The periodic pleasure
of small happenings
is upon us—
behind the stalls
at the farmer’s market
snow glinting in heaps,
a cardinal its chest
puffed out, bloodshod
above the piles of awnings,
you picking up a sweet potato
turning to me ‘This too?’—
query of tenderness
under the blown red wing.
Remember the brazen world?
Let’s find a room
with a window onto elms
strung with sunlight,
a cafe with polished cups,
darling coffee they call it,
may our bed be stoked
with fresh cut rosemary
and glinting thyme,
all herbs in due season
tucked under wild sheets:
fit for the conjugation of joy.
Copyright © 2015 by Meena Alexander. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 15, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
My friend a writer and scientist
has retreated to a monastery
where he has submitted himself
out of exhaustion to not knowing.
He’s been thinking about
the incarnation a.k.a. Big Bang
after hearing a monk’s teaching
that crucifixion was not the hard part
for Christ. Incarnation was.
How to squeeze all of that
all-of-that into a body. I woke
that Easter to think of the Yaqui
celebrations taking place in our city
the culminating ritual of the Gloria
when the disruptive spirits
with their clacking daggers and swords
are repelled from the sanctuary
by women and children
throwing cottonwood leaves and confetti
and then my mother rose
in me rose from the anguish
of her hospice bed a woman
who expected to direct all the action
complaining to her nurse
I’ve been here three days
and I’m not dead yet—not ready
at one hundred and two to give up
control even to giving up control.
I helped with the morphine clicker.
Peace peace peace the stilling
at her throat the hazel eye
become a glassy marble. Yet here she is
an Easter irreverent still rising
to dress in loud pastels
and turn me loose
in Connecticut woods to hunt
my basket of marshmallow eggs
jelly beans and chocolate rabbit
there fakeries of nature made vestal
incarnated in their nest of shiny manufactured grass.
for Gary Paul Nabhan
Copyright © 2016 by Alison Hawthorne Deming. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
The prince speaks Let me lower the curtains, my love Our last night together is brief Let me straighten our wedding quilt And warm it for you, my love Let me fold your nightgown, my love Let me unfasten your hair Let me lift the veil from your face To see my bride’s last cry Heaven is our starry canopy, my love Earth is our eternal bed Let us drift in our cold black railroad car And wake to empire again
From Hard Love Province. Copyright © 2015 by Marilyn Chin. Used with the permission of the author.
You meet someone and inside of them
you know there swells
a small country brimming
with steel and beasts of labor.
You love the country
and so you fear it.
Its flora fascinates you.
You wish to visit, though
you worry you won’t
wear the right clothes, that you'll fail
assure the clerk in the flower
shop you aren’t a thief.
They’re only roses. They remind you
of the one you love.
Even with your eyes closed
in your own mouth you’d know
Copyright © 2018 by David Welch. Used with the permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Quarterly West Issue 94.
It’s neither red
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
It doesn’t have
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
just a thick clutch
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—
but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
Copyright © 2017 Rita Dove. Used with permission of the author.
Here you go
light low and long
in the fields
at sunset and sunrise
a doubled existence
yours and the other one
folded into a paper boat
the points of which
When I thought it was right to name my desires,
what I wanted of life, they seemed to turn
like bleating sheep, not to me, who could have been
a caring, if unskilled, shepherd, but to the boxed-in hills
beyond which the blue mountains sloped down
with poppies orange as crayfish all the way to the Pacific seas
in which the hulls of whales steered them
in search of a mate for whom they bellowed
in a new, highly particular song
we might call the most ardent articulation of love,
the pin at the tip of evolution,
In the middle of my life
it was right to say my desires
but they went away. I couldn’t even make them out,
not even as dots
now in the distance.
Yet I see the small lights
of winter campfires in the hills—
teenagers in love often go there
for their first nights—and each yellow-white glow
tells me what I can know and admit to knowing,
that all I ever wanted
was to sit by a fire with someone
who wanted me in measure the same to my wanting.
To want to make a fire with someone,
Copyright © 2017 by Katie Ford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs
and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead
on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow
feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.
I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot
feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls
skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.
To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white
petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am
in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.
Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Be in me as the eternal moods
of the bleak wind, and not
As transient things are –
gaiety of flowers.
Have me in the strong loneliness
of sunless cliffs
And of grey waters.
Let the gods speak softly of us
In days hereafter,
The shadowy flowers of Orcus
This poem is in the public domain.
Now winter nights enlarge This number of their hours; And clouds their storms discharge Upon the airy towers. Let now the chimneys blaze And cups o'erflow with wine, Let well-tuned words amaze With harmony divine. Now yellow waxen lights Shall wait on honey love While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights Sleep's leaden spells remove. This time doth well dispense With lovers' long discourse; Much speech hath some defense, Though beauty no remorse. All do not all things well: Some measures comely tread, Some knotted riddles tell, Some poems smoothly read. The summer hath his joys, And winter his delights; Though love and all his pleasures are but toys They shorten tedious nights.
This poem is in the public domain.
