Hard to imagine getting
anywhere near another semi-
nude encounter down this concrete
slab of interstate, the two of us
all thumbs—

white-throated swifts mating mid-flight
instead of buckets of
crispy wings thrown down
hoi polloi—
an army of mouths

eager to feed
left without any lasting sustenance.
Best get down on all fours.
Ease our noses past
rear-end collisions wrapped around

guardrails shaking loose their bolts
while unseen choirs jacked on
airwaves go on preaching
loud and clear to every 
last pair of unrepentant ears—

Copyright © 2011 by Timothy Liu. Used with permission of the author.

In poems I read, "the dead" always appear
as collective noun: gray mass without feature,
to be feared or made fun of, and so to be
erased, as if we hadn't once loved or fought
with them, as if we won't end the same.

What was left of you sprawled--shapeless
mass of ash, such a dark gray--in the plastic bag
we came to bury, Pete cutting a neat square
in the turf old graveyard grass becomes--moss,
ferns, even violets blanketing the mounds--
next to your father's headstone, closer to him
in death than you'd wanted all your life to be.

Mother, brother, brothers-in-law, sisters,
nephews, nieces, and I who had known you 
best in faltering and urgencies, the slow
steady heat of your engine heart, the rank innocence
of your workman's sweat: we came with mason jars
and each took a last remnant of you, even in this
never "the dead," not the gray feathers
of wood-ash, more like sand we might collect
from a rare beach we visited once,
always yourself: this dense powder
you have come to.

From Litany of Thanks by Joan Aleshire. Copyright © 2003 by Joan Aleshire. Reprinted by permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.

She rose among us where we lay.
She wept, we put our work away.
She chilled our laughter, stilled our play;
And spread a silence there.
And darkness shot across the sky,
And once, and twice, we heard her cry;
And saw her lift white hands on high
And toss her troubled hair.

What shape was this who came to us,
With basilisk eyes so ominous,
With mouth so sweet, so poisonous,
And tortured hands so pale?
We saw her wavering to and fro,
Through dark and wind we saw her go;
Yet what her name was did not know;
And felt our spirits fail.

We tried to turn away; but still
Above we heard her sorrow thrill;
And those that slept, they dreamed of ill
And dreadful things:
Of skies grown red with rending flames
And shuddering hills that cracked their frames;
Of twilights foul with wings;

And skeletons dancing to a tune;
And cries of children stifled soon;
And over all a blood-red moon
A dull and nightmare size.
They woke, and sought to go their ways,
Yet everywhere they met her gaze,
Her fixed and burning eyes.

Who are you now, —we cried to her—
Spirit so strange, so sinister?
We felt dead winds above us stir;
And in the darkness heard
A voice fall, singing, cloying sweet,
Heavily dropping, though that heat,
Heavy as honeyed pulses beat,
Slow word by anguished word.

And through the night strange music went
With voice and cry so darkly blent
We could not fathom what they meant;
Save only that they seemed
To thin the blood along our veins,
Foretelling vile, delirious pains,
And clouds divulging blood-red rains
Upon a hill undreamed.

And this we heard:  "Who dies for me,
He shall possess me secretly,
My terrible beauty he shall see,
And slake my body's flame.
But who denies me cursed shall be,
And slain, and buried loathsomely,
And slimed upon with shame."

And darkness fell.  And like a sea
Of stumbling deaths we followed, we
Who dared not stay behind.
There all night long beneath a cloud
We rose and fell, we struck and bowed,
We were the ploughman and the ploughed,
Our eyes were red and blind.

And some, they said, had touched her side,
Before she fled us there;
And some had taken her to bride;
And some lain down for her and died;
Who had not touched her hair,
Ran to and fro and cursed and cried
And sought her everywhere.

"Her eyes have feasted on the dead,
And small and shapely is her head,
And dark and small her mouth," they said,
"And beautiful to kiss;
Her mouth is sinister and red
As blood in moonlight is."

Then poets forgot their jeweled words
And cut the sky with glittering swords;
And innocent souls turned carrion birds
To perch upon the dead.
Sweet daisy fields were drenched with death,
The air became a charnel breath,
Pale stones were splashed with red.

Green leaves were dappled bright with blood
And fruit trees murdered in the bud;
And when at length the dawn
Came green as twilight from the east,
And all that heaving horror ceased,
Silent was every bird and beast,
And that dark voice was gone.

No word was there, no song, no bell,
No furious tongue that dream to tell;
Only the dead, who rose and fell
Above the wounded men;
And whisperings and wails of pain
Blown slowly from the wounded grain,
Blown slowly from the smoking plain;
And silence fallen again.

Until at dusk, from God knows where,
Beneath dark birds that filled the air,    
Like one who did not hear or care,
Under a blood-red cloud,
An aged ploughman came alone      
And drove his share through flesh and bone,
And turned them under to mould and stone;
All night long he ploughed.

This poem is in the public domain.

We do lie beneath the grass  
    In the moonlight, in the shade  
  Of the yew-tree. They that pass  
    Hear us not. We are afraid  
      They would envy our delight,
      In our graves by glow-worm night.  
Come follow us, and smile as we;  
    We sail to the rock in the ancient waves,  
Where the snow falls by thousands into the sea,  
    And the drown'd and the shipwreck'd have happy graves.

