Yet life is not a vision nor a prayer,
    But stubborn work; she may not shun her task.
After the first compassion, none will spare
    Her portion and her work achieved, to ask.
She pleads for respite,—she will come ere long
When, resting by the roadside, she is strong.

Nay, for the hurrying throng of passers-by
    Will crush her with their onward-rolling stream.
Much must be done before the brief light die;
    She may not loiter, rapt in the vain dream.
With unused trembling hands, and faltering feet,
She staggers forth, her lot assigned to meet.

But when she fills her days with duties done,
    Strange vigor comes, she is restored to health.
New aims, new interests rise with each new sun,
    And life still holds for her unbounded wealth.
All that seemed hard and toilsome now proves small,
And naught may daunt her,—she hath strength for all.

This poem is in the public domain.

I always like summer
best
you can eat fresh corn
from daddy's garden
and okra
and greens
and cabbage
and lots of
barbecue
and buttermilk
and homemade ice-cream
at the church picnic
and listen to
gospel music
outside
at the church
homecoming
and go to the mountains with
your grandmother
and go barefooted
and be warm
all the time
not only when you go to bed
and sleep

"Knoxville, Tennessee" from Black Feeling, Black Talk, Black Judgment by Nikki Giovanni. Copyright © 1968, 1970 by Nikki Giovanni. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

         for Aya at fifteen

Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself 
upside down across the sofa, reading, 
one hand idly sunk into a bowl
of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on. 
I think they are growing gills, swimming 
up the sweet air to reach you. Small girl, 
my slim miracle, they multiply.
In the black hours when I lie sleepless, 
near drowning, dread-heavy, your face 
is the bright lure I look for, love's hook 
piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.

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

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994) by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the author.

translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

I’ve spent a whole afternoon looking at photographs.
I’ve accumulated so many in my life—
but there are two in particular that interest me.
Both are sepia by now, I don’t know where
they were taken, and I’m not in either of them.
The first is a classic composition
of nine people. My mother’s family.
My grandparents, two uncles, four aunts,
and a woman I don’t know or have forgotten.
The women sit on the ground,
the men stand behind them
except for my Aunt Aura, who holds onto
my grandfather with one hand and with the other
caresses my uncle’s shoulder.
Even in this photo of her when she was young—caramel skin,
dark eyes, dark hair, even more beautiful through the sepia,
and wearing a two-piece bathing suit:
the same as a bikini in the 1940s—
one could guess at her boldness.
They’re all in bathing suits and most
try their best smiles.
I don’t know who took this picture,
and studying their faces, I try to see
what they were thinking, what they hoped for from their lives.
My grandmother, despite her twelve children
(or perhaps because of them), smiles
from right to left, like a giant sunflower.
My grandfather seems to contemplate the infinite, as handsome
as a gray ox; and my Aunt Emilia in her braids
seems to sense the sadness of life.
I’m sure I wasn’t born yet.
But even if I were already an adult,
could I have helped them with what I know now
about their lives? Could I have predicted their successes,
their failures—could I have prophesied their deaths?
Their slender, healthy bodies.
the men with the look of swordsmen—
I feel nostalgia when I look at this photograph.
So much energy in their stance!
When did they stop boxing with life?
In which round did they concede defeat?
When did the sound of the bell make them sense the immutable?
There’s no way to take them out of the snapshot,
to know what they were thinking just then.
This is my past, these are my roots,
but as I look at it again on this rainy afternoon,
why can’t I arrange everything into a coherent scene?