What can I say to cheer you up? This afternoon the sky is like five portholes between the clouds. The unidentifiable weeds are tall and still unidentifiable and I miss the cows in the field, where have they gone? Sometimes one would wander then stand in the middle of the road and I’d have to stop my car and wait for it to decide to finish crossing. I am drinking seltzer through a straw because of my injury and I have inexplicable bruises on the side of my thigh and I just spent the last five minutes watching a bird through my window sitting in the small crotch where two phone lines x together though it flew off before I could take a picture of it. In the urgent care waiting room this morning there was a magazine with a proven neuroscience article on rituals that will make us happy and the first was practicing gratitude but when I tried to think of something right there next to the guy with the walker and the woman with gauze held to her cheek I came up blank. Because I am a terrible person I will tell you that my neighbor does this thing I hate with her kids called heart-bread, where they’re forced each night before bed to go around one by one and come up with a moment of gratitude and I want to tell her that we can thank anything—the crushed cans in recycling, my wristwatch for keeping time, the rainstorm yesterday that had water pouring from the gutters. I mean, we all overflow; we all feel an abundance of something but sometimes it’s just emptiness: vacant page, busy signal, radio static, implacable repeat rut where the tone arm reaches across a spinning vinyl record to play it again, rest its delicate needle in a groove and caress forever the same sound from the same body. Which is to say that the opposite of ennui is excitement and I’m not feeling it either today even a little. Not in the CVS while browsing the shiny electric rainbow nail-polish display indefinitely while waiting for my prescription. And probably not on my run later no matter how bucolic the mountains seem in the 5pm heat. The second ritual in that article was to touch people, which is easy if you’re with people you can touch but I’m in too loud a solitude and can only touch myself which reminds me of that old Divinyls’ song and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the article meant. Buber says you has no borders but he’s talking about god I think since this is not true of us because we all have bodies which make us small countries or maybe islands. If summer means our bodies are more porous perhaps we’re also more open to this inexplicable sadness that hangs here from the cinderblocks, drags itself across the barbed wire fence. What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m not cheered up either. That bird, before it flew off, I like to think of the crossed wires, the impenetrable conversations rushing under its feet.
Copyright © 2018 by Erika Meitner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Anthony Haughey’s “Settlement”
Garden of rock.
Garden of brick and heather.
Garden of cranes with their hands raised
as if they know the yellow answer:
to gather together—safety in numbers.
Garden of drywall frames, holes for windows
punched out like teeth. Garden of bar fights.
Garden of rubble and gaps,
spectral for-sale signs knocked
from wooden posts, bleached down
to numbers ending in gardens of overgrown lots.
We are falling into ruin, garden
of scaffolding and shale and gravel—
give us back our peace: a half-built garden
of theft, treasures hidden in darkness,
newspapers crumpled on subfloors telling us
to hold fast to that which is good.
Garden of rebar and saplings with trunks
encased in corrugated piping
because many animals can girdle
a tree’s bark quickly: deer, stray cats, rabbits.
Garden of Tyvek wrap loosed
and flapping like a ship’s sail
in the gales, in the sheeting storms.
Hanging laundry left out in the garden
past darkness, fruit from the tree
of human-ness: socks, shirts, underpants.
Garden of long exposures, half-light, traces
that empty themselves in tire treads running
like ladders through red clay mud:
the dirt from which we are formed
and crushed and formed again.
Copyright © 2016 Erika Meitner. Used with permission of the author.
Evening, and all my ghosts come back to me
like red banty hens to catalpa limbs
and chicken-wired hutches, clucking, clucking,
and falling, at last, into their head-under-wing sleep.
I think about the field of grass I lay in once,
between Omaha and Lincoln. It was summer, I think.
The air smelled green, and wands of windy green, a-sway,
a-sway, swayed over me. I lay on green sod
like a prairie snake letting the sun warm me.
What does a girl think about alone
in a field of grass, beneath a sky as bright
as an Easter dress, beneath a green wind?
Maybe I have not shaken the grass.
All is vanity.
Maybe I never rose from that green field.
All is vanity.
Maybe I did no more than swallow deep, deep breaths
and spill them out into story: all is vanity.
Maybe I listened to the wind sighing and shivered,
spinning, awhirl amidst the bluestem
and green lashes: O my beloved! O my beloved!
I lay in a field of grass once, and then went on.
Even the hollow my body made is gone.
From Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone by Janice N Harrington. Copyright © 2007 by Janice N. Harrington. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
From Personae by Ezra Pound, copyright © 1926 by Ezra Pound. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.
Ten years of driving the same highway, past the same tree, the
at last complete. The eucalyptus tree and narrow birds above a
steel sea with no thoughts of yesterday, today, or tomorrow.
Black cormorants on bare branches spread their wings as if in
A sunny day in Summerland and the tree, visible only from the
hides its penitent perch from cars racing by too fast.
Four wheels swerve to avoid a sheer cliff, southbound on the 101.
The fat sun slides its yolk into the glass ocean. Slow down, see
an empty nest of woven round sticks in the praying tree.
Birds soak in rays without fear of melanoma or the nature
of forgiveness. Slick imperfections, wet wings
open and close in Morse code for goodbye.
Copyright © 2015 by Melinda Palacio. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
Now thou art risen, and thy day begun.
How shrink the shrouding mists before thy face,
As up thou spring’st to thy diurnal race!
How darkness chases darkness to the west,
As shades of light on light rise radiant from thy crest!
For thee, great source of strength, emblem of might,
In hours of darkest gloom there is no night.
Thou shinest on though clouds hide thee from sight,
And through each break thou sendest down thy light.
O greater Maker of this Thy great sun,
Give me the strength this one day’s race to run,
Fill me with light, fill me with sun-like strength,
Fill me with joy to rob the day its length.
Light from within, light that will outward shine,
Strength to make strong some weaker heart than mine,
Joy to make glad each soul that feels its touch;
Great Father of the sun, I ask this much.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 28, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Seems lak to me de stars don’t shine so bright,
Seems lak to me de sun done loss his light,
Seems lak to me der’s nothin’ goin’ right,
Sence you went away.
Seems lak to me de sky ain’t half so blue,
Seems lak to me dat ev’ything wants you,
Seems lak to me I don’t know what to do,
Sence you went away.
Seems lake to me dat ev’ything is wrong,
Seems lak to me de day’s jes twice es long,
Seems lak to me de bird’s forgot his song,
Sence you went away.
Seems lak to me I jes can’t he’p but sigh,
Seems lak to me ma th’oat keeps gettin’ dry,
Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,
Sence you went away.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Eternities before the first-born day,
Or ere the first sun fledged his wings of flame,
Calm Night, the everlasting and the same,
A brooding mother over chaos lay.
And whirling suns shall blaze and then decay,
Shall run their fiery courses and then claim
The haven of the darkness whence they came;
Back to Nirvanic peace shall grope their way.
So when my feeble sun of life burns out,
And sounded is the hour for my long sleep,
I shall, full weary of the feverish light,
Welcome the darkness without fear or doubt,
And heavy-lidded, I shall softly creep
Into the quiet bosom of the Night.
