Today I woke up in my body
and wasn’t that body anymore.
It’s more like my dog—
for the most part obedient,
warming to me
when I slip it goldfish or toast,
but it sheds.
Can’t get past a simple sit,
stay, turn over. House-trained, but not entirely.
This doesn’t mean it’s time to say goodbye.
I’ve realized the estrangement
is temporary, and for my own good:
My body’s work to break the world
into bricks and sticks
has turned inward.
As all the doors in the world
a big white bed is being put up in my heart.
Copyright © 2017 by Max Ritvo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
“Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven devils had been cast out”
The first was that I was very busy.
The second—I was different from you: whatever happened to you could
not happen to me, not like that.
The third—I worried.
The fourth—envy, disguised as compassion.
The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid,
The aphid disgusted me. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The mosquito too—its face. And the ant—its bifurcated body.
Ok the first was that I was so busy.
The second that I might make the wrong choice,
because I had decided to take that plane that day,
that flight, before noon, so as to arrive early
and, I shouldn’t have wanted that.
The third was that if I walked past the certain place on the street
the house would blow up.
The fourth was that I was made of guts and blood with a thin layer
of skin lightly thrown over the whole thing.
The fifth was that the dead seemed more alive to me than the living
The sixth—if I touched my right arm I had to touch my left arm, and if I
touched the left arm a little harder than I’d first touched the right then I had
to retouch the left and then touch the right again so it would be even.
The seventh—I knew I was breathing the expelled breath of everything that
was alive, and I couldn’t stand it.
I wanted a sieve, a mask, a, I hate this word—cheesecloth—
to breath through that would trap it—whatever was inside everyone else that
entered me when I breathed in.
No. That was the first one.
The second was that I was so busy. I had no time. How had this happened?
How had our lives gotten like this?
The third was that I couldn’t eat food if I really saw it—distinct, separate
from me in a bowl or on a plate.
Ok. The first was that. I could never get to the end of the list.
The second was that the laundry was never finally done.
The third was that no one knew me, although they thought they did.
And that if people thought of me as little as I thought of them then what was
The fourth was I didn’t belong to anyone. I wouldn’t allow myself to belong
The fifth was that I knew none of us could ever know what we didn’t know.
The sixth was that I projected onto others what I myself was feeling.
The seventh was the way my mother looked when she was dying,
the sound she made—her mouth wrenched to the right and cupped open
so as to take in as much air… the gurgling sound, so loud
we had to speak louder to hear each other over it.
And that I couldn’t stop hearing it—years later—grocery shopping, crossing the street—
No, not the sound—it was her body’s hunger
finally evident—what our mother had hidden all her life.
For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,
the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.
The underneath. That was the first devil. It was always with me
And that I didn’t think you—if I told you—would understand any of this—
Copyright © 2008 by Marie Howe. Originally published in American Poetry Review. Used with permission of the author.
Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son,
Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding,
No sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them,
No more modest than immodest.
Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!
Whoever degrades another degrades me,
And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.
Through me the afflatus surging and surging, through me the current and index.
I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy,
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.
Through me many long dumb voices,
Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves,
Voices of the diseas’d and despairing and of thieves and dwarfs,
Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion,
And of the threads that connect the stars, and of wombs and of the father-stuff,
And of the rights of them the others are down upon,
Of the deform’d, trivial, flat, foolish, despised,
Fog in the air, beetles rolling balls of dung.
Through me forbidden voices,
Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil’d and I remove the veil,
Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur’d.
I do not press my fingers across my mouth,
I keep as delicate around the bowels as around the head and heart,
Copulation is no more rank to me than death is.
I believe in the flesh and the appetites,
Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle.
Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch'd from,The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer,This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds.
If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my own body, or any part of it,
Translucent mould of me it shall be you!
Shaded ledges and rests it shall be you!
Firm masculine colter it shall be you!
Whatever goes to the tilth of me it shall be you!
You my rich blood! your milky stream pale strippings of my life!
Breast that presses against other breasts it shall be you!
My brain it shall be your occult convolutions!
Root of wash'd sweet-flag! timorous pond-snipe! nest of guarded duplicate eggs! it shall be you!
Mix'd tussled hay of head, beard, brawn, it shall be you!
Trickling sap of maple, fibre of manly wheat, it shall be you!