This poem is in the public domain.

Hard by the lilied Nile I saw
A duskish river-dragon stretched along,
The brown habergeon of his limbs enamelled
With sanguine almandines and rainy pearl:
And on his back there lay a young one sleeping,
No bigger than a mouse; with eyes like beads,
And a small fragment of its speckled egg
Remaining on its harmless, pulpy snout;
A thing to laugh at, as it gaped to catch
The baulking merry flies. In the iron jaws
Of the great devil-beast, like a pale soul
Fluttering in rocky hell, lightsomely flew
A snowy trochilus, with roseate beak
Tearing the hairy leeches from his throat.

This poem is in the public domain.

All night the cocks crew, under a moon like day,
And I, in the cage of sleep, on a stranger's breast,
Shed tears, like a task not to be put away---
In the false light, false grief in my happy bed,
A labor of tears, set against joy's undoing.
I would not wake at your word, I had tears to say.
I clung to the bars of the dream and they were said,
And pain's derisive hand had given me rest
From the night giving off flames, and the dark renewing.

From The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968 by Louise Bogan, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Copyright © 1968 Louise Bogan. Used with permission.

Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.

From The Book of Fables by W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 2007 by W.S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Graceful son of Pan! Around your forehead crowned with small flowers and berries, your eyes, precious spheres, are moving. Spotted with brownish wine lees, your cheeks grow hollow. Your fangs are gleaming. Your chest is like a lyre, jingling sounds circulate between your blond arms. Your heart beats in that belly where the double sex sleeps. Walk at night, gently moving that thigh, that second thigh and that left leg.

From Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud, published by W.W. Norton. Copyright © 2011 by John Ashbery. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
    Half of the night with our old friend
        Who'd showed us in the end
    To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
        Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug, 
        Suddenly, from behind, 
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
        Your instep to my heel,
    My shoulder-blades against your chest.
    It was not sex, but I could feel
    The whole strength of your body set,
           Or braced, to mine,
        And locking me to you
    As if we were still twenty-two
    When our grand passion had not yet
        Become familial.
    My quick sleep had deleted all 
    Of intervening time and place.
        I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

From Selected Poems by Thom Gunn. Copyright © 2009 by Thom Gunn. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved.

Blue, but you are Rose, too,
and buttermilk, but with blood
dots showing through.
A little salty your white
nape boy-wide.  Glinting hairs
shoot back of your ears' Rose
that tongues like to feel
the maze of, slip into the funnel,
tell a thunder-whisper to.
When I kiss, your eyes' straight
lashes down crisp go like doll's
blond straws.  Glazed iris Roses,
your lids unclose to Blue-ringed
targets, their dark sheen-spokes
almost green.  I sink in Blue-
black Rose-heart holes until you
blink.  Pink lips, the serrate
folds taste smooth, and Rosehip-
round, the center bud I suck.
I milknip your two Blue-skeined
blown Rose beauties, too, to sniff
their berries' blood, up stiff
pink tips.  You're white in 
patches, only mostly Rose,
buckskin and saltly, speckled
like a sky.  I love your spots,
your white neck, Rose, your hair's
wild straw splash, silk spools
for your ears.  But where white
spouts out, spills on your brow
to clear eyepools, wheel shafts
of light, Rose, you are Blue.

From Nature: Poems Old and New by May Swenson, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 1994 the Literary Estate of May Swenson. Used with permission.

They decide to exchange heads.
Barbie squeezes the small opening under her chin 
over Ken's bulging neck socket. His wide jaw line jostles
atop his girlfriend's body, loosely,
like one of those novelty dogs
destined to gaze from the back windows of cars.
The two dolls chase each other around the orange Country Camper 
unsure what they'll do when they're within touching distance. 
Ken wants to feel Barbie's toes between his lips, 
take off one of her legs and force his whole arm inside her.
With only the vaguest suggestion of genitals,
all the alluring qualities they possess as fashion dolls, 
up until now, have done neither of them much good. 
But suddenly Barbie is excited looking at her own body 
under the weight of Ken's face. He is part circus freak,
part thwarted hermaphrodite. And she is imagining 
she is somebody else—maybe somebody middle class and ordinary,
maybe another teenage model being caught in a scandal.

The night had begun with Barbie getting angry 
at finding Ken's blow up doll, folded and stuffed
under the couch. He was defensive and ashamed, especially about 
not having the breath to inflate her. But after a round
of pretend-tears, Barbie and Ken vowed to try
to make their relationship work. With their good memories 
as sustaining as good food, they listened to late-night radio 
talk shows, one featuring Doctor Ruth. When all else fails,
just hold each other, the small sex therapist crooned. 
Barbie and Ken, on cue, groped in the dark, 
their interchangeable skin glowing, the color of Band-Aids. 
Then, they let themselves go— Soon Barbie was begging Ken 
to try on her spandex miniskirt. She showed him how 
to pivot as though he was on a runway. Ken begged 
to tie Barbie onto his yellow surfboard and spin her 
on the kitchen table until she grew dizzy. Anything,
anything, they both said to the other's requests,
their mirrored desires bubbling from the most unlikely places.