Green pincushion proteas grow in my memory, swaying faintly in today’s wind. Memory snags me through the pink pincushions I bought this morning from the auntie in the doek by the Kwikspar who added a king protea to the bunch, all spikes and pins in reds and maroons, so regal that as a child I didn’t know they were alive and did not water them. My mother’s remembering remembers them into me. Do you remember, she asks, and then I do, green pincushion proteas this small? She slowly makes her fingers turn and bloom green flowers the size of large coins that we found here among the rocks and grey sand under tall trees unnameable in memory, reaching their roots into the house’s foundations, subtle threads stretching closer and closer. All tangles and snaggings and swayings, green pincushion proteas prick into my mind, thicken themselves stitch by stitch into a place that was not, but is again. The grey sand of memory now fervent with colour, green blooms clamber over the rockery and we, who did not know their beginnings, move them to another part of the garden, and they withdraw, and then withdraw from memory until now, a new species of green blossoming and unmoved. They died, she recalls. They don’t like their roots to be moved. Do you remember, she asks, and the green coins bud into the first bush long preceding us, and careless we wrench them from their original rocks and they die a little and then fully. Why did we move them to another place, we, who were removed to here? Do you remember, she asks.
Copyright © 2018 by Gabeba Baderoon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 6, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Pauline Opango Onosamba Lumumba 1937–2014
When it is finally ours...this beautiful
and terrible thing...
—“Frederick Douglass” by Robert Hayden
we like to imagine that liberation comes in the natural order of things
carried on such fabled winds of change that
even in the heat of assassination
slaughter and awesome dying for right of millions, or
else some solitary
beautifully ordinary brother
cannot be missed or misconstrued
but there are so many added costs and taxes
as to trip us up quite easily
in all the clamor and bravura of this liberation business.
and then, of course,
the grief-stricken bared breasts of pauline lumumba—
no half-century long enough to bury
the blank and heavy forward-propelled pace
widow flanked on two sides by men
aching to protect her and she
already worlds beyond—
who among us looks on those breasts
and is not bowed?
beloved companion the letter begins
we are not alone
and history will one day have its say
how does one look into the frank, unstoried eyes of one’s child and say
we are not alone?
how does one address the letter that reads
whether i am free or in prison alive or already in death’s maw?
to what khakied and accursed postal worker falls the task of bearing
so hard and heavy final and unbearably dear a letter?
in what corner of
one’s dank and filthy cell is it written?
where do the flower petals of one’s springtime dress fall away to on receiving it?
and what is the weight of those hands, slim-fingered and otherwise empty
full now of driest air
coming slowly slowly
from neighboring forest and savanna?
when does the gnawing of marrow begin to tell
the ages-old story
of the death even of hope
when after everything
we are not alone?
month of the wolf
month of solemnities and annunciations
as good a beginning as any
january then surely was seasonable enough for death by torture by beating by
shooting by three adept and clearly necessary firing squads for three men already half-dead
fully bloodied from head to heels
orifices swollen to proud flesh ripe-red for the plucking
one at a time in a row from that tree
buried unburied dismembered doused with acid how
how many ways to kill
men whose ideals
clearly were that much more costly than
seasonable for mourning-time—
assassinating martyr-making widowmaking time of year
they liked in those brief months
they liked to report on your loveliness, didn’t they?
european press couldn’t get enough of you—
your slight waist and native grace
the pretty way you held the pretty child
how you held to the arm of the young hero-husband
so clearly perfectly patently marked both for victory and for early death
eyes wide with all the world could then imagine of vicious and
pretty young wife and mother become symbol become widow
to generation and to continents history and biographers—
nothing said of the shambled life from center to border
flight into egypt beyond and back again
death-startled children in tow.
what will they write in a single decade’s time of how
you yourself chose the warm tenth-month of
sacrifices and of minor feasts, lesser saints
fewer and requisite number of martyred virgins
told no one of your journey—
december and death in your own bed —
asleep alone as ever you were
leaving now fully alone continents grieving
contemplating now and forever, again
bared grief-flattened breasts
as at the inevitable and deliberate coming
of end times
Copyright © 2018 by Brenda Marie Osbey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 9, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Who would decry instruments— when grasses ever so fragile, provide strings stout enough for insect moods to glide up and down in glissandos of toes along wires or finger-tips on zithers— though the mere sounds be theirs, not ours— theirs, not ours, the first inspiration— discord without resolution— who would cry being loved, when even such tinkling comes of the loving?
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The pantaloons are dancing,
dancing, through the night,
pure white pantaloons,
underneath the moon,
on a jolly wash line,
skipping from my room,
over to Miranda,
who washed them this noon.
This poem is in the public domain.
In the wild soft summer darkness How many and many a night we two together Sat in the park and watched the Hudson Wearing her lights like golden spangles Glinting on black satin. The rail along the curving pathway Was low in a happy place to let us cross, And down the hill a tree that dripped with bloom Sheltered us, While your kisses and the flowers, Falling, falling, Tangled in my hair.... The frail white stars moved slowly over the sky. And now, far off In the fragrant darkness The tree is tremulous again with bloom For June comes back. To-night what girl Dreamily before her mirror shakes from her hair This year's blossoms, clinging to its coils?
This poem is in the public domain.
Because I had loved so deeply,
Because I had loved so long,
God in His great compassion
Gave me the gift of song.
Because I have loved so vainly,
And sung with such faltering breath,
The Master in infinite mercy
Offers the boon of Death.
This poem is in the public domain. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 26, 2014.
Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away And lovers Must I be reminded Joy came always after pain The night is a clock chiming The days go by not I We’re face to face and hand in hand While under the bridges Of embrace expire Eternal tired tidal eyes The night is a clock chiming The days go by not I Love elapses like the river Love goes by Poor life is indolent And expectation always violent The night is a clock chiming The days go by not I The days and equally the weeks elapse The past remains the past Love remains lost Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away The night is a clock chiming The days go by not I
From Alcools by Guillaume Apollinaire, translated by Donald Revell. Copyright © 1995 by Donald Revell. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.
