Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
"If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately."
Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. "Help,"
said the flight agent. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this."
I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
"Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?" The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, "No, we're fine, you'll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let's call him."
We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to
her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—
by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.
Naomi Shihab Nye, "Gate A-4" from Honeybee. Copyright © 2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with permission.
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flowers of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.
This poem is in the public domain.
where the child is—seems uneven
within limits—of fragile lightshadows: emptiness!—for
the world Grows
in her—to Listen
in its Fullness
22 January 1983
From Child & Rose by Gennady Aygi. Copyright © 2003 by Gennady Aygi and Peter France. Used by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved.
Summers spent practicing in the apartment
stairwell: hand on the bannister, one foot after
another. Did I ever tell you I couldn’t walk
until I was three and then sort of dragged
myself up and downstairs until I was seven
or eight? That burgundy carpet.
I’d stop to breathe and look out the window,
over brick tenements, toward the Capitol
building. Oak leaves so full of late summer
sun even I thought, “Obscene” and stood stunned
for a moment. My God. The urge to rest like the birds
on the phone wires, chatting like barristers
at the end of the day. Myself the useless
Ambassador from the third floor. I was the last one
up so the door was left open. I can still see it gaping
from two stories down. Sometimes music played.
Sometimes I’d smell supper. Neighbors stopped
to say hello. Achingly beautiful how the sky
looked as I stood after they left. Nicer somehow
in the middle. All the trees tucking blackbirds
into their darkness. It really did take this long.
Copyright © 2015 by Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 15, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart,
When the full river of feeling overflows;—
The happy days unclouded to their close;
The sudden joys that out of darkness start
As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;— a Fairy Tale
Of some enchanted land we know not where,
But lovely as a landscape in a dream.
This poem is in the public domain.
It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand, and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop, very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say, it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only all the time.
From The Good Thief. Copyright © 1988 by Marie Howe. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc., New York.
Yesterday: me, a stone, the river,
a bottle of Jack, the clouds
with unusual speed crept by.
A man was in the middle of me.
I was humbled.
Not by him. The earth,
with its unusual speed,
went from dawn to dusk to dawn.
Just like that. The light
every shade of gold. Gold. I’m
greedy for it. Light is my currency.
I am big with dawn. So hot & so
pregnant with the fire I stole.
By pregnant I mean everything
you see is of me. Daylight
is my daughter. Dusk, my lover’s
post-pleasure face. And the night?
Well. Look up.
Are you ever really alone?
Copyright © 2020 by Katie Condon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The monotone of the rain is beautiful,
And the sudden rise and slow relapse
Of the long multitudinous rain.
The sun on the hills is beautiful,
Or a captured sunset sea-flung,
Bannered with fire and gold.
A face I know is beautiful—
With fire and gold of sky and sea,
And the peace of long warm rain.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 12, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms” from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods. Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt. But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down but the angel flies up again taking us with her. The summer mornings begin inch by inch while we sleep, and walk with us later as long-legged beauty through the dirty streets. It is no surprise that danger and suffering surround us. What astonishes is the singing. We know the horses are there in the dark meadow because we can smell them, can hear them breathing. Our spirit persists like a man struggling through the frozen valley who suddenly smells flowers and realizes the snow is melting out of sight on top of the mountain, knows that spring has begun.
From Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert. Copyright © 2012 by Jack Gilbert. Reprinted with permission of Alfred A. Knopf. 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.
Thank you my life long afternoon
late in this spring that has no age
my window above the river
for the woman you led me to
when it was time at last the words
coming to me out of mid-air
that carried me through the clear day
and come even now to find me
for old friends and echoes of them
those mistakes only I could make
homesickness that guides the plovers
from somewhere they had loved before
they knew they loved it to somewhere
they had loved before they saw it
thank you good body hand and eye
and the places and moments known
only to me revisiting
once more complete just as they are
and the morning stars I have seen
and the dogs who are guiding me
From Collected Poems 1996–2011 by W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 2013 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of The Library of America.
hurtling from the airport down the mountain road past barbed wire snagged with plastic bags fields of scrap and thistle farmyards from the edge of the plateau my eye zooms into the clarity of Belfast streets shipyards domes theatres British Army helicopter poised motionless at last I see everything
From Breaking News by Ciaran Carson. Copyright © 2003 by Ciaran Carson. Used by permission of Wake Forest University Press All rights reserved.
When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.
A rabbit has stopped on the gravel driveway:
imbibing the silence,
you stare at spruce needles:
there’s no sound of a leaf blower,
no sign of a black bear;
a few weeks ago, a buck scraped his rack
against an aspen trunk;
a carpenter scribed a plank along a curved stone wall.
You only spot the rabbit’s ears and tail:
when it moves, you locate it against speckled gravel,
but when it stops, it blends in again;
the world of being is like this gravel:
you think you own a car, a house,
this blue-zigzagged shirt, but you just borrow these things.
Yesterday, you constructed an aqueduct of dreams
and stood at Gibraltar,
but you possess nothing.
Snow melts into a pool of clear water;
and, in this stillness,
starlight behind daylight wherever you gaze.
Copyright © 2016 by Arthur Sze. Used with permission of the author.
I have carried in my coat, black wet
with rain. I stand. I clear my throat.
My coat drips. The carved door closes
on its slow brass hinge. City noises—
car horns, bicycle bells, the respiration
truck engines, the whimpering
steel in midtown taxi brakes—bend
in through the doorjamb with the wind
then drop away. The door shuts plumb: it seals
the world out like a coffin lid. A chill,
dampened and dense with the spent breath
of old Hail Marys, lifts from the smoothed
stone of the nave. I am here to pay
my own respects, but I will wait:
my eyes must grow accustomed
to church light, watery and dim.
I step in. Dark forms hunch forward
in the pews. Whispering, their heads
are bowed, their mouths pressed
to the hollows of clasped hands.
High overhead, a gathering of shades
glows in stained glass: the resurrected
mingle with the dead and martyred
in panes of blue, green, yellow, red.
Beneath them lies the golden holy
altar, holding its silence like a bell,
and there, brightly skeletal beside it,
the organ pipes: cold, chrome, quiet
but alive with a vibration tolling
out from the incarnate
source of holy sound. I turn, shivering
back into my coat. The vaulted ceiling
bends above me like an ear. It waits:
I hold my tongue. My body is my prayer.
Copyright © 2020 by Malachi Black. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 3, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2018 David Bottoms. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.
Sometimes when she sleeps, her face against the pillow (or sheet) almost achieves an otherworldly peace. Sometimes when the traffic and bother of the day dissolve and her deeper self eases out, when sunlight edges through curtains and drapes the bed, I know she’s in another place, a purer place, which perhaps doesn’t include me, though certainly includes love, which may include the possibility of me. Sometimes then her face against the sheet (or pillow) achieves (almost) an otherworldly calm, (do I dare say that?) and glows (almost) as it glowed years ago just after our daughter’s head slipped through the birth canal. I remember that wet sticky swirl of hair turning slightly so the slick body might follow more easily, and how the midwife or nurse or doctor (or someone) laid an firm open hand under that head and guided our child into the world. When that hand laid our daughter on her mother’s breast, such a sigh followed, a long exhausted breath, and (stunned) I saw in my wife’s face an ecstasy I knew I’d never (quite) see again.
I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.
Copyright © 2020 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.