From Kinky, Orchises Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission of Denise Duhamel.

Don't tell me we're not like plants,
sending out a shoot when we need to,
or spikes, poisonous oils, or flowers.

Come to me but only when I say,
that's how plants announce

the rules of propagation.
Even children know this. You can
see them imitating all the moves

with their bright plastic toys.
So that, years later, at the moment

the girl's body finally says yes
to the end of childhood,
a green pail with an orange shovel

will appear in her mind like a tropical
blossom she has never seen before.

From The Snow Watcher, published by Ontario Review Press, 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Chase Twichell. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

There's a place the man always say
Come in here, child
No cause you should weep
Wolf never catch such a rabbit
Golden hair never turn white with grief 
Come in here, child
No cause you should moan 
Brother never hurt his brother 
Nobody here ever wander without a home
There must be some such place somewhere
But I never heard of it

From We Meet by Kenneth Patchen. Copyright © 2008 by Kenneth Patchen. Used by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

I've been meaning to tell
you how the sky is pink
here sometimes like the roof
of a mouth that's about to chomp
down on the crooked steel teeth
of the city,

I remember the desperate 
things we did
                and that I stumble
down sidewalks listening
to the buzz of street lamps
at dusk and the crush
of leaves on the pavement,

Without you here I'm viciously lonely

and I can't remember 
the last time I felt holy,
the last time I offered
myself as sanctuary

*

I watched two men 
press hard into
each other, their bodies
caught in the club’s
bass drum swell,
and I couldn’t remember
when I knew I’d never
be beautiful, but it must 
have been quick
and subtle, the way
the holy ghost can pass
in and out of a room.
I want so desperately
to be finished with desire,
the rushing wind, the still
small voice.

From Blue on Blue Ground  (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005). Copyright © Aaron Smith. Used with permission of the author.

If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

The lonely breakfast table starts the day,
an adjustment is made to understand
why the other chair is empty. The morning
beautiful and still to be, should woo me. Yet
the appetite is not shared, lost somewhere in memory.

How lucky the horizon is blue and needs
no handwriting on its emptiness. I am
written on thoroughly, a lost novel
found again. I remember the predictable plot too late,
realize the silly, sad urgency of moss.

Copyright © 2006 by Landis Everson. Reprinted from Everything Preserved: Poems 1955-2005 with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn't,
So I jumped in and sank.

I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn't a-been so cold
I might've sunk and died.

     But it was      Cold in that water!      It was cold!

I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.

I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn't a-been so high
I might've jumped and died.

     But it was      High up there!      It was high!

So since I'm still here livin',
I guess I will live on.
I could've died for love—
But for livin' I was born

Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I'll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.

     Life is fine!      Fine as wine!      Life is fine!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

I should have thought
in a dream you would have brought
some lovely, perilous thing,
orchids piled in a great sheath,
as who would say (in a dream),
"I send you this,
who left the blue veins
of your throat unkissed."

Why was it that your hands
(that never took mine),
your hands that I could see
drift over the orchid-heads
so carefully,
your hands, so fragile, sure to lift
so gently, the fragile flower-stuff--
ah, ah, how was it

You never sent (in a dream)
the very form, the very scent,
not heavy, not sensuous,
but perilous--perilous--
of orchids, piled in a great sheath,
and folded underneath on a bright scroll,
some word:

"Flower sent to flower;
for white hands, the lesser white,
less lovely of flower-leaf,"

or

"Lover to lover, no kiss,
no touch, but forever and ever this."

Copyright © 1982 by the Estate of Hilda Doolittle. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

          for Leslie Scalapino

I keep gardenias 
By the Kwan Yin 
Though magnolia was her flower
On my steps where
In ordinary life
Last but once 
I saw her alive
We had tea and sweets
Stuffed with bean paste
Years gone 
Following pleasure 
Wherever it worked
We had tea again
And she by then
Only angel food
And determination
Would live still
But wildly
If she could

Copyright © 2010 by Laura Moriarty. Used by permission of the author.

Be careful if you take this flower into your house. The 
peony has a thousand lips. It is pink and white like the lady’s 
skirt and smells sharp and sweet as cinnamon. There are a 
thousand ants living inside but you will only see one or two at 
a time. I am like that down there--pink and busy inside. The 
dark is a bolt of cloth, crushed and blue, and I unfurl against it. 
If you lie down on the floor of the closet the hems of silk will 
lick you. My own gown is thin as the skin of dried grass so I 
can see the ants dancing down there. The night has big paws. 
I imagine the wool of the bears, the cloth of monkeys. the night 
smells like vetiver and cedar. His mouth is cool with mint and 
warm with rum, and I am not afraid as he rubs his wool against 
me. I saw the bear dancing at the circus when I was small. He 
was wearing a green felt cap with gold bric-a-brac and kept by 
a thin wire thread. My brother bought me a sucker for the train 
ride home, and I am like that now on the inside, burning soft 
with lemon. What fruit do you like best? I like tangerines. 
And the night leaves me these. A small paper bag on the bedside 
table. The wrought iron and roses like an altar. I am glowing now. 
My teeth are stitching kisses to my fist. I go to the river. My legs 
are frogs legs. Tiny wands, see how they glisten. A thousand fish 
swim through me. I am a boat now. I know no anchor. My hair 
unfurls, copper and cinnamon. Look how it opens, beautiful world. 