Imágenes

He estado toda una tarde estudiando las fotos.
He acumulado tantas en mi vida—
pero hay dos particularmente que me interesan.
Ambas son ahora color sepia, y no sé dónde
fueron tomadas y yo no estoy en ninguna de ellas.
La primera foto es una composición clásica
de nueve personas. Esta es la familia de mi madre.
Mis abuelos, dos tíos, cuatro tías
y una mujer que desconozco o he olvidado.
Las mujeres están sentadas en el suelo,
los hombres de pies detrás de ellas
excepto por mi tía Aura, quien con una mano
agarra a mi abuelo y con la otra
acaricia el hombro de mi tío.
Ya en esta foto de juventud—piel color caramelo,
ojos y cabellos oscuros, más hermosos sobre el sepia—
(vestida con traje de baño de dos piezas:
el equivalente de un bikini en los años cuarenta)
uno podría deducir su naturaleza intrépida.
Todos están en trajes de baño y la mayoría
trata de sonreír de la mejor manera.
Yo no sé quién tomó esta foto,
y escrutando estos rostros, trato de averiguar
qué pensaban ellos, qué esperaban de sus existencias.
Mi abuela, a pesar de sus doce hijos
(o tal vez a causa de ello), sonríe
de derecha a izquierda, como un girasol gigante.
Mi abuelo parece escrutar al infinito, hermoso
como un buey gris; y mi tía Emilia, con sus trenzas,
parece intuir la tristeza de la vida.
Estoy seguro que para esa época yo no había nacido.
Pero aún si ya hubiera sido adulto,
¿podría ayudarlos con el conocimiento que ahora tengo
de sus vidas? ¿Podría haberlos prevenido de sus éxitos,
de sus fracasos—podría haber profetizado sus muertes?
De cuerpos esbeltos y sanos,
los hombres con sus figuras de esgrimistas—
siento nostalgia al mirar esta foto.
¡Cuánta energía irradia de sus poses!
¿En qué momento dejaron de boxear con la vida?
¿En qué asalto se dieron por vencidos;
en cuál campanada intuyeron lo inmutable?
No hay nada qué pueda hacer para sacarlos de esta foto,
ni para saber qué pensaban ellos en ese instante.
Éste es mi pasado, éstas mis raíces,
pero al revisarlo en esta tarde lluviosa
¿por qué no logro organizarlo en una escena coherente?

From My Night with / Mi noche con Federíco García Lorca by Jaime Manrique. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2003 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.

What I’ve written for you, I have always written
in English, my language of silent vowel endings
never translated into your language of silent h’s.
               Lo que he escrito para ti, siempre lo he escrito
               en inglés, en mi lengua llena de vocales mudas
               nunca traducidas a tu idioma de haches mudas.
I’ve transcribed all your old letters into poems
that reconcile your exile from Cuba, but always
in English. I’ve given you back the guajiro roads
you left behind, stretched them into sentences
punctuated with palms, but only in English.
               He transcrito todas tus cartas viejas en poemas
               que reconcilian tu exilio de Cuba, pero siempre
               en inglés. Te he devuelto los caminos guajiros
               que dejastes atrás, transformados en oraciones
               puntuadas por palmas, pero solamente en inglés.
I have recreated the pueblecito you had to forget,
forced your green mountains up again, grown
valleys of sugarcane, stars for you in English.
               He reconstruido el pueblecito que tuvistes que olvidar,
               he levantado de nuevo tus montañas verdes, cultivado
               la caña, las estrellas de tus valles, para ti, en inglés.
In English I have told you how I love you cutting
gladiolas, crushing ajo, setting cups of dulce de leche
on the counter to cool, or hanging up the laundry
at night under our suburban moon. In English,
               En inglés te he dicho cómo te amo cuando cortas
               gladiolas, machacas ajo, enfrías tacitas de dulce de leche
               encima del mostrador, o cuando tiendes la ropa
               de noche bajo nuestra luna en suburbia. En inglés
I have imagined you surviving by transforming
yards of taffeta into dresses you never wear,
keeping Papá’s photo hinged in your mirror,
and leaving the porch light on, all night long.
               He imaginado como sobrevives transformando
               yardas de tafetán en vestidos que nunca estrenas,
               la foto de papá que guardas en el espejo de tu cómoda,
               la luz del portal que dejas encendida, toda la noche.
               Te he captado en inglés en la mesa de la cocina
               esperando que cuele el café, que hierva la leche
               y que tu vida acostumbre a tu vida. En inglés
               has aprendido a adorer tus pérdidas igual que yo.
I have captured you in English at the kitchen table
waiting for the café to brew, the milk to froth,
and your life to adjust to your life. In English
you’ve learned to adore your losses the way I do.

