it is you who leaves. So I set out 
to read for signs of imminence, 
the same river twice stepped in.
Morning rises gently on the harbor;
our letters come disguised as life. 
We know the score but fracture 
on fact. We sign a dotted line 
made out of promise—the pipes 
in November clanging on with heat,
the window left at night a little open. 
I love you; then what? Hands 
suddenly alive. I plead with time, 
adamant, remorseless. So we begin 
in earnest; what then? I plead 
with time, adamant, remorseless.
Hands suddenly alive. I love you; 
then what? The pipes in November 
clanging on with heat, the window 
left at night a little open. We sign 
a dotted line made out of promise—
we know the score but fracture 
on fact. Our letters come disguised 
as life; morning rises gently on 
the harbor. So I set out to read 
for signs of imminence, the same 
river twice stepped in. One way 
or another, it is you who leaves.

Copyright © 2022 by Maya C. Popa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

This poem is in the public domain.

I cannot live with You – 
It would be Life – 
And Life is over there – 
Behind the Shelf

The Sexton keeps the Key to – 
Putting up
Our Life – His Porcelain – 
Like a Cup – 

Discarded of the Housewife – 
Quaint – or Broke – 
A newer Sevres pleases – 
Old Ones crack – 

I could not die – with You – 
For One must wait
To shut the Other’s Gaze down – 
You – could not – 

And I – could I stand by
And see You – freeze – 
Without my Right of Frost – 
Death's privilege?

Nor could I rise – with You – 
Because Your Face
Would put out Jesus’ – 
That New Grace

Glow plain – and foreign
On my homesick Eye – 
Except that You than He
Shone closer by – 

They’d judge Us – How – 
For You – served Heaven – You know,
Or sought to – 
I could not – 

Because You saturated Sight – 
And I had no more Eyes
For sordid excellence
As Paradise

And were You lost, I would be – 
Though My Name
Rang loudest
On the Heavenly fame – 

And were You – saved – 
And I – condemned to be
Where You were not – 
That self – were Hell to Me – 

So We must meet apart – 
You there – I – here – 
With just the Door ajar
That Oceans are – and Prayer – 
And that White Sustenance – 
Despair – 

Reprinted by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson, ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

You say you will not think of me:
You shut me out and count your beads,
The chaplet of your rules and doubts,
But lovers never think of creeds.

You’ll fill your mind with serious things:
You’ll think of God or Infinity,
Of a lover whose last charm is gone,
Of anything in the world but me.

Yet every thought will lead you back,
Infinity grow far and dim,
And God, with His sense of irony,
Will never let you think of Him.

From On a Grey Thread (Will Ransom, 1923) by Elsa Gidlow. This poem is in the public domain. 

A man who is probably my husband sails by. 
But I just see a sailboat, not who steers it. 
But I picture a man, in the gender of things. 

My husband who you will not meet.
He’s off, I don’t know, marshalling.
Ideas, not soldiers. Sailing helps him think. 

I used to join him. Then we argued.
For a decade we argued. And sometimes 
sailed, though I was admittedly mostly 

decorative, a mermaid on the prow. 
Whether I brought him better luck 
is not my weather to tell. I cost him. 

Time. He costs me. More.

Copyright © 2022 by Jameson Fitzpatrick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 25, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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.

(To F. S.)

I loved my friend. 
He went away from me. 
There’s nothing more to say. 
The poem ends, 
Soft as it began,—
I loved my friend. 

From The Weary Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) by Langston Hughes. This poem is in the public domain. 

Weep not,
You who love her.

Place your flowers
Above her
And go your way
Only I shall stay.

After you have gone
With grief in your hearts,
I will remove the flowers
You laid above her.
Yes, I who love her.

Do not weep,
Friends and lovers.

(Oh, the scent of flowers in the air!
Oh, the beauty of her body there!)

Gently now lay your flowers down.
When the last mourner has gone
And I have torn
Each flower;
When the last mourner has gone
And I have tossed
Broken stems and flower heads
To the winds . . . ah! . . .
I will gather withered leaves . . .
I will scatter withered leaves there.