Poem from The Drowned Girl, reprinted with permission of Kent State University Press

At home, the bells were a high light-yellow
with no silver or gray just buttercup or sugar-and-lemon.

Here bodies are lined in blue against the sea.
And where red is red there is only red.

I have to be blue to bathe in the sea.
Red, to live in the red room with red air

to rest my head, red cheek down, on the red table.

Above, it was so green: brown, yellow, white, green.
My longing for red furious, sexual.

There things were alive but nothing moved.
Now I live near the sea in a place which has no blue and is not the sea.

Gulls flock, leeward then tangent
and pigeons bully them off the ground.

Hardly alive, almost blind-a hot geometry casts off
every color of the world. Everything moves, nothing alive.

In the red room there is a sky which is painted over in red
but is not red and was, once, the sky.

This is how I live.

A red table in a red room filled with air.
A woman, edged in blue, bathing in the blue sea.

The surface like the pale, scaled skin of fish
far below or above or away—

 

From Eating in the Underworld by Rachel Zucker. Copyright © 2003 by Rachel Zucker. Reproduced by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

My house is torn down--
Plaster sifting, the pillars broken,
Beams jagged, the wall crushed by the bulldozer.
The whole roof has fallen
On the hall and the kitchen
The bedrooms, the parlor.

They are trampling the garden--
My mother's lilac, my father's grapevine, 
The freesias, the jonquils, the grasses.
Hot asphalt goes down
Over the torn stems, and hardens.

What will they do in springtime
Those bulbs and stems groping upward
That drown in earth under the paving,
Thick with sap, pale in the dark
As they try the unrolling of green.

May they double themselves
Pushing together up to the sunlight,
May they break through the seal stretched above them
Open and flower and cry we are living.

Copyright © 2000 by Ann Stanford. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

This is a quiet grave. In is not made of myths, of great barbarous fish, of coral, 
or salt. No one submerges himself with metal and rubber, no one shines her 
white light along the floor. Search parties have been suspended. There is no 
treasure buried here. This is the place of what-is-not. Of a green so green those 
flying above it would call it blue. Of a black so black it glows. This is a world 
with its own species of ghosts--plankton drifting inside her, the barnacles nesting 
on her hips, her wrists, their whole beings mouths frozen in horror. Sound 
turned into silence--like cloth on the floor is the shed skin of the lover. Like 
sheets bereft of the shapes that slept. Once upon a time she was all escape--her 
long hair, siren of copper and cinnamon, burning a comet behind her. Her long 
legs that loved heels and short skirts, that craved the hard slap of the city 
beneath her. You would have read this girl. You both wanted more. But she 
doesn’t remember how she got here, in this bed that consumed her. Why she 
can’t put her lipstick on, why one would press color like a promise to the lips. It 
must have begun with red. But the beginning of this story is lost to the water, 
you could rake its bottom of leaves and sticks like tea, you could spear one of its 
last trout and study the slick pages of its intestine. The girl is leagues and leagues 
away from the first kiss of prologue, but she, throat caked with mud, white skin 
scaled verdigris, must be the message within the bottle. Words grow in her 
belly. It doesn’t matter who put them there. If they are the children of plankton,
descendants of eels and pond scum. They come to her as twins, triplets, and 
septuplets, whole alphabets swimming inside her. Each one is a bubble, a bread 
crumb, a rung to climb to the top. And as she ascends she names them with 
names cradled inside her. Her feet kick and her arms clutch. Her body strong 
and slippery, a great tongue that propels her: A is for apple, B is for bone, for 
boat, C is for candle, for cunt, for cut. 

Poem from The Drowned Girl, reprinted with permission of Kent State University Press

Drunk and weeping. It’s another night
at the live-in opera, and I figure
it’s going to turn out badly for me.
The dead next door accept their salutations,
their salted notes, the drawn-out wailing.
It’s we the living who must run for cover,
meaning me. Mortality’s the ABC of it,
and after that comes lechery and lying.
And, oh, how to piece together a life
from this scandal and confusion, as if
the gods were inhabiting us or cohabiting
with us, just for the music’s sake.

Harvey Shapiro, "Nights," from The Sights Along the Harbor, © 2006 by Harvey Shapiro. Used by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

How should I know? The enormous wheels of will  
  Drove me cold-eyed on tired and sleepless feet.  
Night was void arms and you a phantom still,  
  And day your far light swaying down the street.  
As never fool for love, I starved for you;
  My throat was dry and my eyes hot to see.  
Your mouth so lying was most heaven in view,  
  And your remembered smell most agony.  
   