Everything contains some
silence. Noise gets
its zest from the
of rest angled
in it. An hour
of city holds maybe
a minute of these
remnants of a time
when silence reigned,
compact and dangerous
as a shark. Sometimes
a bit of a tail
or fin can still
be sensed in parks.
From The Niagara River © 2005 by Kay Ryan. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
The pale sound of jilgueros trilling in the jungle. Abuelo rocks in his chair and maps the birds in his head, practiced in the geometry of sound. My uncle stokes the cabin’s ironblack stove with a short rod. The flames that come are his loves. I cook—chile panameño, coconut milk— a recipe I’d wanted to try. Abuelo eats, suppresses the color that builds in his cheek. To him the chile is a flash of snake in the mud. He asks for plain rice, beans. Tío hugs his father, kneels in front of the fire, whispers away the dying of his little flames. We soak rice until the water clouds. On the television, a fiesta… The person I am showing the poem to stops reading. He questions the TV, circles it with a felt pen. “This feels so out of place in a jungle to me. Can you explain to the reader why it’s there?” For a moment, I can’t believe. You don’t think we have 1930s technology? The poem was trying to talk about stereotype, gentleness instead of violence for once. But now I should fill the little room of my sonnet explaining how we own a TV? A shame, because I had a great last line— there was a parade in it, and a dancing horse like you wouldn’t believe.
Copyright © 2018 by Jacob Shores-Argüello. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The swollen season gives birth to another police procedural, but who doesn’t love a good detective? A dead fall. A heater, angry to be awoken, burps up the summer’s burnt dust in my face. Before her cremation, the family swore they’d removed Nana’s wedding band, but all pockets turned up empty afterwards. It’s a miracle the ring hadn’t been lost sooner, dancing from finger to finger as her body’s bones made themselves known like a barn caving in a beam at a time. Infection spreads like fire across a small town. I’m passing through Logansport today, this Sunday in Ordinary Time. Barreling forward, forty-eight in a thirty to make Mass, when Mama says, why all this hurried death in your poetry? Bells at noon. I daydream of picking open a tabernacle with a wiry hair from my beard & a hairline sliver of silver to gorge on my crisp God, half-hoping Christ tries to intercede. The Bible tells me: “anyone who does evil hates the light,” & no matter how brightly I bite back, the Bible never changes its mind. Lord, help me to discern the difference between persistence & insistence, indulgence & rigor in every laugh, & the two chords my clavicles ring when plucked. Help me grin through their high pitch twangs, the way a good father listens to his child learn to play the violin. I’m still learning to pick up my feet when I walk, stumbling less through names of famous philosophers at smart parties & it’s Spring before anyone’s ready & I’m wondering how to build a case against the bees plotting to ball their queen to death without becoming a fanatic of my own. A death at the legs of so many lovers seems a difficult death to explain to children & this: if a button breaks your fall, it doesn’t make it luckier than other buttons. Listen: squint & it sings of simple addition. A kernel cooked in its own slick. & you, dear dear, forgive me when I take you for steak & say nothing after a second Sazerac, after you unwittingly spread horseradish on your bread instead of butter.
Copyright © 2018 by Peter Twal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Across the dunes, in the waning light,
The rising moon pours her amber rays,
Through the slumbrous air of the dim, brown night
The pungent smell of the seaweed strays—
From vast and trackless spaces
Where wind and water meet,
White flowers, that rise from the sleepless deep,
Come drifting to my feet.
They flutter the shore in a drowsy tune,
Unfurl their bloom to the lightlorn sky,
Allow a caress to the rising moon,
Then fall to slumber, and fade, and die.
White flowers, a-bloom on the vagrant deep,
Like dreams of love, rising out of sleep,
You are the songs, I dreamt but never sung,
Pale hopes my thoughts alone have known,
Vain words ne’er uttered, though on the tongue,
That winds to the sibilant seas have blown.
In you, I see the everlasting drift of years
That will endure all sorrows, smiles and tears;
For when the bell of time will ring the doom
To all the follies of the human race,
You still will rise in fugitive bloom
And garland the shores of ruined space.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
How much like angels are these tall gladiolas in a vase on my coffee table, as if in a bunch whispering. How slender and artless, how scandalously alive, each with its own humors and pulse. Each weight- bearing stem is the stem of a thought through which aspires the blood-metal of stars. Each heart is a gift for the king. When I was a child, my mother and aunts would sit in the kitchen gossiping. One would tip her head toward me, “Little Ears,” she’d warn, and the whole room went silent. Now, before sunrise, what secrets I am told!—being quieter than blossoms and near invisible.
Copyright © 2018 by Toi Derricotte. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Natalie So much like sequins the sunlight on this river. Something like that kiss— remember? Fourth of July, with the moon down early the air moved as if it were thinking, as if it had begun to understand how hard it is to feel at home in the world, but that night she found a place just above your shoulder and pressed her lips there. Soft rain had called off the fireworks: the sky was quiet, but back on Earth two boys cruised by on bikes trying out bad words. You turned to reach her mouth, at last, with yours after weeks of long walks, talking about former loves gone awry— how the soul finally falls down and gets up alone once more finding the city strange, the streets unmarked. Every time you meet someone it’s hard not to wonder who they’ve been—one story breaking so much into the next: memory engraves its hesitations— but that night you found yourself unafraid. Do you remember what the wind told the trees about her brown hair?— how the cool dark turned around: that first kiss, long as a river. Didn’t it seem like you already loved her? Off the sidewalk: a small pond, the tall cattails, all those sleepy koi coloring the water.
