Darkness wounds the barley,
etching it with denser clouds. A herd sends its
envoy out to nose the garbage at
road’s edge before creeping into the expanse.
And the rest follow with cheap hunger—
ten at once through the swaying curtain, heads
tipped, disappearing in the dim.
Wrong to think of them as vessels
in which your feelings live, leaping across emptiness.
Light a candle. Entertain pity all evening.
It isn’t the deer’s work to hold you. That isn’t you
growing full in the field. Paint them, your
heaviest brush lavish with creams and blacks,
trembling, timid, before the canvas.
Copyright © 2016 by Paula Bohince. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
When, at the end, the children wanted
to add glitter to their valentines, I said no.
I said nope, no, no glitter, and then,
when they started to fuss, I found myself
saying something my brother’s football coach
used to bark from the sidelines when one
of his players showed signs of being
human: oh come on now, suck it up.
That’s what I said to my children.
Suck what up? my daughter asked,
and, because she is so young, I told her
I didn’t know and never mind, and she took
that for an answer. My children are so young
when I turn off the radio as the news turns
to counting the dead or naming the act,
they aren’t even suspicious. My children
are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in. Their God is still
a real God, a whole God, a God made wholly
of actions. And I think they think I work
for that God. And I know they will someday soon
see everything and they will know about
everything and they will no longer take
never mind for an answer. The valentines
would’ve been better with glitter, and my son
hurt himself on an envelope, and then, much
later, when we were eating dinner, my daughter
realized she’d forgotten one of the three
Henrys in her class. How can there be three Henrys
in one class? I said, and she said, Because there are.
And so, before bed we took everything out
again—paper and pens and stamps and scissors—
and she sat at the table with her freshly washed hair
parted smartly down the middle and wrote
WILL YOU BE MINE, HENRY T.? and she did it
so carefully, I could hardly stand to watch.
Copyright © 2019 by Carrie Fountain. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2018 by giovanni singleton. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
There is more glory in a drop of dew, That shineth only for an hour, Than there is in the pomp of earth’s great Kings Within the noonday of their power. There is more sweetness in a single strain That falleth from a wild bird’s throat, At random in the lonely forest’s depths, Than there’s in all the songs that bards e’er wrote. Yet men, for aye, rememb’ring Caesar’s name, Forget the glory in the dew, And, praising Homer’s epic, let the lark’s Song fall unheeded from the blue.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Long ago I met a beautiful boy Together we slept in my mother's womb Now the street of our fathers rises to eat him :: Everything black is forbidden in Eden In my arms my brother sleeps, teeth pearls I give away the night so he can have this slumber :: I give away the man who made me white I give away the man who freed my mother I pry apart my skull my scalp unfurls :: I nestle him gray inside my brain, my brother sleeps and dreams of genes mauve lips fast against spine he breathes. The sky :: bends into my eyes as they search for his skin Helicopter blades invade our peace::: Where is that Black Where is it Where :: Blades slice, whine pound the cupolas I slide him down and out the small of my vertebrae He scurries down the bone and to the ocean :: navigates home in a boat carved of gommier When he reaches our island everyone is relieved though they have not forgotten me, belsé :: Where is your sister, eh? Whey? Koté belsé yé? Whey? Koté li yé Koté li yé To the sand To the stars on the sea Koté li yé Koté li yé To the one-celled egun To the torpid moon Koté li yé Koté li yé :: There::: Koté li yé drapes across a baton; glows electric in shine of taser; pumped dry with glass bottle; :: There::: Koté li yé vagina gape into the night; neck dangle taut with plastic bags and poorly knotted ropes; :: There::: Koté li yé belsé Koté? ::: I burn my skin shines blacker, lacquer ::: non-mwen sé flambó ashes tremble in the moonlight ::: sans humanité my smoking bones fume the future ::: pa bwè afwéchi pou lafiyèv dòt moun
Copyright © 2018 by r. erica doyle. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
dear reader, with our heels digging into the good mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown & lord knows I have been called by what I look like more than I have been called by what I actually am & I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this exercise. which, too, is an attempt at fashioning something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anything worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics arrive to the tongue first. say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out grandfather clock. he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning, you could scatter his whole mind across a field.
