—after Michael Heizer
I may be looking at the set of boulders
that is now in front of me, but it is you I am addressing.
You are near or you are far,
depending on the accuracy of the words I have chosen.
When my teacher told me to use this
instead of the, she was talking about the range between
the intimate and the conventional. The gray cluster
is radiant, but it is a melancholy radiance.
To describe it only seems to lean away
from what I intend. Maybe, then, touch is a better way
of explaining the pleasure of that
encounter: the surprise and familiarity of the plant
that you brush past in the dark of your
own house. Or maybe the always-new logic of a dream
is closer to the truth: the falling that takes place
in a place where there is no ground.
The boulders are there for me, an arrangement
and its warren of rooms. One door opening to foggy roses.
Another one opening to a dawn that is the color of tea.
Surely there will always be new language
to tell you who I am, imagination rousing
out of idleness into urgency, reaching now towards you.
I keep remembering my teacher and she is an image
of joy, the small and wordless music
of her silver bangles. This over the.
One of the rules for writing the poems of a lonely person.
Copyright © 2019 by Rick Barot. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Not songs of loyalty alone are these,
But songs of insurrection also,
For I am the sworn poet of every dauntless rebel the world over.
I see the dark-skinned bodies falling in the street as their ancestors fell
before the whip and steel, the last blood pooling, the last breath spitting.
I see the immigrant street vendor flashing his wallet to the cops,
shot so many times there are bullet holes in the soles of his feet.
I see the deaf woodcarver and his pocketknife, crossing the street
in front of a cop who yells, then fires. I see the drug raid, the wrong
door kicked in, the minister's heart seizing up. I see the man hawking
a fistful of cigarettes, the cop’s chokehold that makes his wheezing
lungs stop wheezing forever. I am in the crowd, at the window,
kneeling beside the body left on the asphalt for hours, covered in a sheet.
I see the suicides: the conga player handcuffed for drumming on the subway,
hanged in the jail cell with his hands cuffed behind him; the suspect leaking
blood from his chest in the backseat of the squad card; the 300-pound boy
said to stampede bare-handed into the bullets drilling his forehead.
I see the coroner nodding, the words he types in his report burrowing
into the skin like more bullets. I see the government investigations stacking,
words buzzing on the page, then suffocated as bees suffocate in a jar. I see
the next Black man, fleeing as the fugitive slave once fled the slave-catcher,
shot in the back for a broken tail-light. I see the cop handcuff the corpse.
I see the rebels marching, hands upraised before the riot squads,
faces in bandannas against the tear gas, and I walk beside them unseen.
I see the poets, who will write the songs of insurrection generations unborn
will read or hear a century from now, words that make them wonder
how we could have lived or died this way, how the descendants of slaves
still fled and the descendants of slave-catchers still shot them, how we awoke
every morning without the blood of the dead sweating from every pore.
Reprinted from Vivas to Those Who Have Failed. Copyright © 2016 by Martín Espada. Used with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. and Frances Goldin Literary Agency.
Inhabitant of earth for forty something years
I once found myself in a peaceful country. I watch neighbors open
their phones to watch
a cop demanding a man’s driver’s license. When a man reaches for his wallet, the cop
shoots. Into the car window. Shoots.
It is a peaceful country.
We pocket our phones and go.
To the dentist,
to buy shampoo,
pick up the children from school,
Ours is a country in which a boy shot by police lies on the pavement
We see in his open mouth
of the whole nation.
We watch. Watch
The body of a boy lies on the pavement exactly like the body of a boy.
It is a peaceful country.
And it clips our citizens’ bodies
effortlessly, the way the President’s wife trims her toenails.
All of us
still have to do the hard work of dentist appointments,
of remembering to make
a summer salad: basil, tomatoes, it is a joy, tomatoes, add a little salt.
This is a time of peace.
I do not hear gunshots,
but watch birds splash over the backyards of the suburbs. How bright is the sky
as the avenue spins on its axis.
How bright is the sky (forgive me) how bright.
From Deaf Republic. Copyright © 2019 by Ilya Kaminsky. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press.
The most common thing in the world
is a statue with its arms broken off.
The brokenness a flatness exposing the texture of the marble or clay.
The second most common thing are the arms.
The right to bear them.
Which is something even those who do not want the right have.
Having something or someone to pray for
doesn’t mean you have to pray.
Who gave you something or someone to pray for, think of that.
In the third most common thing, grass still wet
from rain overnight, which you did not participate in by watching.
You were asleep in the fourth most common thing.
You wake now and walk on the fifth most common thing.
The smooth surface of it.
Without meaning to be reductive.
You say the name of a country to refer to its ongoing conflict.
The word conflict a rag that wipes the blade clean.
A clean blade above a fireplace is the sixth most common thing.
Which means you have a neighbor, either
to the east or west, who is currently displaying a weapon.
Even if you do not own a weapon, you could.
And because of this you are complicit.
But you cannot do anything about most things.
You cannot put the arms back onto a statue
is another way of saying you can’t put a bullet back into a gun.