Copyright © 2018 by Tim Seibles. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Are atoms made of lots of circles? is the first thing my small son says when he wakes up. My mind swims around, trying to remember if molecules are bigger than atoms. In models of atoms, when they show what they look like, there are lots of circles, I say. The new chair of women’s studies at my alma mater is a man. He writes me without using my professional title to ask what I’ve been up to since graduation. His work, the letter says, has been mentioned on NPR. Quarks? I think, imagining electrons swimming in circles around neutrons. Before bed, I tell my son a story about when he was a small bear living with his bear family in a remote part of the forest. I describe the white snow, the black branches, the brightness of the cardinal on a top branch who greets him when he leaves his cottage. This is meant to be lulling. Bears hibernate in winter, he says. Do you want to be hibernating? I say. No! he is seized by a narrative impulse, his little body trembles with it. Tell how I could turn into a polar bear when I was cold and into a fearsome desert bear when I got hot! Tell how surprised everyone was. I tell all about it, the fearsomeness and the changing fur. How he once sat there half-polar and half-desert bear, sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows by the cozy fire. In the morning, I leave my son at school. I am dissatisfied with how they greet him. The teachers do not know of his powers. His fearsome magic. Have a good day, I say, kissing his crown. Have a good Friday at home, he says, following me to the door. Have a good shopping trip. At home I straighten my bed, turn it down, and slip back in. I lie very still, with pillow levees on either side of my body. My son is safe at school... I think. Most likely safe at school… I try not to think about what the ER doctor said, what machine guns do to human organs. I only tremble a little bit. A molecule, an atom, a particle, a quark, I think. A mourning dove calls, and it is lulling. Particle was the word that I forgot. This is what I’ve been up to since graduation.
Copyright © 2018 by Joanna Penn Cooper. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Sinking down by the gate I discern the thin moon,
And a blackbird tries over old airs in the pine,
But the moon is a sorry one, sad the bird’s tune,
For this spot is unknown to that Heartmate of mine.
Did my Heartmate but haunt here at times such as now,
The song would be joyous and cheerful the moon;
But she will see never this gate, path, or bough,
Nor I find a joy in the scene or the tune.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
South of Plaza Mayor by Plaza de Cascorro— past streets named Lettuce, Raisin, Barley— is Madrid’s outdoor market called El Rastro, hundreds of stalls, lean-tos, tents squeezed tight as niches where anything from a clawfoot tub, to a surgeon’s saw to a tattered La Celestina bound in sheepskin could be haggled down with raunchy bravado or the promise of beer. Mostly it was junk passed off to the tourists as pricey souvenirs, like plastic castanets, hand fans of silk (rayon really), or tin-plate doubloons. So what drew the youth of Madrid to this place every Sunday afternoon by the hundreds? None of us were bargain hunters or hoarders, just hippieish kids in patched dungarees, espadrilles, & wool coats frayed to cheesecloth, our pockets with enough pesetas to buy a handful of stale cigarettes. It was to revel in life, squeeze out joy from the lees of fate, make fellowship like pilgrims to a shrine. We’d sprawl against a wall or a lamppost long into the afternoon to talk, joke, carouse, eat cheese rinds with secondhand bread, drink wine more like iodine than merlot, oblivious to time & space, the crowds tripping on our legs, tossing butts into our heads, how they smelled like horses & we told them so, who then shot out crude medieval curses, but we didn’t care, for we felt alive as never before, singular in every breath, word, & thought, stubborn as wayward seeds that trick a drought & grow into hardscrabble woodland trees.
Copyright © 2018 by Orlando Ricardo Menes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
they asked me to write a poem like a lush life, a johnny hartman poem. a poem that would make your fake eyelashes fall off. a poem with the city all up in it. a poem, matter of fact, like a city, one that can only be reached by train. yeah, write us a poem like a train, but not like coltrane. just write a coltrane poem that contains the essence of the city, the way the horizon sounds like elvin jones playing cymbals & trash trucks. i mean, just write a poem that contains the essence of west philly—a poem you’ve already written—write that. yeah, write a recycled philly poem about a philly that doesn’t exist anymore. write the sequel. write a new romancing the stone, but set it in philly, starring a black woman poet & a belizean sailor. write that scene where your angry neighbors shut down a fast food joint with danny devito or those motley kids discover the smirking mouth of a creek buried under 43rd. make sure it’s juicy with brotherly love & that other stuff. drop-in a cheesesteak, but make sure it’s gluten-free because our audience is particular. y’know, like people who don’t like poetry. not that you can’t write what you want, but for now, just write it like you love every damn inch of the city. even the hawks & vultures & raccoons & the characters like knives sharpened by the week, or like fruit bruised & first-frosted. write it like you believe the city has seasons, that it can change in its deepest cracks, unseen corners. write like you know these corners, you know why this building is painted pink, why this one is empty, why this one is a missing tooth on the block. write it like you know what it’s like for a tooth to be taken. write it like you know what it’s like for a home to be lost. or try writing it like you carry the voices of lost homes to bed with you. like they are evidence & you are a detective. like they are memories & you are family. write it like you can see beyond seeing. like you know the origin of shoulders sharp as javelins, can decode 3-pointed stars hunched under streetlights. like you are related to the men selling socks & incense, oils & belts. like you can read the compass on their faces. like you can recreate the arpeggios of the one-eyed singer or the $200 upright with beer-colored keys at the thrift store. just write a poem like a secondhand store full of dishes & leather jackets. vibrating with the leftovers of people. bleeding in solidarity with a woman in a ripped red sweater like an ear, wailing in the street one summer night. a poem full of peach seeds & lightning bugs. a poem that can change the color of the sky.
Copyright © 2018 by Yolanda Wisher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 9, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Someone else used to do this before. Someone responsible, someone who loved me enough to protect me from my own filth piling up. But I’m over 40 now & live alone, & if I don’t remember it's Thursday & rise with the cardinals & bluejays calling up the sun, I’m stuck with what’s left rotting for another week. I swing my legs like anchors over the side of the bed & use the wall for leverage to stand, shuffle to the bathroom. In summer, I slide into a pair of shorts & flip flops, wandering room to room to collect what no longer serves me. I shimmy the large kitchen bag from the steel canister, careful not to spill what’s inside or rip it somehow & gross myself out. Sometimes I double bag for insurance, tying loose ends together, cinching it tightly for the journey. Still combing through webs of dreams, of spiders’ handiwork glistening above the wheeled container on the back patio, I drag my refuse down the driveway past the chrysanthemums & azaleas, the huge Magnolia tree shading the living room from Georgia’s heat, flattening hordes of unsuspecting ants in my path to park it next to the mailbox for merciful elves to take off my hands. It is not lost on me that one day someone responsible, someone who loves me enough will dispose of this worn, wrinkled container after my spirit soars on. I don’t wait to say thank you to those doing this grueling, necessary work. But I do stand in the young, faintly lit air for a long moment to inhale deeply, & like clockwork when he strides by, watch the jogger’s strong, wet back fade over the slight rise of the road.