Copyright © 2018 by Hanif Abdurraqib. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Copyright © 1966 by Robert Hayden, from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.
say it with your whole black mouth: i am innocent
& if you are not innocent, say this: i am worthy of forgiveness, of breath after breath
i tell you this: i let blue eyes dress me in guilt
walked around stores convinced the very skin of my palm was stolen
& what good has that brought me? days filled flinching
thinking the sirens were reaching for me
& when the sirens were for me
did i not make peace with god?
so many white people are alive because
we know how to control ourselves.
how many times have we died on a whim
wielded like gallows in their sun-shy hands?
here, standing in my own body, i say: the next time
they murder us for the crime of their imaginations
i don’t know what i’ll do.
i did not come to preach of peace
for that is not the hunted’s duty.
i came here to say what i can’t say
without my name being added to a list
what my mother fears i will say
what she wishes to say herself
i came here to say
i can’t bring myself to write it down
sometimes i dream of pulling a red apology
from a pig’s collared neck & wake up crackin up
if i dream of setting fire to cul-de-sacs
i wake chained to the bed
i don’t like thinking about doing to white folks
what white folks done to us
when i do
i don’t dance
o my people
how long will we
reach for god
instead of something sharper?
my lovely doe
with a taste for meat
by his hand
Copyright © 2018 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s not that the old are wise But that we thirst for the wisdom we had at twenty when we understood everything when our brains bubbled with tingling insights percolating up from our brilliant genitals when our music rang like a global siege shooting down all the lies in the world oh then we knew the truth then we sparkled like mica in granite and now we stand on the shore of an ocean that rises and rises but is too salt to drink
Copyright © 2018 by Alicia Ostriker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.
“Scaffolding” from Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966–1996 by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1998 by Seamus Heaney.
Seventy-seven betrayers will stand by the road, And those who love you will be few but stronger. Seventy-seven betrayers, skilful and various, But do not fear them: they are unimportant. You must learn soon, soon, that despite Judas The great betrayals are impersonal (Though many would be Judas, having the will And the capacity, but few the courage). You must learn soon, soon, that even love Can be no shield against the abstract demons: Time, cold and fire, and the law of pain, The law of things falling, and the law of forgetting. The messengers, of faces and names known Or of forms familiar, are innocent.
Copyright ©️ 1987 by the Estate of Hyam Plutzik. All rights reserved.
I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine
What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
He had created life and love and heart
On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
But mutely gazed upon that face divine.
And over me the sense of beauty fell,
As music over a raptured listener to
The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
There falls the aureate glory filtered through
The windows in some old cathedral dim.
This poem is in the public domain.
All the complicated details of the attiring and the disattiring are completed! A liquid moon moves gently among the long branches. Thus having prepared their buds against a sure winter the wise trees stand sleeping in the cold.
This poem is in the public domain.
Now each of us is
a witness stand:
Vasenka watches us watch four soldiers throw Alfonso Barabinski on the sidewalk.
We let them take him, all of us cowards.
What we don’t say
we carry in our suitcases, coat pockets, our nostrils.
Across the street they wash him with fire hoses. First he screams,
then he stops.
So much sunlight—
a t-shirt falls off a clothes line and an old man stops, picks it up, presses it to his face.
Neighbors line up to watch him thrown on a sidewalk like a vaudeville act: Ta Da.
In so much sunlight—
how each of us
is a witness stand:
They take Alfonso
And no one stands up. Our silence stands up for us.
Copyright © 2017 by Ilya Kaminsky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
If space and time, as sages say,
Are things which cannot be,
The fly that lives a single day
Has lived as long as we.
But let us live while yet we may,
While love and life are free,
For time is time, and runs away,
Though sages disagree.
The flowers I sent thee when the dew
Was trembling on the vine,
Were withered ere the wild bee flew
To suck the eglantine.
But let us haste to pluck anew
Nor mourn to see them pine,
And though the flowers of love be few
Yet let them be divine.
This poem is in the public domain.
As in some demented romantic comedy,
my wife and I divided the apartment in half.
She took the living room and I took the bedroom.
Bivouacked and bleeding, we waited for the lawyer
to finish the stipulation so we could sign
the pages and crawl away forever.
