This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.
It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement.
It remembers choosing these shoes,
this scarf or tie.
Once, it drank beer for breakfast,
drifted its feet
in a river side by side with the feet of another.
Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy,
dropping its head so the hair would fall forward,
so the eyes would not be seen.
IT spoke with passion of history, of art.
It was lovely then, this poem.
Under its chin, no fold of skin softened.
Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat.
What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall.
An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.
The longing has not diminished.
Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat,
the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus.
Yes, it decides:
Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots.
When it finds itself disquieted
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them—one, then another—
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.
From Given Sugar, Given Salt (HarperCollins, 2001) by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 2001 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
I stood on one foot for three minutes & didn’t tilt the scales. Do you remember how quickly we scrambled up an oak leaning out over the creek, how easy to trust the water to break our glorious leaps? The body remembers every wish one lives for or doesn’t, or even horror. Our dance was a rally in sunny leaves, then quick as anything, Johnny Dickson was up opening his arms wide in the tallest oak, waving to the sky, & in the flick of an eye he was a buffalo fish gigged, pleading for help, voiceless. Bigger & stronger, he knew every turn in the creek past his back door, but now he was cooing like a brown dove in a trap of twigs. A water-honed spear of kindling jutted up, as if it were the point of our folly & humbug on a Sunday afternoon, right? Five of us carried him home through the thicket, our feet cutting a new path, running in sleep years later. We were young as condom-balloons flowering crabapple trees in double bloom & had a world of baleful hope & breath. Does Johnny run fingers over the thick welt on his belly, days we were still invincible? Sometimes I spend half a day feeling for bones in my body, humming a half-forgotten ballad on a park bench a long ways from home. The body remembers the berry bushes heavy with sweetness shivering in a lonely woods, but I doubt it knows words live longer than clay & spit of flesh, as rock-bottom love. Is it easier to remember pleasure or does hurt ease truest hunger? That summer, rocking back & forth, uprooting what’s to come, the shadow of the tree weighed as much as a man.
Copyright © 2019 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
For Darlene Wind and James Welch
I think of Wind and her wild ways the year we had nothing to lose and lost it anyway in the cursed country of the fox. We still talk about that winter, how the cold froze imaginary buffalo on the stuffed horizon of snowbanks. The haunting voices of the starved and mutilated broke fences, crashed our thermostat dreams, and we couldn't stand it one more time. So once again we lost a winter in stubborn memory, walked through cheap apartment walls, skated through fields of ghosts into a town that never wanted us, in the epic search for grace.
Like Coyote, like Rabbit, we could not contain our terror and clowned our way through a season of false midnights. We had to swallow that town with laughter, so it would go down easy as honey. And one morning as the sun struggled to break ice, and our dreams had found us with coffee and pancakes in a truck stop along Highway 80, we found grace.
I could say grace was a woman with time on her hands, or a white buffalo escaped from memory. But in that dingy light it was a promise of balance. We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring was lean and hungry with the hope of children and corn.
I would like to say, with grace, we picked ourselves up and walked into the spring thaw. We didn't; the next season was worse. You went home to Leech Lake to work with the tribe and I went south. And, Wind, I am still crazy. I know there is something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people. We have seen it.
From In Mad Love and War © 1990 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
into the strenuous briefness Life: handorgans and April darkness,friends i charge laughing. Into the hair-thin tints of yellow dawn, into the women-coloured twilight i smilingly glide. I into the big vermilion departure swim,sayingly; (Do you think?)the i do,world is probably made of roses & hello: (of solongs and,ashes)
This poem is in the public domain.
Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.
I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.
We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.
It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.
And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antlia, Centaurus,
Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.
But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—
to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.
Look, we are not unspectacular things.
We’ve come this far, survived this much. What
would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?
What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
No, to the rising tides.
Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?
What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain
for the safety of others, for earth,
if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,
if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,
rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.
We were made to understand it would be
Terrible. Every small want, every niggling urge,
Every hate swollen to a kind of epic wind.
Livid, the land, and ravaged, like a rageful
Dream. The worst in us having taken over
And broken the rest utterly down.
A long age
Passed. When at last we knew how little
Would survive us—how little we had mended
Or built that was not now lost—something
Large and old awoke. And then our singing
Brought on a different manner of weather.
Then animals long believed gone crept down
From trees. We took new stock of one another.
We wept to be reminded of such color.
From Wade in the Water. Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.