Just as I move to sound the word
I start again, fall between the place

my mouth begins and the place
it makes something: the sudden here

synonymous with place and loss,
the dark world holding my body

differently. Every night I wake
at the point I try to speak

because I am trying to speak.
Because a sound breaks out.

There is no way to try a word
when silenced by it. The dark

outside will never show the inside
of my mouth back to me.

Losing that word over and over
is the same trouble as what

I carry. Maybe all lost things are
meanings beyond here and now.

Maybe there are no metaphors,
just what is true and what is true.

Copyright © 2013 by Rae Gouirand. “Language” originally appeared in The Brooklyner. Used with permission of the author.

 

Just as I move to sound the word
I start again, fall between the place

my mouth begins and the place
it makes something: the sudden here

synonymous with place and loss,
the dark world holding my body

differently. Every night I wake
at the point I try to speak

because I am trying to speak.
Because a sound breaks out.

There is no way to try a word
when silenced by it. The dark

outside will never show the inside
of my mouth back to me.

Losing that word over and over
is the same trouble as what

I carry. Maybe all lost things are
meanings beyond here and now.

Maybe there are no metaphors,
just what is true and what is true.

Copyright © 2013 by Rae Gouirand. “Language” originally appeared in The Brooklyner. Used with permission of the author.

 

Gettysburg National Military Park

Motorcycles and white tour vans speed 
between behemoth granite shafts, shove
my body by their force, leave me roadside
and wandering fields. Little is funny
when you’re Chicana and walking 
a Civil War site not meant for walking.
Regardless, I ask park rangers and guides 
for stories on Mexicans soldiers,

receive shrugs. No evidence in statues 
or statistics. In the cemetery, not one 
Spanish name. I’m alone in the wine shop. 
It’s the same in the post office, the market, 
the antique shop with KKK books on display.
In the peach orchard, I prepare a séance,
sit cross-legged in grass, and hold
a smoky quartz to the setting sun.  

I invite the unseen to speak. So many dead, 
it’s said Confederates were left to rot. 
In war, not all bodies are returned home 
nor graves marked. I Google “Mexicans 
in the Civil War” and uncover layers 
to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo 
and Cinco de Mayo. This is how I meet 
ancestors for the first time, heroes 

this country decorates in clownish sombreros 
and fake mustaches, dishonors for fighting 
European empire on shared American land 
Power & Money dictate can’t be shared. 
Years before this, carrying water gallons 
up an Arizona mountain ridge to replenish 
supplies in a pass known as “Dead Man’s,” 
I wrote messages on bottles to the living, 

scanned Sonoran canyons for the lost,
and knew too many would not be found. 
A black Sharpie Virgen drawn on hot plastic 
became a prayer: may the next officer halt 
before cracking her face beneath his boot,
spilling life on to dirt. No, nothing’s funny
when you’re brown in a country you’re taught 
isn’t yours, your dead don’t count.

Copyright © 2020 by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I had heard the story before
about the two prisoners, alone
in the same cell, and one
gives the other lessons in a language.
Day after day, the pupil studies hard—
what else does he have to do?—and year
after year they practice,
waiting for the hour of release.
They tackle the nouns, the cases, and genders,
the rules for imperatives and conjugations,
but near the end of his sentence, the teacher
suddenly dies and only the pupil
goes back through the gate and into the open
world. He travels to the country of his new
language, fluent, and full of hope.
Yet when he arrives he finds
that the language he speaks is not
the language that is spoken. He has learned
a language one other person knew—its inventor,
his cell-mate and teacher.
                          And then the other
evening, I heard the story again.
This time the teacher was Gombrowicz, the pupil
was his wife. She had dreamed of learning
Polish and, hour after hour, for years
on end, Gombrowicz had been willing to teach
her a Polish that does not and never
did exist. The man who told
the story would like to marry his girlfriend.
They love to read in bed and between
them speak three languages.
They laughed—at the wife, at Gombrowicz, it wasn’t
clear, and I wasn’t sure that they
themselves knew what was funny.
I wondered why the man had told
the story, and thought of the tricks
enclosure can play. A nod, or silence,
another nod, consent—or not, as a cloud
drifts beyond the scene and the two
stand pointing in different directions
at the very same empty sky.
                           Even so, there was something
else about the story, like teaching
a stunt to an animal—a four-legged
creature might prance on two legs
or a two-legged creature might
fall onto four.
                           I remembered,
then, the miscarriage, and before that
the months of waiting: like baskets filled
with bright shapes, the imagination
run wild. And then what arrived:
the event that was nothing, a mistaken idea,
a scrap of charred cloth, the enormous
present folding over the future,
like a wave overtaking
a grain of sand.
                           There was a myth
I once knew about twins who spoke
a private language, though one
spoke only the truth and the other
only lies. The savior gets mixed
up with the traitor, but the traitor
stays as true to himself as a god.