I lived in her midst like an alien species.
The exclusion zone sizzled like wet lightning
when I whispered to outsiders on the house phone.
Then came the morning of my departure:
I awoke in civil twilight with my wife standing
over me, looking down into my pallid face.
For half a second, I thought she might strike me,
but she grasped my hand and squeezed it goodbye,
an astonishing tenderness glistening in her eyes,
one final gift in all that pain and murderous détente,
all that wailing and mortification of the flesh.
On the way to the gallows of divorce,
she held a merciful cup of clemency to my lips,
and I drank deeply, I drank so deeply
that I forgot what I’d done to deserve her.
Copyright © 2017 by Jerry Williams. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 23, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
“We can no longer afford that particular romance.”
Brother Rickey halts me before I cross East
Capitol. He trumpets that we are at war.
I want to admit that I don’t believe in “white”
—in the manner that Baldwin did not—but Brother
Rickey would simply retort that my disbelief
is no immunity from the imaginations of those
who think themselves “white.” As we await
the stoplight’s shift—so I may walk and he may
holler “Final Call!” between lanes of idle traffic—
I think of race as something akin to climate change,
a force we don’t have to believe in for it to kill us.
I once believed in the seasons. (I fantasize
fall as Brother Rickey’s favorite—when his suits,
boxy and plaid, would be neither too hot nor
thin.) But we are losing spring and fall—tripping
from blaze to frost and back. And what’s to say
we won’t soon shed another season, one of these
remaining two, and live on either an Earth
of molten streets or one of frozen light? That’s when
worlds end, no—when, after we’ve eradicated
ourselves, we become faint fossils to be exhumed
by the curiosities of whichever life-forms follow
our reign? I still owe Brother Rickey two dollars
for the paper he last placed in my hand, calling me
“soldier.” I don’t have to believe that I am enlisted
in order to understand he’ll forgive my debt
so long as this idea of “whiteness” sorties above us—
ultraviolet, obliging an aseasonal, unending deployment.
Released by the signal, I advance—my head down,
straining to discern the crossfire from the cover.
Copyright © 2017 by Kyle Dargan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Now, dear, it isn’t the bold things, Great deeds of valour and might, That count the most in the summing up of life at the end of the day. But it is the doing of old things, Small acts that are just and right; And doing them over and over again, no matter what others say; In smiling at fate, when you want to cry, and in keeping at work when you want to play— Dear, those are the things that count. And, dear, it isn’t the new ways Where the wonder-seekers crowd That lead us into the land of content, or help us to find our own. But it is keeping to true ways, Though the music is not so loud, And there may be many a shadowed spot where we journey along alone; In flinging a prayer at the face of fear, and in changing into a song a groan— Dear, these are the things that count. My dear, it isn’t the loud part Of creeds that are pleasing to God, Not the chant of a prayer, or the hum of a hymn, or a jubilant shout or song. But it is the beautiful proud part Of walking with feet faith-shod; And in loving, loving, loving through all, no matter how things go wrong; In trusting ever, though dark the day, and in keeping your hope when the way seems long— Dear, these are the things that count.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
turns out there are more planets than stars more places to land than to be burned I have always been in love with last chances especially now that they really do seem like last chances the trill of it all upending what’s left of my head after we explode are you ready to ascend in the morning I will take you on the wing
Copyright © 2019 by D. A. Powell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
You crawled back into your motel in a border town near the demarcation line between the nation-state of the living and the underworld. Sleepless, you peered out the window. You could see the neon lights garlanding the Gates of Horn and Ivory. The lights spelled out “OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY” in blinking red cursive. You laughed. Of course, death is the only border crossing still open to all. You watched the illumination from the street pour onto the wall above your bed: a red lasso that looped on the wall, as if the wall had begun to bleed extravagantly. Below, traffic packed the road in both directions. From the two open gates, dreams sailed into the living world from over the deserts. Some dreams true, some false. You recognized some of these dreams (Race, Nation, Gender) and could not tell from which gate they had emerged. Sleepless, you saw the line of pilgrims queued up to enter the underworld. The line seems longer lately, new refugees to the afterlife.
Copyright © 2019 by Ken Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 31, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.