From Directions to the Beach of the Dead by Richard Blanco. The Arizona Board of Regents © 2005. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

Once more
I summon you
Out of the past
With poignant love,
You who nourished the poet
And the lover.
I see your gray eyes
Looking out to sea
In those Rockport summers,
Keeping a distance
Within the closeness
Which was never intrusive
Opening out
Into the world.
And what I remember
Is how we laughed
Till we cried
Swept into merriment
Especially when times were hard.
And what I remember
Is how you never stopped creating
And how people sent me
Dresses you had designed
With rich embroidery
In brilliant colors
Because they could not bear
To give them away
Or cast them aside.
I summon you now
Not to think of
The ceaseless battle
With pain and ill health,
The frailty and the anguish.
No, today I remember
The creator,
The lion-hearted.

"For My Mother", from Coming Into Eighty by May Sarton. Copyright © 1994 by May Sarton. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for tonight!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;—      
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Backward, flow backward, O tide of the years!
I am so weary of toil and of tears,—      
Toil without recompense, tears all in vain,—   
Take them, and give me my childhood again!
I have grown weary of dust and decay,—   
Weary of flinging my soul-wealth away;
Weary of sowing for others to reap;—   
Rock me to sleep, mother — rock me to sleep!

Tired of the hollow, the base, the untrue,
Mother, O mother, my heart calls for you!
Many a summer the grass has grown green,
Blossomed and faded, our faces between:
Yet, with strong yearning and passionate pain,
Long I tonight for your presence again.
Come from the silence so long and so deep;—   
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Over my heart, in the days that are flown,
No love like mother-love ever has shone;
No other worship abides and endures,—      
Faithful, unselfish, and patient like yours:
None like a mother can charm away pain
From the sick soul and the world-weary brain.
Slumber’s soft calms o’er my heavy lids creep;—      
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Come, let your brown hair, just lighted with gold,
Fall on your shoulders again as of old;
Let it drop over my forehead tonight,
Shading my faint eyes away from the light;
For with its sunny-edged shadows once more
Haply will throng the sweet visions of yore;
Lovingly, softly, its bright billows sweep;—   
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Mother, dear mother, the years have been long
Since I last listened your lullaby song:
Sing, then, and unto my soul it shall seem
Womanhood’s years have been only a dream.
Clasped to your heart in a loving embrace,
With your light lashes just sweeping my face,
Never hereafter to wake or to weep;—      
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep! 

This poem is in the public domain.

Her blue dress is a silk train is a river
is water seeps into the cobblestone streets of my sleep, is still raining
is monsoon brocade, is winter stars stitched into puddles
is good-bye in a flooded, antique room, is good-bye in a room of crystal bowls
and crystal cups, is the ring-ting-ring of water dripping from the mouths
of crystal bowls and crystal cups, is the Mississippi River is a hallway, is leaks
like tears from windowsills of a drowned house, is windows open to waterfalls
is a bed is a small boat is a ship, is a current come to carry me in its arms
through the streets, is me floating in her dress through the streets
is only the moon sees me floating through the streets, is me in a blue dress
out to sea, is my mother is a moon out to sea.

From Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Saeed Jones. Used with permission of The Permissions Company on behalf of Coffee House Press.

      New Year’s Eve

Two sisters side by side,
benched at the gleaming fin

of the living room’s out-of-tune baby grand,
work out a mash-up, Adele’s “Hello”

& Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights,”
Hello, it’s me. . . , Heathcliff, it’s me, it’s Cathy,

voices by turns treble, then cemetery-dusked,
meandering, & hungry

as the sinew-tracks of moles
sponging December’s yard,

painted mouths of iced puddles,
branchless leaves snaring the window

with inhuman gale.
One swallows this heavy beauty,

rolls the mordent perfume
back to bloom as the other slips out

of autumn’s whalebone stave, descant.
They sing as if still girls. As if before

love’s scarlet evidence, & not, like the year,
the trees, already moved, moved through.

From Orexia. Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Russ Spaar. Reprinted with the permission of Persea Books, Inc. (New York), www.perseabooks.com.

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

This poem is in the public domain.