Love wakens love! I felt your hot wrist shiver  
  And suddenly the mad victory I planned
  Flashed real, in your burning bending head...
My conqueror’s blood was cool as a deep river  
  In shadow; and my heart beneath your hand  
  Quieter than a dead man on a bed. 

This poem is in the public domain.

O little root of a dream 
you hold me here 
undermined by blood, 
no longer visible to anyone, 
property of death.

Curve a face
that there may be speech, of earth, 
of ardor, of
things with eyes, even
here, where you read me blind,

even 
here, 
where you 
refute me, 
to the letter.

Reproduced from The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology: Selections from the 2001 Shortlist, published by House of Anansi Press. Originally from Glottal Stop: 101 Poems by Paul Celan. Copyright © 2000 by translators Nikolai Popov and Heather McHugh and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

A man staring at a small lake sees
His father cast light line out over
The willows.  He's forgotten his 
Father has been dead for two years
And the lake is where a blue fog
Rolls, and the sky could be, if it
Were black or blue or white,
The backdrop of all attention.

He wades out to join the father,
Following where the good strikes
Seem to lead.  It's cold.  The shape
Breath takes on a cold day is like
Anything else — a rise on a small lake,
The Oklahoma hills, blue scrub — 
A shape already inside a shape,
Two songs, two breaths on the water.

From Us, by Ralph Burns, published by Cleveland State University Press. Copyright © 1983. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Wasps at work in the soft
flesh of rotting apples.
Food of the gods,
all day they mine it in busy
hushed movements.

I pick up a mushy corpse
one cold morning.
Carefully turn it over.
Its congregation tumbles
into the cupped
bowl of my hand.

Dazed, drunk, still
chilled from overnight cold,
they blunder like sleepwalkers
feeling around for the light.
Tiny antennae test my skin
in search of something
now gone.

Warmed by my hand,
warmed by the sun,
they stagger and fall into flight.
They scribble orbits
the air erases
and whine at last out of sight.

Copyright © 2006 BOA Editions, Ltd. Used by permission of the publisher.

I lied a little. There are things I don’t want to tell you. How lonely I am today and sick at heart. How the rain falls steadily and cold on a garden grown greener, more lush and even less tame. I haven’t done much, I confess, to contain it. The grapevine, as usual, threatens everything in its path, while the raspberry canes, aggressive and abundant, are clearly out of control. I’m afraid the wildflowers have taken over, being after all the most hardy and tolerant of shade and neglect. This year the violets and lilies of the valley are rampant, while the phlox are about to emit their shocking pink perfume. Oh, my dear, had you been here this spring, you would have seen how the bleeding hearts are thriving.

Copyright © 2006 by Madelon Sprengnether. From Angel of Duluth. Reprinted with permission of White Pine Press.

I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your 
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons 
under your shirt,
by your naive ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.

I was charmed too
by your assumptions
about me: my serenity—
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
my flashy acrobatics with knives
in the kitchen.
How wrong we both were
about each other,
and how happy we have been.

“I Married You,” from Queen of a Rainy Country by Linda Pastan. Copyright © 2006 by Linda Pastan. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Slowly, without sun, the day sinks
toward the close of December.
It is minus sixty degrees.

Over the sleeping houses a dense
fog rises—smoke from banked fires,
and the snowy breath of an abyss
through which the cold town
is perceptibly falling.

As if Death were a voice made visible, 
with the power of illumination …

Now, in the white shadow
of those streets, ghostly newsboys
make their rounds, delivering 
to the homes of those
who have died of the frost
word of the resurrection of Silence.

Excerpted from The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer: Collected Poems, copyright © 1993 by John Haines. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

How you loved to read in the snow and when your
face turned to water from the internal heat
combined with the heavy crystals or maybe it was
reversus you went half-blind and your eyelashes
turned to ice the time you walked through swirls 
with dirty tears not far from the rat-filled river
or really a mile away—or two—in what 
you came to call the Aristotle room
in a small hole outside the Carnegie library.

Copyright © 2010 by Gerald Stern. Used with permission of the author.

I always thought death would be like traveling
in a car, moving through the desert,
the earth a little darker than sky at the horizon,
that your life would settle like the end of a day
and you would think of everyone you ever met,
that you would be the invisible passenger,
quiet in the car, moving through the night,
forever, with the beautiful thought of home.

Copyright © 2011 by Carl Adamshick. Used with permission of the author.

Perhaps the purpose
of leaves is to conceal
the verticality
of trees
which we notice
in December
as if for the first time:
row after row
of dark forms
yearning upwards.
And since we will be
horizontal ourselves
for so long,
let us now honor 
the gods
of the vertical:
stalks of wheat
which to the ant
must seem as high
as these trees do to us,
silos and
telephone poles,
stalagmites
and skyscrapers.
but most of all
these winter oaks,
these soft-fleshed poplars,
this birch
whose bark is like
roughened skin
against which I lean 
my chilled head,
not ready 
to lie down.

From Traveling Light, published by W. W. Norton & Company. Copyright © 2010 by Linda Pastan. Used with permission of the publisher.

The tide comes in; the tide goes out again
washing the beach clear of what the storm
dumped. Where there were rocks, today there is sand;
where sand yesterday, now uncovered rocks.

So I think on where her mortal remains
might reach landfall in their transmuted forms,
a year now since I cast them from my hand
—wanting to stop the inexorable clock.

She who died by her own hand cannot know
the simple love I have for what she left
behind. I could not save her. I could not
even try. I watch the way the wind blows
life into slack sail: the stress of warp against weft
lifts the stalling craft, pushes it on out.

From The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women's Poetry by Peggy O'Brien. Copyright © 2012 by Paula Meehan. Reprinted with permission of Wake Forest University Press. All rights reserved.

As if the lid stayed put on the marmalade.
As if you could get the last sip of champagne
out of the bottom of the fluted glass.
As if we weren’t all dying, as if we all weren’t
going to die some time, as if we knew for certain
when, or how. As if the baseball scores made sense
to the toddler. As if the dance steps mattered, or there’s a point
where they don’t. For instance wheelchair. Heart flutter.
Oxygen bottle mounted on the septuagenarian's back
at the state ballroom competitions—that’s Manny,
still pumping the mambo with his delicious slip
of an instructor, hip hip hooray. Mambo, for instance,
if done right, gives you a chance to rest: one beat in four.
One chance in four, one chance in ten, a hundred, as if
we could understand what that means. Hooray. Keep
pumping. As if you could keep the lid on a secret
once the symptoms start to make sense. A second
instance, a respite. A third. Always that hope.
If we could just scrape that last little bit
out, if only it wouldn’t bottom out
before they can decode the message
sent to the cells. Of course it matters when, even though
(because?) we live in mystery. For instance
Beauty. Love. Honor. As if we didn’t like
secrets. Point where it hurts. Of course we’ll tell.

Copyright © 2013 by Rita Dove. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 28, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

for F.

For Jews, the Cossacks are always coming.
Therefore I think the sun spot on my arm
is melanoma. Therefore I celebrate
New Year's Eve by counting
my annual dead.

My mother, when she was dying,
spoke to her visitors of books
and travel, displaying serenity
as a form of manners, though 
I could tell the difference.

But when I watched you planning
for a life you knew
you'd never have, I couldn't explain
your genuine smile in the face
of disaster. Was it denial

laced with acceptance? Or was it
generations of being English--
Brontë's Lucy in Villette
living as if no fire raged
beneath her dun-colored dress.

I want to live the way you did,
preparing for next year's famine with wine
and music as if it were a ten-course banquet.
But listen: those are hoofbeats
on the frosty autumn air. 

From The Last Uncle by Linda Pastan, published by W. W. Norton & Company. Copyright © 2002 by Linda Pastan. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

O wild rose, bend above my face!
There is no world—
Only the beat of your throat against my eyes.

White moss is harsh
Against these soft white petals of your feet.
It is hard to dream you have followed the wild goats
Aslant the perilous hills.

I have only the fire of my heart to offer you,
O peach-red lily of my love!

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 10, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive. This poem is in the public domain.

        To have been age enough.
To have been leg enough.
Been enough bold. Said no. 
Been a girl grown into that 
negative construction. Or said yes 
on condition of a dress. To be yours 
if my skirts skimmed the floors.
To have demanded each seam 
celestial, appealed for planetary pleats.
        And when you saw the sun a sequin, 
the moon a button shaped from glass, 
and in the stars a pattern 
for a dress, when the commission 
proved too minute, and the frocks 
hung before me like hosts, 
to have stood then at the edge 
of the wood, heard a hound’s bark 
and my heart hark in return.
        To have seen asylum in the scruffs 
of neck—mink, lynx, ocelot, fox,  
Kodiak, ermine, wolf—felt a claw 
curve over my sorrow then. Said yes 
on condition of a dress. To be yours 
if my skirts skimmed the floors.
To have demanded each seam 
just short of breathing, my mouth 
a-beg for bestial pleats. 
        And when you saw tails as tassels, 
underskins sateen, and in entrails 
damasks of flowers and fruit, 
when the bet proved not too broad 
for you, and before me, the cloak held 
open as a boast, to have slipped 
into that primitive skin. To have 
turned my how how into a howl. To have 
picked up my heavy hem and run.

Copyright © 2011 by Stacy Gnall. Reprinted from Heart First Into the Forest with the permission of Alice James Books.

My parents have come home laughing
From the feast for Robert Burns, late, on foot;
They have leaned against graveyard walls,
Have bent double in the glittering frost,
Their bladders heavy with tea and ginger.
Burns, suspended in a drop, is flicked away
As they wipe their eyes, and is not offended.

What could offend him?  Not the squeaking bagpipe
Nor the haggis which, when it was sliced, collapsed
In a meal of blood and oats
Nor the man who read a poem by Scott
As the audience hissed embarrassment
Nor the principal speaker whose topic,
"Burns' View of Crop Rotation," was intended
For farmers, who were not present,
Nor his attempt to cover this error, reciting
The only Burns poem all evening,
"Nine Inch Will Please a Lady," to thickening silence.

They drop their coats in the hall,
Mother first to the toilet, then Father,
And then stand giggling at the phone,
Debating a call to the States, decide no,
And the strength to keep laughing breaks
In a sigh.  I hear, as their tired ribs
Press together, their bedroom door not close
And hear also a weeping from both of them
That seems not to be pain, and it comforts me.

From North Sea, published by Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1978. Copyright © 1978 by Mark Jarman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

My name is smaller
than it sounds.
I work & polish it
until a light
shines through.
I thrust a thorn under 
my tongue.
I drop the little stones
behind me. Striding
I can feel my height extend
up to the rafters.
My voice is thin,
still thinner
is the space between
my footsteps
& the earth.
I do not want you
calling me
except at the allotted
times. I scratch my head
because I know
it's empty. Hot & cold
are equal terms.
I give up my identity
to write to you.
The notice on the board says:
Stay at home
Be vigilant
The aim of medicine is
medicine.
I can hardly wait until
tomorrow.
Signals everywhere 
are fraught
with terror.
In the deepest
waters spread around 
the globe
there is a sense
of life so full
no space exists 
outside it.
I will go on writing
till I drop
& you can read my words
beyond my caring.

From A Book of Witness. Copyright © 2003 by Jerome Rothenberg. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.


I was amok & fearless
twice deceived
for which I sought out
satisfactions
in a tree.  Too carelessly
I reached for love
& beaten down
I found you
in a froth or frenzy
spent my days around
the pan yards.
I would ask no help from those
whose trust is weak
but I would buy the latest
& the least. 
I live for something practical
--the case for memory--
I set one foot into the space
the others leave abandoned.
Not your lord or slave
I meet you
in an equal clash of wills
& face you down.
I only touch the ground 
on Sundays

From A Book of Witness by Jerome Rothenberg. Copyright © 2003 by Jerome Rothenberg. Reprinted by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved.

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

To grow old is to lose everything. 
Aging, everybody knows it. 
Even when we are young, 
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads 
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer 
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters 
into debris on the shore, 
and a friend from school drops 
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us 
past middle age, our wife will die 
at her strongest and most beautiful. 
New women come and go. All go. 
The pretty lover who announces 
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand. 
Another friend of decades estranges himself 
in words that pollute thirty years. 
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge 
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 2002 by Donald Hall. All rights reserved.

A porcupine skin,
Stiff with bad tanning,
It must have ended somewhere.
Stuffed horned owl
Pompous
Yellow eyed;
Chuck-wills-widow on a biassed twig
Sooted with dust.
Piles of old magazines,
Drawers of boy’s letters
And the line of love
They must have ended somewhere.
Yesterday's Tribune is gone
Along with youth
And the canoe that went to pieces on the beach
The year of the big storm
When the hotel burned down
At Seney, Michigan.

This poem is in the public domain.

“It is the future generation that presses into being by means of
these exuberant feelings and supersensible soap bubbles of ours.”

—Schopenhauer

“The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open.
Our magnolia blossoms. Life begins to happen.
My hopped up husband drops his home disputes,
and hits the streets to cruise for prostitutes,
free-lancing out along the razor’s edge.
This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge.
Oh the monotonous meanness of his lust. . .
It’s the injustice . . . he is so unjust—
whiskey-blind, swaggering home at five.
My only thought is how to keep alive.
What makes him tick? Each night now I tie
ten dollars and his car key to my thigh. . . .
Gored by the climacteric of his want,
he stalls above me like an elephant.”

From Selected Poems by Robert Lowell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1976, 1977 by Robert Lowell. Used by permission.

O Rose, thou art sick:
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy;
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

This poem is in the public domain.

But I know that you know how your palms itch when you're alone,
when the electricity goes off,
and the silence whirls in your stomach.
I know that you know how hard it is
to dress in white after wearing black,
to have your arms not merge into the day
but be signs by the road,
and to have nobody, Laurie, nobody travel
down your roads.

From pH Neutral History by Lidija Dimkovska. Copyright © 2012 by Lidija Dimkovska. Reprinted with permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

He can’t be more than twenty-two.
And yet I’m certain it was at least that many years ago
that I enjoyed the very same body.

This isn’t some erotic fantasy.
I’ve only just come into the casino
and there hasn’t been time enough to drink.
I tell you, that’s the very same body I once enjoyed.

And if I can’t recall precisely where—that means nothing.

Now that he’s sitting there at the next table,
I recognize each of his movements—and beneath his clothes
I see those beloved, naked limbs again.

From C. P. Cavafy: Selected Poems translated by Avi Sharon. Published by Penguin Classics. Copyright © 2008 by Avi Sharon. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

I want a red dress. 
I want it flimsy and cheap, 
I want it too tight, I want to wear it 
until someone tears it off me. 
I want it sleeveless and backless, 
this dress, so no one has to guess 
what’s underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store 
with all those keys glittering in the window, 
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old 
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers 
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, 
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. 
I want to walk like I’m the only 
woman on earth and I can have my pick. 
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm 
your worst fears about me, 
to show you how little I care about you 
or anything except what 
I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment 
from its hanger like I’m choosing a body 
to carry me into this world, through 
the birth-cries and the love-cries too, 
and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin, 
it’ll be the goddamned 
dress they bury me in.