All night the rain falls here, falls there,
and the creatures dream, or drown, in the lair.
 
 

Copyright © 2011 by Susan Stewart. Originally published in the July/August 2011 issue of Poetry magazine. Used with permission by the author.

I had heard the story before
about the two prisoners, alone
in the same cell, and one
gives the other lessons in a language.
Day after day, the pupil studies hard—
what else does he have to do?—and year
after year they practice,
waiting for the hour of release.
They tackle the nouns, the cases, and genders,
the rules for imperatives and conjugations,
but near the end of his sentence, the teacher
suddenly dies and only the pupil
goes back through the gate and into the open
world. He travels to the country of his new
language, fluent, and full of hope.
Yet when he arrives he finds
that the language he speaks is not
the language that is spoken. He has learned
a language one other person knew—its inventor,
his cell-mate and teacher.
                          And then the other
evening, I heard the story again.
This time the teacher was Gombrowicz, the pupil
was his wife. She had dreamed of learning
Polish and, hour after hour, for years
on end, Gombrowicz had been willing to teach
her a Polish that does not and never
did exist. The man who told
the story would like to marry his girlfriend.
They love to read in bed and between
them speak three languages.
They laughed—at the wife, at Gombrowicz, it wasn’t
clear, and I wasn’t sure that they
themselves knew what was funny.
I wondered why the man had told
the story, and thought of the tricks
enclosure can play. A nod, or silence,
another nod, consent—or not, as a cloud
drifts beyond the scene and the two
stand pointing in different directions
at the very same empty sky.
                           Even so, there was something
else about the story, like teaching
a stunt to an animal—a four-legged
creature might prance on two legs
or a two-legged creature might
fall onto four.
                           I remembered,
then, the miscarriage, and before that
the months of waiting: like baskets filled
with bright shapes, the imagination
run wild. And then what arrived:
the event that was nothing, a mistaken idea,
a scrap of charred cloth, the enormous
present folding over the future,
like a wave overtaking
a grain of sand.
                           There was a myth
I once knew about twins who spoke
a private language, though one
spoke only the truth and the other
only lies. The savior gets mixed
up with the traitor, but the traitor
stays as true to himself as a god.

All night the rain falls here, falls there,
and the creatures dream, or drown, in the lair.
 
 

Copyright © 2011 by Susan Stewart. Originally published in the July/August 2011 issue of Poetry magazine. Used with permission by the author.

after Adrienne Rich

On Wednesdays I take the train past Yankee Stadium,
to a place where it is never a given that I speak the language,
to a place where graffiti covers the mural they painted to hide
the graffiti, to a place where the children call me Miss Miss
Miss Miss Miss
and I find in one of their poems, a self-portrait,
the line I wish I was rish. The dream of a common language

is the language of one million dollars, of basketball, of plátanos.
Are the kids black? my boyfriend wants to know. Dominican.
It’s different. When asked to write down a question
they wish they could ask their mom or dad, one boy writes,
Paper or plastic? A girl in the back of the class wants to know
Why don't I have lycene, translating the sound of the color

of my skin into her own language. The best poet
in sixth grade is the girl who is this year repeating
sixth grade. When I tell her teacher of her talent
she says, At least now we know she’s good
at something.
To speak their language, I study
the attendance list, practice the cadence of their names.

Yesterday I presented a black and white portrait of a black man,
his bald head turned away from us, a spotted moth resting
on one shoulder. I told them this is a man serving a life
sentence in Louisiana. Is this art? Without hesitation,
one girl said no, why would anybody
want to take a picture
of that.

Copyright @ 2014 by Leigh Stein. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2014.

This is not a small voice
you hear               this is a large
voice coming out of these cities.
This is the voice of LaTanya.
Kadesha. Shaniqua. This
is the voice of Antoine.
Darryl. Shaquille.
Running over waters
navigating the hallways
of our schools spilling out
on the corners of our cities and
no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.

This is not a small love
you hear               this is a large
love, a passion for kissing learning
on its face.
This is a love that crowns the feet with hands
that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails
mends the children,
folds them inside our history where they
toast more than the flesh
where they suck the bones of the alphabet
and spit out closed vowels.
This is a love colored with iron and lace.
This is a love initialed Black Genius.

This is not a small voice
you hear.

From Wounded in the House of a Friend. Copyright © 1995 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.

Once there was an opening, an operation: out of which oared the ocean, then oyster and oystercatcher, opal and opal-crowned tanager. From ornateness came the ornate flycatcher and ornate fruit dove. From oil, the oilbird. O is for opus, the Orphean warbler’s octaves, the oratorio of orioles. O for the osprey’s ostentation, the owl and its collection of ossicles. In October’s ochre, the orchard is overgrown with orange and olive, oleander and oxlip. Ovals of dew on the oatgrass. O for obsidian, onyx, ore, for boreholes like inverted obelisks. O for the onion’s concentric O’s, observable only when cut, for the opium oozing from the poppy’s globe only when scored. O for our organs, for the os of the cervix, the double O’s of the ovaries plotted on the body’s plane to mark the origin. O is the orbit that cradles the eye. The oculus opens an O to the sky, where the starry outlines of men float like air bubbles between us and oblivion. Once there were oarfish, opaleyes, olive flounders. Once the oxbows were not overrun with nitrogen. O for the mussels opening in the ocean’s oven. O for the rising ozone, the dropping oxygen, for algae overblooming like an omen or an oracle. O Earth, out-gunned and out-manned. O who holds the void inside itself. O who has made orphans of our hands.

Copyright © 2020 by Claire Wahmanholm. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

One for tree, two for woods,        
                                                            I-Goo wrote the characters           
                             Character  Character
                                               out for me. Dehiscent & reminiscent:
what wood made
                                               Ng Ng’s hope-chest

that she immigrated with
                                                                     —cargo from Guangzho

to Phoenix? In Spanish, Nana tells me

                                                           hope & waiting are one word.

                                        _____

In her own hand, she keeps
                                         a list of dichos—for your poems, she says.

Estan mas cerca los dientes
                      que los parentes, she recites her mother

& mother’s mother. It rhymes, she says.
                                                         
                                   Dee-say—the verb with its sound turned
down looks like dice
                                              to throw & dice, to cut. Shift after shift,

 

she inspected the die of integrated circuits
                                       beneath an assembly line of microscopes—            

the connections over time
                                                        getting smaller & smaller.

                                          _____
                                                                        
                                                To enter words in order to see
                                                                             —Cecilia Vicuña

In the classroom, we learn iambic words
                                          that leaf on the board with diacritics—

about, aloft, aggrieved. What over years

          accrues within one’s words? What immanent
                                                                        sprung with what rhythm?

Agave—a lie in the lion, the maenad made mad

by Dionysus awoke to find her son
                                    dead by her hand. The figure is gaslit

even if anachronistic. Data & river banks—
           memory’s figure is often riparian.  I hear Llorona’s agony

echo in the succulent. What’s the circuit in cerca to short

          or rewire the far & close—to map
                                                   Ng Ng & I-Goo to Nana’s carpool?

                                         ______

I read a sprig of evergreen, a symbol
                                               of everlasting, is sometimes packed

with a new bride’s trousseau. It was thirteen years
                                             
before Yeh Yeh could bring
                                                Ng Ng & I-Goo over. Evergreen
                     
& Empire were names of corner-stores
                                             
where they first worked—
                                             stores on corners of Nana’s barrio.

Chinito, Chinito! Toca la malaca
                                                             she might have sung in ’49

after hearing Don Tosti’s  
                                    recording—an l where the r would be

in the Spanish rattle filled with beans or seed or as
                                                                         the song suggests

change in the laundryman’s till.

                                         ______

I have read diviners
                       use stems of yarrow when consulting
                                                                                    the I-Ching.

What happens to the woods in a maiden name?

Two hyphens make a dash—
                                                the long signal in the binary code.
                                             
Attentive antennae: a monocot

—seed to single leaf—the agave store years
                                             for the stalk. My two grandmothers:
                                                         
one’s name keeps a pasture,
                       the other a forest. If they spoke to one another,
                     
it was with short, forced words
                                    like first strokes when sawing—
                                             
                                              trying to set the teeth into the grain.

Copyright © 2019 by Brandon Som. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

One for tree, two for woods,        
                                                            I-Goo wrote the characters           
                             Character  Character
                                               out for me. Dehiscent & reminiscent:
what wood made
                                               Ng Ng’s hope-chest

that she immigrated with
                                                                     —cargo from Guangzho

to Phoenix? In Spanish, Nana tells me

                                                           hope & waiting are one word.

                                        _____

In her own hand, she keeps
                                         a list of dichos—for your poems, she says.

