Palm-sized and fledgling, a beak
protruding from the sleeve, I
have kept my birds muted
for so long, I fear they’ve grown
accustom to a grim quietude.
What chaos could ensue
should a wing get loose?
Come overdue burst, come
flock, swarm, talon, and claw.
Scatter the coop’s roost, free
the cygnet and its shadow. Crack
and scratch at the state’s cage,
cut through cloud and branch,
no matter the dumb hourglass’s
white sand yawning grain by grain.
What cannot be contained
cannot be contained.
Copyright © 2020 Ada Limón. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
It’s true that I’m im-
patient under affliction. So?
Most of what the dead can
do is difficult to carry. As for
gender I can’t explain it
any more than a poem: there
was an instinct, I followed
it. A song. A bell. I saw
deer tracks in the snow. Little
split hearts beckoned me
across the lawn. My body
bucked me, fond of me.
Here is how you bear this flourish.
Bud, I’m buckling to blossoms now.
Copyright © 2020 by Oliver Baez Bendorf. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Haven’t they moved like rivers—
like Glory, like light—
over the seven days of your body?
And wasn’t that good?
Them at your hips—
isn’t this what God felt when he pressed together
the first Beloved: Everything.
Fever. Vapor. Atman. Pulsus. Finally,
a sin worth hurting for. Finally, a sweet, a
You are mine.
It is hard not to have faith in this:
from the blue-brown clay of night
these two potters crushed and smoothed you
into being—grind, then curve—built your form up—
atlas of bone, fields of muscle,
one breast a fig tree, the other a nightingale,
both Morning and Evening.
O, the beautiful making they do—
of trigger and carve, suffering and stars—
Aren’t they, too, the dark carpenters
of your small church? Have they not burned
on the altar of your belly, eaten the bread
of your thighs, broke you to wine, to ichor,
to nectareous feast?
Haven’t they riveted your wrists, haven’t they
had you at your knees?
And when these hands touched your throat,
showed you how to take the apple and the rib,
how to slip a thumb into your mouth and taste it all,
didn’t you sing out their ninety-nine names—
Zahir, Aleph, Hands-time-seven,
Sphinx, Leonids, locomotura,
Rubidium, August, and September—
And when you cried out, O, Prometheans,
didn’t they bring fire?
These hands, if not gods, then why
when you have come to me, and I have returned you
to that from which you came—bright mud, mineral-salt—
why then do you whisper O, my Hecatonchire. My Centimani.
My hundred-handed one?
Someday, I’ll love Dean Rader
the way the blue jay
loves the sparrow egg,
or perhaps the way the waves love the curve they give
themselves to when giving is no longer an option
like falling or dreaming
or even being on this earth,
in this body.
Someday I’ll love my body, itself a form of silence,
which is not the same as being quiet,
even though we are sentenced to this language with its strange letters,
their shapes like bowls, small sticks, the bellies of pregnant women,
as though everything spelled
must also be birthed and broken,
cracked open and spilled,
filled with the absence of what won’t do,
like waiting for the earth to tap out your name.
I never knew I loved my name,
can someone who has never believed his name love it?
Once on a train to Serbia a soldier woke me from a dream I still remember
and pointed a gun at my right shoulder.
I never knew
I loved my shoulder until I placed my son’s head there
our first night home from the hospital,
his chest lifting like an umbrella
in a storm. I don’t like comparing my son to an umbrella,
though he has known what it is to be folded,
to be wet and cold.
Someday I will love the cold,
not just as metaphor but as a means to clarity,
which is what I need this November night,
the moon swinging in its black noose over the city,
the entire world hooded,
lined up against a wall and waiting,
the way a reader waits,
for a poem to get where it’s going.
Someday I will love the poem,
the way I will love being afraid,
but this is not what I want to say.
It is something more like this:
the future is not what it used to be,
and even that is only part of it.
The other part has something to do with speculation,
like what awaits us when we remove the hood.
I never knew I loved blindness.
The punishment for sight is always forgiveness.
Someday I will love forgiveness,
but it is difficult to love what has not been earned.
My grandfather when he was tenderest would call me Dean Dean,
and I felt like a child
in the body of a boy who believed he had the ideas of a man.
Every morning after breakfast he and my grandmother
would throw leftover toast into the backyard for the birds.
I just remembered the birds and the bread.
I love them both.
Someday I will love more things,
and I will not think of death,
and even if I do I will not feel saddened by the end
of the person who wears my name,
even though it is always easy to mourn
*To read this poem in its intended format, please click here from your laptop or desktop.
Copyright © 2021 by Dean Rader. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 30, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.