Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer.
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath.
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.
Copyright © 2015 by Jericho Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Epithalamion? Not too long back
I was being ironic about “wives.”
It’s very well to say, creation thrives
on contradiction, but that’s a fast track
shifted precipitately into. Tacky,
some might say, and look mildly appalled. On
the whole, it’s one I’m likely to be called on.
Explain yourself or face the music, Hack.
No law books frame terms of this covenant.
It’s choice that’s asymptotic to a goal,
which means that we must choose, and choose, and choose
momently, daily. This moment my whole
trajectory’s toward you, and it’s not losing
momentum. Call it anything we want.
From Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons by Marilyn Hacker. Copyright © 1986 by Marilyn Hacker. Used by permission.
Yet the peach tree
& falls with fruit & without
birds eat it the sparrows fight
burns with trash & drug
it also breathes & sprouts
vines & maguey
laws pass laws with scientific walls
detention cells husband
with the son
the wife &
the daughter who
married a citizen
they stay behind broken slashed
un-powdered in the apartment to
deal out the day
& the puzzles
another law then another
the grass is mowed then blown
by a machine sidewalks are empty
clean & the Red Shouldered Hawk
down — from
an abandoned wooden dome
an empty field
it is all in-between the light
every day this changes a little
yesterday homeless &
w/o papers Alberto
left for Denver a Greyhound bus he said
where they don’t check you
under the silver darkness
with our mind
Copyright © by Juan Felipe Herrera. Used with the permission of the author.
Instead of sleeping—
I walk with him from the store.
No Skittles, thank you.
We do not talk much—
Sneakers crossing the courtyard.
Humid Southern night.
We shake hands and hug—
Ancient, stoic tenderness.
I nod to the moon.
I'm so old school—
I hang till the latch clicks like.
An unloaded gun.
Copyright © 2015 by Reuben Jackson. Used with permission of the author.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.
Copyright © 2017 by Amanda Johnston. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Michael Brown (1996–2014)
Officer, for hours I lay there.
The sun at my back.
My blood running a country
mile between the pavement
and the crown of my head.
No ambulance ever came.
It took a long time to cover my body.
There are politics to death
and here politics performs
its own autopsies. My aunties
say things like, Boy big and black as you.
Then, the prosecution rests.
My neighbors never do. They lose
sleep as the National Guard parades
down Canfield. I heard my blood
was barely dry. I heard there were soldiers
beating their shields like war cries,
my boys holding hands to hold on
through your tear gas. Heard my mother
wandered the streets,
her body trembling
between a sign of a cross
and a fist. I heard a rumor
about riots got started.
Officer, I heard that after so much blood,
the ground develops
a taste for it.
Copyright 2017 © Hafizah Geter. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Fall 2017.
You only watch the news to find out
where the fires are burning, which way
the wind is blowing, and whether
it will rain. Forecast ahead but first:
A mother’s boy laid out
in the street for hours.
These facts don’t wash away.
Copyright © 2016 D. A. Powell. Used with permission of the author.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
This poem is in the public domain.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
This poem originally appeared in Waxwing, Issue 10, in June 2016. Used with permission of the author.
From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017) Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.
The door you come through slams shut before the door you go to opens. A last stopping place, a once-over from the guard behind his tinted glass. Your pockets are empty, wristwatch in the locker, with wallet and change. Two pens, a notebook, a wish to act normal, and show you threaten no one. It is completely true that you threaten no one. Nonetheless you feel either you are in danger, or that you are the danger. It is a retort designed not to contain, but open and shut like a valve. A space between entrance and egress, pressure and release. A moment of pure supplication, a revelation of true marrow and meaning: hiatus: opening, rupture, fissure, gap. A room close to nothing, the reinforced shell of its nothing. Who here cannot help but think of a plump fly bumping against a window? A fly who believes something will give. Something does. A buzzer, then juice through the wire, and the latches slide in, slide out.
From Looking House by Fred Marchant. Copyright © 2009 by Fred Marchant. Used by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.
translated by Francisco Aragón
in a country
in a glass
has been being
what I’ve been
all my life
en un país
en un vaso
no se puede
ni se debe
de la historia
ha sido ser
lo que he sido
toda mi vida
From From the Other Side of Night/del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems by Francisco X. Alarcón. © 2002 The Arizona Board of Regents. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona 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.
The problem here is that
This isn’t pretty, the
Sort of thing that
Can easily be dealt with
With words. After
A horror story to sit,
A black man with
A white wife in
The middle of a hot
Sunday afternoon in
The Jefferson Hotel in
Richmond, Va., and wait
Like a criminal for service
From a young white waitress
Who has decided that
This looks like something
She doesn’t want
To be a part of. What poetry
Could describe the
Perfect angle of
This woman’s back as
She walks, just so,
Mapping the room off
Like the end of a
Border dispute, which
Metaphor could turn
The room more perfectly
Into a group of
Islands? And when
The manager finally
Arrives, what language
Do I use
To translate the nervous
Eye motions, the yawning
Afternoon silence, the
His simple inquiries,
The sherbet which
He then brings to the table personally,
Just to be certain
Stays on our side
Of the fence? What do
We call the rich,
Sweet taste of
Frozen oranges in
This context? What do
We call a weight that
And can’t explode?
From The Gathering of My Name (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1991). Copyright © 1991 by Cornelius Eady. Used with the permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press.
Because I am a boy, the untouchability of beauty
is my subject already, the book of statues
open in my lap, the middle of October, leaves
foiling the wet ground
in soft copper. “A statue
must be beautiful
from all sides,” Cellini wrote in 1558.
When I close the book,
the bodies touch. In the west,
they are tying a boy to a fence and leaving him to die,
his face unrecognizable behind a mask
of blood. His body, icon
of loss, growing meaningful
against his will.
Copyright © 2016 by Richie Hofmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 12, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.