Copyright © 2018 by Kamilah Aisha Moon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Nobody straightens their hair anymore.
Space trips & limited air supplies will get you conscious quick.
My shea-buttered braids glow planetary
as I turn unconcerned, unburned by the pre-take-off bother.
“Leave it all behind,” my mother’d told me,
sweeping the last specs of copper thread from her front porch steps &
just as quick, she turned her back to me. Why
had she disappeared so suddenly behind that earthly door?
“Our people have made progress, but, perhaps,”
she’d said once, “not enough to guarantee safe voyage
to the Great Beyond,” beyond where Jesus
walked, rose, & ascended in the biblical tales that survived
above sprocket-punctured skylines &
desert-dusted runways jeweled with wrenches & sheet metal scraps.
She’d no doubt exhale with relief to know
ancient practice & belief died hard among the privileged, too.
Hundreds of missions passed & failed, but here
I was strapped in my seat, anticipating—what exactly?
Curved in prayer or remembrance of a hurt
so deep I couldn’t speak. Had that been me slammed to the ground, cuffed,
bulleted with pain as I danced with pain
I couldn’t shake loose, even as the cops aimed pistols at me,
my body & mind both disconnected
& connected & unable to freeze, though they shouted “freeze!”
like actors did on bad television.
They’d watched & thought they recognized me, generic or bland,
without my mother weeping like Mary,
Ruby, Idella, Geneava, or Ester stunned with a grief
our own countrymen refused to see, to
acknowledge or cease initiating, instigating, &
even mocking in the social networks,
ignorant frays bent and twisted like our DNA denied
but thriving and evident nonetheless—
You better believe the last things I saw when far off lifted
were Africa Africa Africa
Africa Africa Africa Africa Africa...
& though it pained me to say it sooner:
the unmistakable absence of the Great Barrier Reef.
Copyright © 2018 by Yona Harvey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
(Stand Your Ground) In this one, ladies and gentlemen, Beware, be clear: the brown man, The able lawyer, the paterfamilias, Never makes it out of the poem alive: The rash, all-too-daily report, The out of the blue bullet Blithely shatters our treasured Legal eagle’s bones and flesh— In the brusque spectacle of point-blank force, On a crimsoned street, Where a revered immigrant plummets Over a contested parking spot, And the far-seeing sages insist, Amid strident maenads Of at-the-ready patrol car sirens, Clockwork salvos, The charismatic Latino lawyer’s soul Is banished, elsewhere, without a shred Of eloquence in the matter— And the brute, churning Surfaces of the world, They bear our beloved citizen away— Which means, austere saints And all-seeing masters, If I grasp your bracing challenge: At our lives’ most brackish hour, Our highest mission isn’t just to bawl, But to turn the soul-shaking planet Of the desecrated parking lot (The anti-miracle), The blunt, irascible white man’s Unnecessary weapon, And the ruse of self-defense Into justice-cries and ballots? Into newfound pledges and particles of light? in memory of J. Garza, 1949-2017
Copyright © 2018 by Cyrus Cassells. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
what I really mean. He paints my name across the floral bed sheet and ties the bottom corners to my ankles. Then he paints another for himself. We walk into town and play the shadow game, saying Oh! I’m sorry for stepping on your shadow! and Please be careful! My shadow is caught in the wheels of your shopping cart. It's all very polite. Our shadows get dirty just like anyone’s, so we take them to the Laundromat—the one with the 1996 Olympics themed pinball machine— and watch our shadows warm against each other. We bring the shadow game home and (this is my favorite part) when we stretch our shadows across the bed, we get so tangled my husband grips his own wrist, certain it’s my wrist, and kisses it.
Copyright © 2018 by Paige Lewis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 6, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
So torn by my tides, I do not know I can read them. Hour book, our book. “H” in Italian is a tool, not a sound. My mother slips the “h” in only where it doesn’t belong. Our book, our book. How events just accumulate in time. Who will we lose in the duration of this writing. The promise of future children named for our beloved dead. Whispered at caskets. An hour dead. How many hours.
In our village the streets empty at appointed times. If life were a time-lapse video, lingering would be more visible than slipping away. Invisible motions the more pronounced. Once I stood akimbo, 8PM mid-street, waiting for everyone to go. I am astonished, in memory, by the boldness of it. Did everyone go?
How many ours.
Copyright © 2018 by Stefania Heim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Chinga La Migra
If a woman illegally crossing
The U.S.-Mexico border can sing
The Border Patrol agent’s favorite
Selena song, will he still detain her?
What if he does & later writes about
Her in the patrol vehicle’s back seat
Singing his favorite Selena song?
Will the Selena fans who read his book
Like it? What if that scene in Reservoir
Dogs where Mr. Blonde tortures a cop had
Been choreographed to "Bidi Bidi
Bom Bom," instead of "Stuck in the Middle
With You?" Would the Border Patrol agent
Be more or less likely to like that scene?
Copyright © 2018 by Wendy Trevino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
There is more glory in a drop of dew, That shineth only for an hour, Than there is in the pomp of earth’s great Kings Within the noonday of their power. There is more sweetness in a single strain That falleth from a wild bird’s throat, At random in the lonely forest’s depths, Than there’s in all the songs that bards e’er wrote. Yet men, for aye, rememb’ring Caesar’s name, Forget the glory in the dew, And, praising Homer’s epic, let the lark’s Song fall unheeded from the blue.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
And those other females who managed to slip the collar
for a moment or two of life were branded “bad.”
–Clarrisa Pinkola Estés, from Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype
The secret nests in my marrow.
