am granite reorganized, a formation—: yet forming. I dream with the mountain because I am of the mountain.

Grief for my elemental life respires my body. My snakes lick me from the wind like a chemical, return me to electric signal—: a web of small lightning suturing the mouth to the skull. Pleasure, unlanguaged & noise.

I was dreamed into being—: I was the dreamer. Skin fleshes the world it’s made of, in overwhelm. 

Cloud shadow drifts a gray whale across the salt flats—: a periphery of white halite crust surrounds its slow shade. My lover crystallizes this same way along the ridges of my knuckles & back of my hand, the dorsal side, as we also call a fin—: I surfaced from deep submersion. 

There is no pleasure not earthen or wet. Ancient ocean, we say—: & we mean every body.

Sand’s gentle crust of berm edging the wash—: the desert a hot pie, juiceless yet swelling mirage. The neon red sign of a jackrabbit’s spine eaten to its glow, dropped from the sky, flickers in the bleach-light gushing the open land.

How much love can a desert drink to bone? How many bodies—: pressed beneath this tectonic pie?

A shelled vehicle in landscape—: rust-burning, slow bleed of oxide having laced the chassis, licked the light bucket to chrome edges. 

A ram’s scattered skeleton—: empty lake of pelvis, desert grapevines threading the bone sockets, tugging the jaw vee deeper into the canyon. Its broken horn is a curl of gold telephone I hold to my eye. I am dislocated. Some knowledge is not mine, some is but I haven’t arrived there yet. 

A long time ago the wind licked the coyote’s skull to glass—: this is how we happen. Atom-born, I bend back the atom world. My inheritance is hydrogen. How rain & clouds happen to one another—: wet though risen up from dust, abundant. 

We have no word for God. It is sky because someone said it was. Until then, it was only what was in it: giant fish with pharyngeal teeth, orange sand clouds, & ‘Amo—: the bighorn sheep made of stars & staggered, spear still warm from the warrior’s hand, 

its shattered torso notching the night. The first wound was a clock, our hunger. We ate the mountain sheep—: now our moon is a curve of cold fat congealing on a blued bone & lives in daylight, diurnal leftover.

Over night’s black dunes we follow the trail of ‘Amo’s white face. If I speak of love—: who will believe me? The only poets in this desert are beryl & jasper. 

Thunder is not thunder but the air broken by lighting. My lover backlit like a thunderhead, strapped with night until the softness of her hips disrupts—: her light-wet hands & cock. I am the sound I make breaking in a room. 

We are always becoming—: from somewhere. Desire is a blood-colored worm flexing the sand sea around me. I have a power I am learning to be careful with.

They say When you see Numet, she’s already been watching you. The stroke her long tail drags in the sand disappears where the loose wash turns granite outcrop. Looning & lonely, I thundercat—: stalk myself through wind-flooded canyons, watch myself happen to me in the map of my hand. 

In the beginning we didn’t understand the bullet. It had no head, no arms or legs—: Menamentk we said. It crossed the water. We named it ‘Anya kwa’oorny. We named it Of the Sun. We had no word for shore, except how water touches land.  

They gave us the word shore for their bullet to arrive on. Then said our flesh was also Shore—: so we called the bullet Bullet. We name things for what is done there.

The injuries of becoming human. Tuu’achk—: shoulder blades from turtle shell, hand from wing. The carpus erupting petals of wrist—: bone-flower, flesh.

Bats ripen like fruit in the lava fields, in volcanic caves of basalt. Dusk buds their breathing wings—: flowering angel-beasts. The bats remember when we loved ourselves & called so tenderly into twilight that our words brought us the throbbing world—: mosquito & blood. Kenakenem. 

Even the eye’s small water will evaporate to quench the sun. I search the rain from the tongues of my skin—: it is four months away. 

The horse has been dead in the dunes all summer. Sun-chromed ravens in early devotion opened each bright window along its bloated belly—: unthreaded red curtains. 

Desert as Plutonian shore—: the torso open, a sand-torn sail of hide flapping above the funeral boat. In Mojave a horse is what it does & how it does it, but our word for boat is a wooden box. 

Mesquite pods drip in light from turquoise branches. Coyotes mistake the pool for moon water. If the shepherds don’t poison the coyotes—: the coyotes will eat the pods & scat them out. 

Scarification—: the obligation of breaking, of rock & whelm.

Every scar loses its wound. In the valley of loss I shift shape, an ache—: become one hundred coyotes in the ‘analy grove weeping from every fleshed door of my body.

The land of Death is a duned land. Xeric. Saly’aay. Saly’aat. We burn our dead we say—: because we do. Touch me I say, because it’s a story we become.

Copyright © 2021 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 23, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

—for Creativity and Crisis at the National Mall

queer me
shift me
transgress me
tell my students i’m gay
tell chick fil a i’m queer
tell the new york times i’m straight
tell the mail man i’m a lesbian
tell american airlines
i don’t know what my gender is
like me
liking you
like summer blockbuster armrest dates
armrest cinematic love
elbow to forearm in the dark
humor me queerly
fill me with laughter
make me high with queer gas
decompress me from centuries of spanish inquisition
& self-righteous judgment
like the blood my blood
that has mixed w/ the colonizer
& the colonized
in the extinct & instinct to love
bust memories of water & heat
& hot & breath
beating skin on skin fluttering
bruise me into vapors
bleed me into air
fly me over sub-saharan africa & asia & antarctica
explode me from the closet of my fears
graffiti me out of doubt
bend me like bamboo
propose to me
divorce me
divide me into your spirit 2 spirit half spirit
& shadow me w/ fluttering tongues
& caresses beyond head
heart chakras
fist smashing djembes
between my hesitations
haiku me into 17 bursts of blossoms & cold saki
de-ethnicize me
de-clothe me
de-gender me in brassieres
& prosthetic genitalias
burn me on a brazier
wearing a brassiere
in bitch braggadocio soprano bass
magnificat me in vespers
of hallelujah & amen
libate me in halos
heal me in halls of femmy troubadors
announcing my hiv status
or your status
i am not afraid to love you
implant dialects as if they were lilacs
in my ear
medicate me with a lick & a like
i am not afraid to love you
so demand me
reclaim me
queerify me

Copyright © 2014 by Regie Cabico. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.