Friends and lovers,
Do not weep.

Gently lay your flowers down . . .
Gently, now, lay your flowers down.

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

 

You could not have been happier,
not a dancer, but did a jig in our courtyard
to the sweet streams of doo wop.

The innocent harmony of the Deltones,
and in 40 days you’d be staring at a ceiling
in an Emergency Room at Mt. Sinai Hospital.

This could be just like that …
Seeing double is worse than seeing single
It could be a precursor to a stroke

It could be anything, an interruption in service
of a perfectly working eye that gives up
that takes a powder when you least expect it.

That roars out of the station into a crash
against a wall, a motorcar, a vision that
decomposes, disintegrates, breaks down

into pixels, but this was not that.
This was seeing two, double vision, one eye
just as life was opening its third eye, letting

me see what I could do in this life without you
the fallow air around your grave that I never
visit, imagine, the whole thing a big mistake

as long as there is no marker, no one can find
you because you are not really there anymore.
I dressed you in the wrong jacket, not your

favorite shirt, but one a high school friend envied.
Why still after all this time, do I remember of all things,
I sent you away in an ill-fitting but new jacket

I knew I’d never give it away, I’d never wear it, I tossed
it into the coffin with your grandmother’s rosary beads,
your holy card to Vito Marcantonio, God only knows

what else I placed in the coffin, knowing even as
I neared that powdery skinned man in that box
that you had already left, that pain was gone.

Copyright © 2022 by Maria Lisella. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.

the way it ricocheted—a boomerang flung 
from your throat, stilling the breathless air.

How you were luminous in it. Your smile. Your hair 
tossed back, flaming. Everyone around you aglow.

How I wanted to live in it those times it ignited us 
into giggles, doubling us over aching and unmoored

for precious minutes from our twin scars—
the thorned secrets our tongues learned too well

to carry. It is impossible to imagine you gone, 
dear one, your laugh lost to some silence I can’t breach,

from which you will not return.

for Fay Botham (May 31, 1968–January 10, 2021)

Copyright © 2022 by Lauren K. Alleyne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 6, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Adrianne Lenker

I was supposed to be writing you back

I was supposed to be describing my desires

The moment I plugged my ears, not the clouds on the ceiling

How the heat doesn’t burst

Where you sheered the gap with your thighs, a black skirt

A glossy rainbow beetle eating a lanternfly

A wasp displaced from the splintered wood door

How rain flattened the sky

Blank lightning scorching the undone bed

My chest flat with bones which don’t die

Bones, which persist like hair, inanimate, as stones persist

Mostly green indifferent appetites

When the animal god dies it’s spoiled with worms

When anger reaches its iron tongue inside it burns

I used to get off on a small, concentrated sensation

It took years to undo the glue of experience

It’s a big gap for mood

It’s a dark stripe in the darkness

It’s how I remember nothing in particular

Tracks of metal gridding the street

How a body could produce an iron nail if iron in blood assembled

I didn’t think I came but I must have

How angry it made me, the indignity of not touching

The gauzy light on a woman’s face, her idle desires

Compared to the way we fit two hands inside, hungry

How indifferent to particular folds of skin

There was a bottomlessness to the negations

Whatever it was burning gold inside a ring of nots

I, untied, dispensing promise

A commitment of green circling green only

Not what you might think, a hawk in the dead tree

A velvet rope cordoning

Nothing eventful happened so I forgot it

That’s how life moving through space works

Comparing the size of palms, smoothness of thighs

Caught in a loop I knew from history

Not capital, not significant, of a personal nature

A solemn quality of knowledge, what others might call god

Hair collected in an archive versus

Hair drawn in a long strand from one’s crevices

My horoscope says to do the smallest thing possible

The trees say indifferent rattle in the wind

This was life, normal, tidal, I considered it

The dead papering the street with their notices

Copyright © 2022 by Stephanie Cawley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 9, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.