At the striptease I appear pirouette
I might show you
what it means to be consumed.
The pashadom and papacy come
to gush and forever satellite spatter,
in the end you will find them
covered in a fine mist,
tasting of me.
What they do not know— beyond the veil
I lay with the wolf
& the wolf
Find me in a forest of tupelo,
cypress & black gum,
lobe, and blade.
Even a leaf can have teeth.
Human acts can be cannibalistic.
I am here
picking all of the wildflowers.
Copyright © 2018 by MK Chavez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Now I am slow and placid, fond of sun, Like a sleek beast, or a worn one: No slim and languid girl—not glad With the windy trip I once had, But velvet-footed, musing of my own, Torpid, mellow, stupid as a stone. You cleft me with your beauty’s pulse, and now Your pulse has taken body. Care not how The old grace goes, how heavy I am grown, Big with this loneliness, how you alone Ponder our love. Touch my feet and feel How earth tingles, teeming at my heel! Earth’s urge, not mine,—my little death, not hers; And the pure beauty yearns and stirs. It does not heed our ecstacies, it turns With secrets of its own, its own concerns, Toward a windy world of its own, toward stark And solitary places. In the dark, Defiant even now, it tugs and moans To be untangled from these mother’s bones.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Arriving with throats like nipped roses, like a tiny
bloom fastened to each neck, nothing else
cuts the air quite like this thrum to make the small
dog at my feet whine and yelp. So we wait—no
excitement pinned to the sky so needled and our days open
full of rain for weeks. Nothing yet from the ground speaks
green except weeds. But soon you see a familiar shadow
hovering where the glass feeders you brought
inside used to hang because the ice might shatter the pollen
junk and leaf bits collected after this windiest, wildest of winters.
Kin across the ocean surely felt this little jump of blood, this
little heartbeat, perhaps brushed across my grandmother’s
mostly grey braid snaked down her brown
neck and back across the Indian and the widest part of the Pacific
ocean, across the Mississippi, and back underneath my
patio. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve been silent in my lungs,
quiet as a salamander. Those times I wanted to decipher the mutter
rolled off a stranger’s full and beautiful lips. I only knew they
spoke in Malayalam—my father’s language—and how
terrific it’d sound if I could make my own slow mouth
ululate like that in utter sorrow or joy. I’m certain I’d be
voracious with each light and peppered syllable
winged back to me in the form of this sort of faith, a gift like
xenia offered to me. And now I must give it back to this tiny bird, its
yield far greener and greater than I could ever repay—a light like
zirconia—hoping for something so simple and sweet to sip.
Copyright © 2018 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 17, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The way I’m strapped into myself I can’t escape. Wake up and be a better person! Clip your toenails, and by sun-rise make sure you’re sitting at the table reading Arendt. With a little focus I could become everything I ever wished to be: level-headed and buoyed, a real (wo)man of conviction. But no, at night, I’m like an old towel on the line, tossing and turning in the wind of the dear leader’s words. What does it matter, if I grind my teeth for the old ladies of Puerto Rico? Or take a knee in the front yard every time I hear the national anthem in my head? The neighbor just thinks I’m weeding and waves.
Copyright © 2018 by Magdalena Zurawski. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 21, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
In my favorite fantasy I am given permission I am prone face toward the light beach queen bathed in body A thought that comes from a coming-from the sweet place where a sunset isn’t indescribable something simply looked at The sun sets I sit sinless in sand I sip only once
Copyright © 2019 by Chase Berggrun. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Six months ago, the measuring of whiskey left in the jug, urine on the mattress, couch cushions, the crotch of pants in wear. You watch how breath lifts a chest, how a person breathes— sick hobbies of when we must. You watch how you become illiterate at counting. Six or seven broken breathalyzers; a joke formulates in your throat & you choke back your windpipe as punchline. How many sobs in parking lots before sun lugged above horizon? The heart hammers all too familiar songs behind your ribs & these notes cut away at you. You read online how television, internet, starving children in numbers greater than three, polar bears, rain forests, light from an off direction all desensitize the human brain’s ability to empathize. You wonder how you chew the word panic in your jaws, let meaning burrow into molars seep in crevasses between root & bone. How rot tends to the insides. You wonder now with the inpatient tags, the cafeteria visits, the doctors, the psychiatrists, the when do you get to come homes, the hesitation of our bodies sharing space again, the words I have not drunk today & your brain in flinch, how you excavate organs for what’s left, for salvage.
Copyright © 2019 by Felicia Zamora. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 3, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
If my lover were a comet
Hung in air,
I would braid my leaping body
In his hair.
Yea, if they buried him ten leagues
Beneath the loam,
My fingers they would learn to dig
And I’d plunge home!
This poem is in the public domain.
Why make so much of fragmentary blue In here and there a bird, or butterfly, Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye, When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue? Since earth is earth, perhaps, not heaven (as yet)— Though some savants make earth include the sky; And blue so far above us comes so high, It only gives our wish for blue a whet.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The war was all over my hands.
I held the war and I watched them
die in high-definition. I could watch
anyone die, but I looked away. Still,
I wore the war on my back. I put it
on every morning. I walked the dogs
and they too wore the war. The sky
overhead was clear or it was cloudy
or it rained or it snowed, and I was rarely
afraid of what would fall from it. I worried
about what to do with my car, or how
much I could send my great-aunt this month
and the next. I ate my hamburger, I ate
my pizza, I ate a salad or lentil soup,
and this too was the war.
At times I was able to forget that I
was on the wrong side of the war,
my money and my typing and sleeping
sound at night. I never learned how
to get free. I never learned how
not to have anyone’s blood
on my own soft hands.