Estan mas cerca los dientes
                      que los parentes, she recites her mother

& mother’s mother. It rhymes, she says.
                                                         
                                   Dee-say—the verb with its sound turned
down looks like dice
                                              to throw & dice, to cut. Shift after shift,

 

she inspected the die of integrated circuits
                                       beneath an assembly line of microscopes—            

the connections over time
                                                        getting smaller & smaller.

                                          _____
                                                                        
                                                To enter words in order to see
                                                                             —Cecilia Vicuña

In the classroom, we learn iambic words
                                          that leaf on the board with diacritics—

about, aloft, aggrieved. What over years

          accrues within one’s words? What immanent
                                                                        sprung with what rhythm?

Agave—a lie in the lion, the maenad made mad

by Dionysus awoke to find her son
                                    dead by her hand. The figure is gaslit

even if anachronistic. Data & river banks—
           memory’s figure is often riparian.  I hear Llorona’s agony

echo in the succulent. What’s the circuit in cerca to short

          or rewire the far & close—to map
                                                   Ng Ng & I-Goo to Nana’s carpool?

                                         ______

I read a sprig of evergreen, a symbol
                                               of everlasting, is sometimes packed

with a new bride’s trousseau. It was thirteen years
                                             
before Yeh Yeh could bring
                                                Ng Ng & I-Goo over. Evergreen
                     
& Empire were names of corner-stores
                                             
where they first worked—
                                             stores on corners of Nana’s barrio.

Chinito, Chinito! Toca la malaca
                                                             she might have sung in ’49

after hearing Don Tosti’s  
                                    recording—an l where the r would be

in the Spanish rattle filled with beans or seed or as
                                                                         the song suggests

change in the laundryman’s till.

                                         ______

I have read diviners
                       use stems of yarrow when consulting
                                                                                    the I-Ching.

What happens to the woods in a maiden name?

Two hyphens make a dash—
                                                the long signal in the binary code.
                                             
Attentive antennae: a monocot

—seed to single leaf—the agave store years
                                             for the stalk. My two grandmothers:
                                                         
one’s name keeps a pasture,
                       the other a forest. If they spoke to one another,
                     
it was with short, forced words
                                    like first strokes when sawing—
                                             
                                              trying to set the teeth into the grain.

Copyright © 2019 by Brandon Som. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

with gratitude to Wanda Coleman & Terrance Hayes

We have the same ankles, hips, nipples, knees—
our bodies bore the forks/tenedors
we use to eat. What do we eat? Darkness
from cathedral floors,

the heart’s woe in abundance. Please let us
go through the world touching what we want,
knock things over. Slap & kick & punch
until we get something right. ¿Verdad?

Isn’t it true, my father always asks.
Your father is the ghost of mine & vice
versa. & when did our pasts
stop recognizing themselves? It was always like

us to first person: yo. To disrupt a hurricane’s
path with our own inwardness.
C’mon huracán, you watery migraine,
prove us wrong for once. This sadness

lasts/esta tristeza perdura. Say it both ways
so language doesn’t bite back, but stays.

                                          for Kristen

Copyright © 2019 by Iliana Rocha. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 19, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Translated by Jae Kim
 

     Down in this sewer, have I become my friend? By the manmade waters where my school principal killed himself, geese cried. On the other side of the barbed-wire fence is a large cloudchimney. I put on a straw hat I picked up in the gutters.

     When the clouds bent over, the geese cackled their beaks wide-open. The cry of the machine as it pushed the clouds through the conveyor into the chimney. Where are the better suicides?

     My father built his house on the waters’ edge, and every day he packed the clouds in, spun the machine. Those who wanted to sleep bought Father’s pillow. All night, eyes peeled, I bent my body and straightened my body, over and over. Each time my bones popped, snapped, I escaped through the chimney. I thought about what kind of crying to do.

     Near sundown, I urged him, let’s go where there’s a crowd, but in the machine the geese were bleeding. For a good night’s sleep we need wet feathers, said Father. I sucked on my lips while counting the tags on the pillows. I believe the essence of those who died better deaths must go to the sewer, where innumerable sleeps flow.

     When spinning the cotton machinery, I wore my hat. White feathers rose from the waters where those who killed themselves lay facedown. I took my hand, stepped on the feathers and went to school in the mornings. Waddling, I forged ahead.


베개

     이 하수도에서 나는 나의 친구가 된 것일까. 교장 선생님이 자살한 개천가에서 거위들이 울었다. 철조망 밖에는 커다란 구름 굴뚝. 나는 하수도 밑에서 주운 맥고모자를 썼다.