In the autumn I moved to New York,
I recognized her face all over the subway
stations—pearls around her throat, she poses
for her immigration papers. In 1924, the only
Americans required to carry identity cards
were ethnically Chinese—the first photo IDs,
red targets on the head of every man, woman,
child, infant, movie star. Like pallbearers,
they lined up to get their pictures taken: full-face
view, direct camera gaze, no smiles, ears showing,
in silver gelatin. A rogue’s gallery of Chinese
exclusion. The subway poster doesn’t name
her—though it does mention her ethnicity,
and the name of the New York Historical
Society exhibition: Exclusion/Inclusion.
Soon, when I felt alone in this city, her face
would peer at me from behind seats, turnstiles,
heads, and headphones, and I swear she wore
a smile only I could see. Sometimes my face
aligned with hers, and we would rush past
the bewildered lives before us—hers, gone
the year my mother was born, and mine,
a belt of ghosts trailing after my scent.
In the same aboveground train, in the same
city where slain umbrellas travel across
the Hudson River, we live and live.
I’ve left my landline so ghosts can’t dial me
at midnight with the hunger of hunters
anymore. I’m so hungry I gnaw at light.
It tunnels from the shadows, an exhausting
hope. I know this hunger tormented her too.
It haunted her through her years in L.A., Paris,
and New York, the parties she went to, people
she met—Paul Robeson, Zora Neale Hurston,
Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein. It haunts
her expression still, on the 6 train, Grand
Central station, an echo chamber behind
her eyes. But dear universe: if I can recognize
her face under this tunnel of endless shadows
against the luminance of all that is extinct
and oncoming, then I am not a stranger here.

Copyright © 2017 by Sally Wen Mao. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

In the invitation, I tell them for the seventeenth time
(the fourth in writing), that I am gay.

In the invitation, I include a picture of my boyfriend
& write, You’ve met him two times. But this time,

you will ask him things other than can you pass the
whatever. You will ask him

about him. You will enjoy dinner. You will be
enjoyable. Please RSVP.

They RSVP. They come.
They sit at the table & ask my boyfriend

the first of the conversation starters I slip them
upon arrival: How is work going?

I’m like the kid in Home Alone, orchestrating
every movement of a proper family, as if a pair

of scary yet deeply incompetent burglars
is watching from the outside.

My boyfriend responds in his chipper way.
I pass my father a bowl of fish ball soup—So comforting,

isn’t it? My mother smiles her best
Sitting with Her Son’s Boyfriend

Who Is a Boy Smile. I smile my Hurray for Doing
a Little Better Smile.

Everyone eats soup.
Then, my mother turns

to me, whispers in Mandarin, Is he coming with you
for Thanksgiving? My good friend is & she wouldn’t like

this. I’m like the kid in Home Alone, pulling
on the string that makes my cardboard mother

more motherly, except she is
not cardboard, she is

already, exceedingly my mother. Waiting
for my answer.

While my father opens up
a Boston Globe, when the invitation

clearly stated: No security
blankets. I’m like the kid

in Home Alone, except the home
is my apartment, & I’m much older, & not alone,

& not the one who needs
to learn, has to—Remind me

what’s in that recipe again, my boyfriend says
to my mother, as though they have always, easily

talked. As though no one has told him
many times, what a nonlinear slapstick meets

slasher flick meets psychological
pit he is now co-starring in.

Remind me, he says
to our family.

Copyright © 2018 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

How to say milk?  How to say sand, snow, sow,

linen, cloud, cocoon, or albino?
How to say page or canvas or rice balls?

Trying to recall Japanese, I blank out:

it’s clear I know forgetting.  Mother, tell me
what to call that paper screen that slides the interior in?