Sun so generous it shall be you!
Vapors lighting and shading my face it shall be you!
You sweaty brooks and dews it shall be you!
Winds whose soft-tickling genitals rub against me it shall be you!
Broad muscular fields, branches of live oak, loving lounger in my winding paths, it shall be you!
Hands I have taken, face I have kiss'd, mortal I have ever touch'd, it shall be you.
I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious,Each moment and whatever happens thrills me with joy,I cannot tell how my ankles bend, nor whence the cause of my faintest wish,Nor the cause of the friendship I emit, nor the cause of the friendship I take again. That I walk up my stoop, I pause to consider if it really be,A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.
To behold the day-break!The little light fades the immense and diaphanous shadows,The air tastes good to my palate. Hefts of the moving world at innocent gambols silently rising freshly exuding,Scooting obliquely high and low.
Something I cannot see puts upward libidinous prongs,Seas of bright juice suffuse heaven.
The earth by the sky staid with, the daily close of their junction,The heav'd challenge from the east that moment over my head,The mocking taunt. See then whether you shall be master!
The hoop is not metal, but a pair of outstretched arms,
God’s arms, joined at the fingers. And God is saying
throw it to me. It’s not a ball anymore. It’s an orange prayer
I’m offering with all four chambers. And the other players—
the Pollack of limbs, flashing hands and teeth—
are just temptations, obstacles between me and the Lord’s light.
Once during an interview I slipped, I didn’t pray well tonight,
and the reporter looked at me, the same one who’d called me
a baller of destiny, and said you mean play, right? Of course,
I nodded. Don’t misunderstand—I’m no reverend
of the flesh. Priests embarrass me. A real priest
wouldn’t put on that robe, wouldn’t need the public
affirmation. A real priest works in disguise, leads
by example, preaches with his feet. Yes, Jesus walked on water,
but how about a staircase of air? And when the clock
is down to its final ticks, I rise up and over the palms
of a nonbeliever—the whole world watching, thinking
it can’t be done—I let the faith roll off my fingertips, the ball
drunk with backspin, a whole stadium of people holding
the same breath simultaneously, the net flying up like a curtain,
the lord’s truth visible for an instant, converting nonbelievers
by the bushel, who will swear for years they’ve witnessed a miracle.
Copyright © 2015 Jeffrey McDaniel. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner.
Thanks for the tree
between me & a sniper's bullet.
I don't know what made the grass
sway seconds before the Viet Cong
raised his soundless rifle.
Some voice always followed,
telling me which foot
to put down first.
Thanks for deflecting the ricochet
against that anarchy of dusk.
I was back in San Francisco
wrapped up in a woman's wild colors,
causing some dark bird's love call
to be shattered by daylight
when my hands reached up
& pulled a branch away
from my face. Thanks
for the vague white flower
that pointed to the gleaming metal
reflecting how it is to be broken
like mist over the grass,
as we played some deadly
game for blind gods.
What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer's gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string,
is beyond me. Maybe the hills
grew weary & leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I'm still
falling through its silence.
I don't know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet,
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved.
Copyright © 1988 by Yusef Komunyakaa. From Dien Cai Dau (Wesleyan University Press, 1988). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the
ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?
This poem is in the public domain.
The girls sang better than the boys, their voices reaching All the way to God, Sister Ann Zita insisted during those practice sessions when I was told to mouth do, re, mi, but to go no higher, when I was told to stand in back and form a perfect 0 with my lips although no word was ever to come out, the silent singer in that third-grade class during the Christmas Pageant and Easter Week, the birth and death of Christ lip-synched but unsung while my relatives, friends and parents praised my baritone, how low my voice was, Balancing those higher, more childlike tones, my father said, Adding depth, my mother said, Thank God they had my huskiness to bring all that tinniness to earth, my great-aunt whispered, so I believed for many years in miracles myself, the words I'd never sung reaching their ears in the perfect pitch, the perfect tone, while the others stuttered in their all-too-human voices to praise the Lord.
From The Silent Singer by Len Roberts. Copyright © 2000 by Len Roberts. Used with permission of the author and the University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved.