From Tell Me by Kim Addonizio. Copyright © 2000 by Kim Addonizio. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that's lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.

This poem is in the public domain.

It isn't how we look up close
so much as in dreams.

Our giant is not so tall,
our lizard boy merely flaunts

crusty skin- not his fault 
they keep him in a crate

and bathe him maybe once a week.
When folks scream or clutch their hair

and poke at us and glare and speak
of how we slithered up from Hell,

it is themselves they see:
the preacher with the farmer's girls

(his bulging eyes, their chicken legs)
or the mother lurching towards the sink,

a baby quivering in her gnarled 
hands. Horror is the company

you keep when shades are drawn.
Evil does not reside in cages.

Copyright © 2005 Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Excerpted from "Circus Fire, 1944," from The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart. Used with permission of Persea Books.

We lived in Gettysburg like vagrant
prospectors, driven by the scent
of knees and a profound love of dimes

if by dimes you meant knees, and we
were always kneeling before
one altar or another, making sacrifice

as you called it. Your trunk was full
of coffee filters and insoles.
Somebody stole your brother’s bike

and that was all the reason needed.
We broke our melon the old
fashioned way, which is to say

not at all. You’d kneecap that bastard.
I knelt in front of you kneading
the last few pages of John Donne’s

Holy Sonnets like an exquisite loaf
of historically-derived rye.
When I got to the end I wasn’t sure

if breathing was polite, or necessary.
Later I stood in the alley
wearing red tatters of high school.

Our motel was packed with the cry
from a broken television,
the kind that lived between your ribs.

Copyright © 2013 by Mary Biddinger. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on July 11, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Ah! sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done;

Where the youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves and aspire;
Where my sunflower wishes to go.

This poem is in the public domain.

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

From Ariel, published by Harper & Row, 1966. Copyright © 1966 by Ted Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

They are all gone away,
   The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
   The winds blow bleak and shrill:
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day
   To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
   Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away,

And our poor fancy-play
   For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
   In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

This poem is in the public domain.

Christmas was in the air and all was well
With him, but for a few confusing flaws
In divers of God's images. Because
A friend of his would neither buy nor sell,
Was he to answer for the axe that fell?
He pondered; and the reason for it was,
Partly, a slowly freezing Santa Claus
Upon the corner, with his beard and bell.

Acknowledging an improvident surprise,
He magnified a fancy that he wished
The friend whom he had wrecked were here again.
Not sure of that, he found a compromise;
And from the fulness of his heart he fished
A dime for Jesus who had died for men.

This poem is in the public domain.

Dear friends, reproach me not for what I do,  
Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say  
That I am wearing half my life away  
For bubble-work that only fools pursue.  
And if my bubbles be too small for you,
Blow bigger then your own: the games we play  
To fill the frittered minutes of a day,  
Good glasses are to read the spirit through.  
  
And whoso reads may get him some shrewd skill;  
And some unprofitable scorn resign,
To praise the very thing that he deplores;  
So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will,  
The shame I win for singing is all mine,  
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours. 

This poem is in the public domain.


Mrs. Cavendish desired the man in the fedora 
who danced the tarantella without regard
for who might care.  All her life she had
a weakness for abandon, and, if the music
stopped, for anyone who could turn
a phrase. The problem was
Mrs. Cavendish wanted it all
to mean something in a world crazed 
and splattered with the gook 
of apparent significance, and meaning  
had an affinity for being elsewhere.
The dancer studied philosophy, she told me,
knew the difference between a sophist
and a sophomore, despite my insistence
that hardly any existed. It seemed everyone 
but she knew that sadness awaits the needy.
Mr. Cavendish, too, when he was alive,
was equally naïve, might invite a wolf
in man's clothing to spend a night 
at their house. This was how the missus 
mythologized her husband – a man of what
she called honor, no sense of marital danger,
scrupled  beyond all scrupulosity. 
The tarantella man was gorgeous and oily,  
and, let's forgive her, Mrs. Cavendish
was lonely. His hair slicked back, he didn't
resemble her deceased in the slightest,
which in the half-light of memory's belittered
passageways made her ga-ga. And I, as ever,
would cajole and warn, hoping history
and friendship might be on my side.
Mrs. Cavendish, I'd implore, lie down 
with this liar if it feels good, but, please, 
when he smells most of sweetness, get a grip, 
develop a gripe, try to breathe your own air.

Copyright © 2014 by Stephen Dunn. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on January 6, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

All Nashville is a-chill! And everywhere,
As wind-swept sands upon the deserts blow,
There is, each moment, sifted through the air,
A powered blast of January snow.
O thoughtless Dandelion! to be misled
By a few warm days to leave thy natural bed,
Was folly growth and blooming over soon.
And yet, thou blasted, yellow-coated gem!
Full many hearts have but a common boon
With thee, now freezing on thy slender stem.
When once the heart-blooms by love’s fervid breath
Is left, and chilling snow is sifted in,
It still may beat, but there is blast and death
To all that blooming life that might have been.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 3, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.