From Brain Fever (W. W. Norton, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Kimiko Hahn. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

We carry tears in our eyes: good-bye father, good-bye mother

We carry soil in small bags: may home never fade in our hearts

We carry names, stories, memories of our villages, fields, boats

We carry scars from proxy wars of greed

We carry carnage of mining, droughts, floods, genocides

We carry dust of our families and neighbors incinerated in mushroom clouds

We carry our islands sinking under the sea

We carry our hands, feet, bones, hearts and best minds for a new life

We carry diplomas: medicine, engineer, nurse, education, math, poetry, even if they mean nothing to the other shore

We carry railroads, plantations, laundromats, bodegas, taco trucks, farms, factories, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, temples…built on our ancestors’ backs

We carry old homes along the spine, new dreams in our chests

We carry yesterday, today and tomorrow

We’re orphans of the wars forced upon us

We’re refugees of the sea rising from industrial wastes

And we carry our mother tongues
(ai)حب  (hubb), ליבע (libe), amor, love
平安 (ping’an), سلام ( salaam), shalom, paz, peace
希望 (xi’wang), أمل (’amal), hofenung, esperanza, hope, hope, hope

As we drift…in our rubber boats…from shore…to shore…to shore…

Originally published in New American Poetry. Copyright © 2018 by Wang Ping. Used with the permission of the author.

She begins, and my grandmother joins her.
Mother and daughter sing like young girls.
If my father were alive, he would play
his accordion and sway like a boat.

I’ve never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace,
nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch
the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers
running away in the grass.

But I love to hear it sung;
how the waterlilies fill with rain until
they overturn, spilling water into water,
then rock back, and fill with more.

Both women have begun to cry.
But neither stops her song.

From Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

I gaze at the Pacific and don’t expect
to ever see the heads on Easter Island,

though I guess at sunlight rippling
the yellow grasses sloping to shore;

yesterday a doe ate grass in the orchard:
it lifted its ears and stopped eating

when it sensed us watching from
a glass hallway—in his sleep, a veteran

sweats, defusing a land mine.
On the globe, I mark the Battle of

the Coral Sea—no one frets at that now.
A poem can never be too dark,

I nod and, staring at the Kenai, hear
ice breaking up along an inlet;

yesterday a coyote trotted across
my headlights and turned his head

but didn’t break stride; that’s how
I want to live on this planet:

alive to a rabbit at a glass door—
and flower where there is no flower.

Copyright © 2015 by Arthur Sze. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 10, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

You grow up hearing two languages. Neither fits your fits
Your mother informs you “moon” means “window to another world.”

You begin to hear words mourn the sounds buried inside their mouths
A row of yellow windows and a painting of them

Your mother informs you “moon” means “window to another world.”
You decide it is better to step back and sit in the shadows

A row of yellow windows and a painting of them
Someone said you can see a blue pagoda or a red rocket ship

You decide it is better to step back and sit in the shadows
Is it because you saw a black asteroid fly past your window

Someone said you can see a blue pagoda or a red rocket ship
I tried to follow in your footsteps, but they turned to water

Is it because I saw a black asteroid fly past my window
The air hums—a circus performer riding a bicycle towards the ceiling

I tried to follow in your footsteps, but they turned to water
The town has started sinking back into its commercial

The air hums—a circus performer riding a bicycle towards the ceiling
You grow up hearing two languages. Neither fits your fits

The town has started sinking back into its commercial
You begin to hear words mourn the sounds buried inside their mouths
 

Copyright © 2016 by John Yau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.

Harjo, Joy, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems; Copyright © 2015 by W. W. Norton & Company. Reprinted with permission of Anderson Literary Management LLC, 244 Fifth Avenue, Floor 11, New York, NY 10001.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

One narcissus among the ordinary beautiful
flowers, one unlike all the others!  She pulled,
stooped to pull harder—
when, sprung out of the earth
on his glittering terrible
carriage, he claimed his due.
It is finished.  No one heard her.
No one!  She had strayed from the herd.

(Remember: go straight to school.
This is important, stop fooling around!
Don't answer to strangers.  Stick
with your playmates.  Keep your eyes down.)
This is how easily the pit
opens.  This is how one foot sinks into the ground.

“Persephone, Falling,” from Mother Love by Rita Dove. Copyright © 1995 by Rita Dove. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
pain,
yearning,
regret.

It doesn’t have 
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
shapely—
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
lopsided,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—

but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
too.

Copyright © 2017 Rita Dove. Used with permission of the author.

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.