How swift, how far
carries a body from shore.
Empires fail, species are lost,
and tufted puffins forsaken.
After eons of fauna and flora, hominids have stood
for mere years
baffled brains atop battered shoulders.
In a murky blanket of heavens
an icy planet
made of diamond spins.
Our sun winks like the star
billions of years ago, without ambition.
We bury bodies in shallow dirt, heedless of lacking space
or how long
our makeshift planet will host us.
Copyright © 2017 by Risa Denenberg. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Christopher and Helen, our new expatriate friends,
meet us at their favorite winery
where they fill their plastic jerry cans from hoses
exactly like the ones at gas stations,
as though they were planning to go back home to Aix
and treat their lawnmower to a nice red.
Instead, they take us in their forest green Peugeot
to the home of their old friend Brigitte
in a village at the foot of Mont Ventoux—
actually, not a village, Brigitte corrects me,
but “un hameau,” a hamlet. The French
are exacting about such distinctions, but Brigitte
has a kind, mischievous smile. Back in the car,
we tear along a series of rutted, stony roads
that web the mountainside, with Brigitte
directing Christopher, “à droite, à gauche, encore à gauche,”
until we come to a grove of pines, cedars, and oaks,
where she says the mushrooms are hidden.
We fan out under the trees, searching the slope,
while Brigitte, looking elfin in her orange hoodie,
waves a stick like a wand, pokes at the dried pine needles
or the dead leaves under the wild boxwood bushes,
and sings, “I think there are some over here,”
like a mother leading her toddlers toward the Easter eggs.
We laugh and follow after her, cutting the stems
with a tarnished knife she lends us, warning
“Faites attention,” because the blade is sharp.
And gradually we fill our plastic shopping bags
with gnarled orange caps, stained green,
which, much later, back in the States, I learn
are called Lactarius deliciosus or
orange-latex milky, like a shade of paint,
the field guide commenting “edible, although
not as good as the name deliciosus suggests”—
but we already suspect that (they look awful),
and we will later unload most of ours on
Christopher and Helen who clearly think of them
as a delicacy… but right now we’re
having fun just hunting for them
among the sunspots on the forest floor,
filling our bags, and shouting through the trees
to one another, the whole afternoon gathering
into the giddy moment that Brigitte keeps
calling us back to—and it’s delicious.
Copyright © 2017 by Jeffrey Harrison. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 3, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
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.
I had for my winter evening walk—
No one at all with whom to talk,
But I had the cottages in a row
Up to their shining eyes in snow.
And I thought I had the folk within:
I had the sound of a violin;
I had a glimpse through curtain laces
Of youthful forms and youthful faces.
I had such company outward bound.
I went till there were no cottages found.
I turned and repented, but coming back
I saw no window but that was black.
Over the snow my creaking feet
Disturbed the slumbering village street
Like profanation, by your leave,
At ten o’clock of a winter eve.
This poem is in the public domain.
To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills;
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and childbearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.
Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave.
Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee,
Until the mother bears no burden, save
The precious one beneath her heart, until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labor, let no man
Call this the land of freedom.
This poem is in the public domain.
We woke to the darkness before our eyes,
unable to take the measure of the loss.
Who are they. What are we. What have we
abandoned to arrive with such violence at this hour.
In answer we drew back, covered our ears
with our hands to the heedless victory, or vowed,
as I did, into the changed air, never to consent.
But it was already too late, too late for the unfarmed fields,
the men by the station, the park swings, the parking lots,
the ground water, the doves—too late for dusk
falling in summer, chains of glass lakes
mingled into dawn, the corals, the neighbors,
the first drizzle on an empty street, cafeterias and stockyards,
young men asking twice a day for
work. Too late for hope. Too far along
to meet a country, a people, its annihilating need.
Because the year is new and the great change
already underway, we concede a thousandfold
and feel, harder than the land itself,
a complicity for everything we did not see
or comprehend: cynicism borne of raw despair,
long-cultivated hatreds, the promises of leaders
traveling like cool silence through the dark.
My life is here, in this small room, and like you
I am waiting to know—but there is no time
to wait for what has happened.
What does the future ask of me,
those who won’t have enough to eat by evening,
those whose disease will now take hold—
and the decades that carry past me once I’ve died,
generations of children, the suffering that is never solved,
the heat over the earth, its marshes,
its crowded towers, its unbreathable night air.
I would open my hand from the wrist,
step outside, not lose nerve.
Here is the day, still to be lived.
We do not fully know what we do.
But the trains depart the stations, traffic lurches
and stalls, a highway crew has paused.
Desert sun softens the first color of the rock.
Who governs now governs by grievance and old scores,
but we compass our worth,
prepare to do the work not our own,
and feel, past the scorn in his eyes, the burden
in the torso of a stranger, draw close to the sick,
the weak, the women without jobs, the twelve-year-old
facing spite half-tangled into sleep, the panic
tightening inside everyone who has been told to go,
I will help you although I do not know you,
and strive not to look away, be unwilling to profit,
an ache inside that endless effort,
a slowed-down summons not from those
whose rage is lit by greed—we do not consent—
but the ones who wake without prospect,
those who don’t speak, cannot recover,
like the old woman at the counter, the helpless father
who, like you, gets no more than his one life.
Copyright © 2017 by Joanna Klink. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 21, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Tell us that line again, the thing about the dark times…
“When the dark times come, we will sing about the dark times.”
They’ll always be wrong about peace when they’re wrong about justice…
Were you wrong, were you right, insisting about the dark times?
The traditional fears, the habitual tropes of exclusion
Like ominous menhirs, close into their ring about the dark times.
Naysayers in sequins or tweeds, libertine or ascetic
Find a sensual frisson in what they’d call bling about the dark times.
Some of the young can project themselves into a Marshall Plan future
Where they laugh and link arms, reminiscing about the dark times.
From every spot-lit glitz tower with armed guards around it
Some huckster pronounces his fiats, self-sacralized king, about the dark times.
In a tent, in a queue, near barbed wire, in a shipping container,
Please remember ya akhy, we too know something about the dark times.
Sindbad’s roc, or Ganymede’s eagle, some bird of rapacious ill omen
From bleak skies descends, and wraps an enveloping wing about the dark times.
You come home from your meeting, your clinic, make coffee and look in the mirror
And ask yourself once more what you did to bring about the dark times.
Copyright © 2017 by Marilyn Hacker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 3, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
When I stepped homeward to my hill,
Dusk went before with quiet tread;
The bare laced branches of the trees
Were as a mist about its head.
Upon its leaf-brown breast the rocks
Like great grey sheep lay silentwise,
Between the birch trees’ gleaming arms,
The faint stars trembled in the skies.
The white brook met me half-way up,
And laughed as one that knew me well,
To whose more clear than crystal voice
The frost had joined a crystal spell.
The skies lay like pale-watered deep,
Dusk ran before me to its strand
And cloudily leaned forth to touch
The moon’s slow wonder with her hand.
This poem is in the public domain.