The body subsumes bullets as though it is in love.
It inculcates bullets in the ways of the flesh.
Which is torn by the time the bullet is convinced.
You aren’t convinced of anything you don’t already believe in.
In this way you are always standing your ground.
The ground under someone standing it
is the seventh most common thing.
The eighth is the air in which you openly carry.
You like the feel, the weight, the heft of it in your hand.
But mostly you like the ability to take another’s life should you need to.
It was your grandfather’s ability, your father’s.
Before you know it, it will be your child’s.
Whose body in the fetal position resembles a finger curling over a trigger.
Whose whole life is still in the magazine.
Until it isn’t and the sound is like that of a sternal saw
cutting through the breastbone of the world.
Finally buckling under the tink, tink, tink of the hammer against the saw.
And you thought you had hid the key to the drawer where you keep the gun.
But a key whose location is known is the ninth most common thing.
The tenth most common thing is a thoracic cavity
opened with a few cranks of the rib-spreader.
And the esophagus and lungs are fished around by the hands of a surgeon
who begins to massage the heart.
To clamp the aorta.
So that more blood is directed into the brain.
Instead of into the bowels, which have emptied by now.
While what is being filled are the gun racks of those.
Whose child is not on the table.
Is not statuesque in the beauty sense of the word.
But in the way rigor mortis sets in.
Copyright © 2019 by Christopher Kondrich. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
For the community of Newtown, Connecticut,
where twenty students and six educators lost their
lives to a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary
School, December 14, 2012
Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze. Now the bells open their mouths of bronze to say: Listen to the bells a world away. Listen to the bell in the ruins of a city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass, and the copper boiled in the foundry, and the bell born in the foundry says: I was born of bullets, but now I sing of a world where bullets melt into bells. Listen to the bell in a city where cannons from the armies of the Great War sank into molten metal bubbling like a vat of chocolate, and the many mouths that once spoke the tongue of smoke form the one mouth of a bell that says: I was born of cannons, but now I sing of a world where cannons melt into bells. Listen to the bells in a town with a flagpole on Main Street, a rooster weathervane keeping watch atop the Meeting House, the congregation gathering to sing in times of great silence. Here the bells rock their heads of bronze as if to say: Melt the bullets into bells, melt the bullets into bells. Here the bells raise their heavy heads as if to say: Melt the cannons into bells, melt the cannons into bells. Here the bells sing of a world where weapons crumble deep in the earth, and no one remembers where they were buried. Now the bells pass the word at midnight in the ancient language of bronze, from bell to bell, like ships smuggling news of liberation from island to island, the song rippling through the clouds. Now the bells chime like the muscle beating in every chest, heal the cracks in the bell of every face listening to the bells. The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the moon. The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the world.
From Bullets Into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence (Beacon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Martín Espada. Used with permission of the author and Beacon Press.
Keep your lips pressed together
after you say the p:
(soon they’ll try
your breath out—)
three times in a row:
Stop Stop Stop
In a hospital bed
like a curled up fish, someone’s
gulping at air—
How should you apply
List all of the people
you would like
Who offers love,
Put a period at the end.
Decide if it’s a kiss
or a bullet.
Copyright © 2017 by Dana Levin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
You whom I could not save,
Listen to me.
Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed
for children walking to school?
Those same children
also shouldn’t require a suit
of armor when standing
on their front lawns, or snipers
to watch their backs
as they eat at McDonalds.
They shouldn’t have to stop
to consider the speed
of a bullet or how it might
reshape their bodies. But
one winter, back in Detroit,
I had one student
who opened a door and died.
It was the front
door to his house, but
it could have been any door,
and the bullet could have written
any name. The shooter
was thirteen years old
and was aiming
at someone else. But
a bullet doesn’t care
about “aim,” it doesn’t
the innocent and the innocent,
and how was the bullet
supposed to know this
child would open the door
at the exact wrong moment
because his friend
was outside and screaming
for help. Did I say
I had “one” student who
opened a door and died?
There were many.
The classroom of grief
had far more seats
than the classroom for math
though every student
in the classroom for math
could count the names
of the dead.
A kid opens a door. The bullet
couldn’t possibly know,
nor could the gun, because
“guns don't kill people,” they don’t
have minds to decide
such things, they don’t choose
or have a conscience,
and when a man doesn’t
have a conscience, we call him
a psychopath. This is how
we know what type of assault rifle
a man can be,
and how we discover
the hell that thrums inside
each of them. Today,
shooting with dead
kids everywhere. It was a school,
a movie theater, a parking lot.
is full of doors.
And you, whom I cannot save,
you may open a door
and enter a meadow, or a eulogy.
And if the latter, you will be
mourned, then buried
There will be
monuments of legislation,
little flowers made
from red tape.
What should we do? we’ll ask
again. The earth will close
like a door above you.
What should we do?
And that click you hear?
That’s just our voices,
the deadbolt of discourse
sliding into place.
Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 5, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.