Copyright © 2019 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Never, never may the fruit be plucked from the bough And gathered into barrels. He that would eat of love must eat it where it hangs. Though the branches bend like reeds, Though the ripe fruit splash in the grass or wrinkle on the tree, He that would eat of love may bear away with him Only what his belly can hold, Nothing in the apron, Nothing in the pockets. Never, never may the fruit be gathered from the bough And harvested in barrels. The winter of love is a cellar of empty bins, In an orchard soft with rot.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
My neighbor to the left had a stroke a couple years ago. It didn’t look like he was going to make it, and then he made it. I’m watching him now from my window as he makes his slow way across his yard with some tree branches that fell in last night’s storm. Three steps. Wait. Three steps. It’s a hard slog. Watching, I want to pitch in. And we do, at such times, wanting to help. But on the other hand, it’s good to be as physical as possible in recovery. Maybe this is part of his rehab. Maybe this is doctor’s orders: DO YARDWORK. And here comes his wife across the yard anyway, to give a hand with a large branch. She’s able to quickly overtake him, and she folds into the process smoothly, no words between them that I can make out. It’s another part of what makes us human, weighing the theory of mind, watching each other struggle or perform, anticipating each other’s thoughts, as the abject hovers uncannily in the background, threatening to break through the fragile borders of the self. “What’s it like to be a bat?” we ask. The bats don’t respond. How usually, our lives unfold at the periphery of catastrophes happening to others. I’m reading, while my neighbor struggles, that the squirrel population in New England is in the midst of an unprecedented boom. A recent abundance of acorns is the reason for this surge in squirrel populations, most particularly in New Hampshire. They’re everywhere, being squirrely, squirreling acorns away. We call it “Squirrelnado” because it’s all around us, circling, and dangerous, and kind of funny. Language springs from the land, and through our imagination we become human. They’re back in the house now. We name the things we see, or they name themselves into our experience, whichever, and then we use those names for things we don’t understand, what we can’t express. Wind becomes spirit becomes ghost. Mountain becomes god. The land springs up before us. It shakes us and pushes us over.
Copyright © 2019 by John Gallaher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it
From The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara by Frank O’Hara, copyright © 1971 by Maureen Granville-Smith, Administratrix of the Estate of Frank O’Hara, copyright renewed 1999 by Maureen O’Hara Granville-Smith and Donald Allen. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
The fields are white, The laborers are few; Yet say the idle, There’s nothing to do. Jails are crowded, In Sunday Schools few; We still complain There’s nothing to do. Drunkards are dying, Your sons, it is true; Mothers’ arms folded, With nothing to do. Heathens are dying, Their blood falls on you; How can you people Find nothing to do?
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 31, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Copyright © 1966 by Robert Hayden, from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.
When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.
"Frederick Douglass." Copyright © 1966 by Robert Hayden. From Collected Poems of Robert Hayden by Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.
To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me—
That is my dream!
To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.
For Darlene Wind and James Welch
I think of Wind and her wild ways the year we had nothing to lose and lost it anyway in the cursed country of the fox. We still talk about that winter, how the cold froze imaginary buffalo on the stuffed horizon of snowbanks. The haunting voices of the starved and mutilated broke fences, crashed our thermostat dreams, and we couldn't stand it one more time. So once again we lost a winter in stubborn memory, walked through cheap apartment walls, skated through fields of ghosts into a town that never wanted us, in the epic search for grace.
Like Coyote, like Rabbit, we could not contain our terror and clowned our way through a season of false midnights. We had to swallow that town with laughter, so it would go down easy as honey. And one morning as the sun struggled to break ice, and our dreams had found us with coffee and pancakes in a truck stop along Highway 80, we found grace.
I could say grace was a woman with time on her hands, or a white buffalo escaped from memory. But in that dingy light it was a promise of balance. We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring was lean and hungry with the hope of children and corn.
I would like to say, with grace, we picked ourselves up and walked into the spring thaw. We didn't; the next season was worse. You went home to Leech Lake to work with the tribe and I went south. And, Wind, I am still crazy. I know there is something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people. We have seen it.
From In Mad Love and War © 1990 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
It is night, in my study. The deepest solitude; I hear the steady shudder in my breast —for it feels all alone, and blanched by my mind— and I hear my blood with even murmur fill up the silence. You might say the thin stream falls in the waterclock and fills the bottom. Here, in the night, all alone, this is my study; the books don't speak; my oil lamp bathes these pages in a light of peace, light of a chapel. The books don't speak; of the poets, the meditators, the learned, the spirits drowse; and it is as if around me circled cautious death. I turn at times to see if it waits, I search the dark, I try to discern among the shadows its thin shadow, I think of heart failure, think about my strong age; since my fortieth year two more have passed. Toward a looming temptation here, in the solitude, the silence turns me— the silence and the shadows. And I tell myself: "Perhaps when soon they come to tell me that supper awaits, they will discover a body here pallid and cold —the thing that I was, this one who waits— just like those books quiet and rigid, the blood already stopped, jelling in the veins, the chest silent under the gentle light of the soothing oil, a funeral lamp. I tremble to end these lines that they do not seem an unusual testament, but rather a mysterious message from the shade beyond, lines dictated by the anxiety of eternal life. I finished them and yet I live on.
From Roots and Wings: Poetry from Spain 1900-1975, translated by William Stafford and Lillian Jean Stafford, edited by Hardie St. Martin, and published by Harper & Row. © 1976 by Hardie St. Martin. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994) by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the author.
I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.
Copyright © 1980 by Galway Kinnell. From Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (Mariner Books, 1980). Used with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
What sadness anywhere is sadness where
I could just stand and walk to you from sadness
Go home to you though I bring home my sadness
What sadness there though I have felt sad there
Before when I come home from far away
What sadness then or from three blocks uptown
My office where I write this poem down
In a room full of the dimness that fills spac-
es anywhere where you are not a film
Obscuring every surface but it is a light
Not shining ever from surfaces
You are not near what sadness where you might
By being near reveal each thing for what it is
What sadness where each thing is whole
Copyright © 2020 by Shane McCrae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Love, leave me like the light,
The gently passing day;
We would not know, but for the night,
When it has slipped away.
So many hopes have fled,
Have left me but the name
Of what they were. When love is dead,
Go thou, beloved, the same.
Go quietly; a dream
When done, should leave no trace
That it has lived, except a gleam
Across the dreamer’s face.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 28, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.