     구름이 몸을 굽혔을 때 거위들은 썩썩 부리를 벌렸다. 열을 맞춰 구름을 굴뚝 안으로 밀어 넣는 기계 울음소리. 왜 더 나은 자살은 보이지 않는 것일까?

     아버지는 천변 끝에 집을 지었는데 매일매일 구름을 기계 안에 넣고 돌렸다. 잠들고 싶은 자들은 아버지의 베개를 사 갔다. 나는 밤새도록 눈을 부릅뜨고 몸을 굽혔다 폈다. 뼈들이 덜그럭거릴 때마다 도망쳐서 굴뚝까지 올라갔다. 어떤 울음소리를 내야 할지 생각했다.

     저물녘이 되면 많은 사람이 있는 곳으로 가자고 재촉했지만 기계 안에서 거위들이 피를 흘리고 있었다. 깊은 잠을 위해 촉촉한 깃털을 넣어야 한다는 아버지. 나는 베개 라벨지 숫자를 세며 입술을 빨았다. 아무래도 더 좋게 죽은 자들의 기운은 수많은 잠이 흘러가는 하수도로 가야 한다.

     솜틀 기계를 돌릴 때에는 모자를 썼다. 자살한 자들이 엎드린 개천에서 흰 깃털이 날아올랐다. 나는 내 손을 잡고 깃털을 밟으면서 아침마다 학교에 갔다. 뒤뚱거리며 계속해서 앞으로 나아갔다.

From Sister. Copyright © 2010 by Lee Young-ju. Used with the permission of the author.

Translated by Jae Kim
 

     Down in this sewer, have I become my friend? By the manmade waters where my school principal killed himself, geese cried. On the other side of the barbed-wire fence is a large cloudchimney. I put on a straw hat I picked up in the gutters.

     When the clouds bent over, the geese cackled their beaks wide-open. The cry of the machine as it pushed the clouds through the conveyor into the chimney. Where are the better suicides?

     My father built his house on the waters’ edge, and every day he packed the clouds in, spun the machine. Those who wanted to sleep bought Father’s pillow. All night, eyes peeled, I bent my body and straightened my body, over and over. Each time my bones popped, snapped, I escaped through the chimney. I thought about what kind of crying to do.

     Near sundown, I urged him, let’s go where there’s a crowd, but in the machine the geese were bleeding. For a good night’s sleep we need wet feathers, said Father. I sucked on my lips while counting the tags on the pillows. I believe the essence of those who died better deaths must go to the sewer, where innumerable sleeps flow.

     When spinning the cotton machinery, I wore my hat. White feathers rose from the waters where those who killed themselves lay facedown. I took my hand, stepped on the feathers and went to school in the mornings. Waddling, I forged ahead.


베개

     이 하수도에서 나는 나의 친구가 된 것일까. 교장 선생님이 자살한 개천가에서 거위들이 울었다. 철조망 밖에는 커다란 구름 굴뚝. 나는 하수도 밑에서 주운 맥고모자를 썼다.

     구름이 몸을 굽혔을 때 거위들은 썩썩 부리를 벌렸다. 열을 맞춰 구름을 굴뚝 안으로 밀어 넣는 기계 울음소리. 왜 더 나은 자살은 보이지 않는 것일까?

     아버지는 천변 끝에 집을 지었는데 매일매일 구름을 기계 안에 넣고 돌렸다. 잠들고 싶은 자들은 아버지의 베개를 사 갔다. 나는 밤새도록 눈을 부릅뜨고 몸을 굽혔다 폈다. 뼈들이 덜그럭거릴 때마다 도망쳐서 굴뚝까지 올라갔다. 어떤 울음소리를 내야 할지 생각했다.

     저물녘이 되면 많은 사람이 있는 곳으로 가자고 재촉했지만 기계 안에서 거위들이 피를 흘리고 있었다. 깊은 잠을 위해 촉촉한 깃털을 넣어야 한다는 아버지. 나는 베개 라벨지 숫자를 세며 입술을 빨았다. 아무래도 더 좋게 죽은 자들의 기운은 수많은 잠이 흘러가는 하수도로 가야 한다.

     솜틀 기계를 돌릴 때에는 모자를 썼다. 자살한 자들이 엎드린 개천에서 흰 깃털이 날아올랐다. 나는 내 손을 잡고 깃털을 밟으면서 아침마다 학교에 갔다. 뒤뚱거리며 계속해서 앞으로 나아갔다.

From Sister. Copyright © 2010 by Lee Young-ju. Used with the permission of the author.