Turn to yon vale beneath, whose tangled shade
Excludes the blazing torch of noon-day light,
Where sportive Fawns, and dimpled Loves invite,
The bow'r of Pleasure opens to the glade:
Lull'd by soft flutes, on leaves of violets laid,
There witching beauty greets the ravish'd sight,
More gentle than the arbitress of night
In all her silv'ry panoply array'd!
The birds breathe bliss! light zephyrs kiss the ground,
Stealing the hyacinth's divine perfume;
While from the pellucid fountains glitt'ring round,
small tinkling rills bid rival flow'rets bloom!
HERE, laughing Cupids bathe the bosom's wound;
THERE, tyrant passion finds a glorious tomb!
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Four tickets left, I let her go—
Firstborn into a hurricane.
I thought she escaped
The floodwaters. No—but her
Head is empty of the drowned
For now—though she took
Her first breath below sea level.
Ahhh awe & aw
Mama, let me go—she speaks
What every smart child knows—
To get grown you unlatch
Your hands from the grown
& up & up & up & up
She turns—latched in the seat
Of a hurricane. You let
Your girl what? You let
Your girl what?
I did so she do I did
so she do so—
Girl, you can ride
A hurricane & she do
& she do & she do & she do
She do make my river
An ocean. Memorial,
Baptist, Protestant birth—my girl
Walked away from a hurricane.
& she do & she do & she do & she do
She do take my hand a while longer.
The haunts in my pocket
I’ll keep to a hum: Katrina was
a woman I knew. When you were
an infant she rained on you & she
do & she do & she do & she do
From Hemming the Water. Copyright © 2013 by Yona Harvey. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Four Way Books, www.fourwaybooks.com.
My mother was not impressed with her beauty;
once a year she put it on like a costume,
plaited her black hair, slick as cornsilk, down past her hips,
in one rope-thick braid, turned it, carefully, hand over hand,
and fixed it at the nape of her neck, stiff and elegant as a crown,
with tortoise pins, like huge insects,
some belonging to her dead mother,
some to my living grandmother.
Sitting on the stool at the mirror,
she applied a peachy foundation that seemed to hold her down, to trap her,
as if we never would have noticed what flew among us
unless it was weighted and bound in its mask.
Vaseline shined her eyebrows,
mascara blackened her lashes until they swept down like feathers;
her eyes deepened until they shone from far away.
Now I remember her hands, her poor hands, which, even
then were old from scrubbing, whiter on the inside than they should have been,
and hard, the first joints of her fingers, little fattened pads,
the nails filed to sharp points like old-fashioned ink pens, painted a jolly color.
Her hands stood next to her face and wanted to be put away, prayed
for the scrub bucket and brush to make them useful.
And, as I write, I forget the years I watched her
pull hairs like a witch from her chin, magnify
every blotch—as if acid were thrown from the inside.
But once a year my mother
rose in her white silk slip,
not the slave of the house, the woman,
took the ironed dress from the hanger—
allowing me to stand on the bed, so that
my face looked directly into her face,
and hold the garment away from her
as she pulled it down.
From Captivity. Copyright © 1989 by Toi Derricotte. Published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved.
Without hands a woman would stand at her mirror looking back only, not touching, for how could she? Eyelid. Cheek. Earlobe. Nack-hollow. The pulse points that wait to be dusted with jasmine or lavender. The lips she rubs rose with a forefinger. She tends the image she sees in her glass, the cold replication of woman, the one who dared eat from her own hand the fruit of self-knowledge.
From Catching Light by Kathryn Stripling Byer. Copyright © 2002 by Kathryn Stripling Byer. Reproduced with the permission of Louisiana State University Press. All rights reserved.
This salt-stain spot marks the place where men lay down their heads, back to the bench, and hoist nothing that need be lifted but some burden they've chosen this time: more reps, more weight, the upward shove of it leaving, collectively, this sign of where we've been: shroud-stain, negative flashed onto the vinyl where we push something unyielding skyward, gaining some power at least over flesh, which goads with desire, and terrifies with frailty. Who could say who's added his heat to the nimbus of our intent, here where we make ourselves: something difficult lifted, pressed or curled, Power over beauty, power over power! Though there's something more tender, beneath our vanity, our will to become objects of desire: we sweat the mark of our presence onto the cloth. Here is some halo the living made together.
From Source by Mark Doty, published by HarperCollins. Copyright © 2002 by Mark Doty. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved.