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.
The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.
Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.
No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.
I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.
Copyright © by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of the author.
To your voice, a mysterious virtue, to the 53 bones of one foot, the four dimensions of breathing, to pine, redwood, sworn-fern, peppermint, to hyacinth and bluebell lily, to the train conductor’s donkey on a rope, to smells of lemons, a boy pissing splendidly against the trees. Bless each thing on earth until it sickens, until each ungovernable heart admits: “I confused myself and yet I loved—and what I loved I forgot, what I forgot brought glory to my travels, to you I traveled as close as I dared, Lord.”
Copyright © 2014 by Ilya Kaminsky. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on March 7, 2014.
This is what life does. It lets you walk up to the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman down beside you at the counter who say, Last night, the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder, is this a message, finally, or just another day? Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the pond, where whole generations of biological processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds speak to you of the natural world: they whisper, they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old enough to appreciate the moment? Too old? There is movement beneath the water, but it may be nothing. There may be nothing going on. And then life suggests that you remember the years you ran around, the years you developed a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon, owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have become. And then life lets you go home to think about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time. Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one who never had any conditions, the one who waited you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave, so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you were born at a good time. Because you were able to listen when people spoke to you. Because you stopped when you should have and started again. So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland, while outside, the starfish drift through the channel, with smiles on their starry faces as they head out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.
From Our Post Soviet History Unfolds by Eleanor Lerman, published by Sarabande Books. Copyright © 2005 by Eleanor Lerman. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
We did not say much to each other but
because this love was so good you sucked the
and I licked my fingers like a cat.
omniscient. I’m going to skip past
parts that go on for a very long time. Here’s the
I laugh, because the pleasure was earned
and I made room for what was dead past and what
exist. I was not always kind, but I
Copyright © 2019 by Sandra Lim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 12, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
if the cotton crop fails
if the wheat crop fails
if Oklahomans wander forever
among the back lots of Hollywood
if the potato crops fail
if the corn crops fail
if the sun corrodes a copper
mirror our faces afloat
above a crib in Guadalajara where the ceiling fan
rends our voices
and the secret lives of aloe roots
confess to a window in feathers of ice
then the bluebells yawning up in ruts
of mining roads will measure the border wall
in the serene apotheosis of their sepals
and one drop of my blood
will freeze in the eye
of an old fox, and one drop
from your eye thaw
to feed the iris bulbs
three beads from our lungs
inhaled by a prisoner
in the electric chair a queen
in a fairy tale a farmer
planting mines east of her field if
the gears of the clouds say yes
if ants flow up and down the funnels
then time will prism into its possibles
and you’ll end up in a bar
in Alabama a cherry in your mouth
watching a hotel key
float toward you
or you’ll wake in a labyrinth
called Monday called Your Life
called The Things You Prayed For
and your intricate decisions
will lead you out and deeper in
your mirrors dissolving in ghost water
and your indecisions will go on
subtracting numbers from the garden
and building houses in the air
Copyright © 2019 by Chad Sweeney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 18, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
What if the submarine
is praying for a way
it can poison the air,
in which some of them have
leaped for a few seconds,
felt its suffocating
Something floats above their
known world leading a wake
of uncountable death.
What if they organized
into a rebellion?
Now scientists have found
a group of octopuses
who seem to have a sense
of community, who
live in dwellings made of
gathered pebbles and shells,
who cooperate, who
defend an apparent
border. Perhaps they’ll have
a plan for the planet
in a millennium
or two. After we’re gone.
Copyright © 2019 by Marilyn Nelson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Forget each slight, each head that turned
Toward something more intriguing—
Red flash of wing beyond the window,
The woman brightly chiming
About the suffering of the world. Forget
The way your best friend told the story
Of that heroic road trip, forgetting that you drove
From Tulsa to Poughkeepsie while he
Slumped dozing under headphones. Forget
The honors handed out, the lists of winners.
Forget the certificates, bright trophies you
Could have, should have, maybe won.
Remind yourself you never wanted them.
When the spotlight briefly shone on you,
You stepped back into darkness,
Let the empty stage receive the light,
The black floor suddenly less black—
Scuff-marks, dust, blue tape—the cone
Of light so perfect, slicing silently that perfect
Silent darkness, and you, hidden in that wider dark,
Your refusal a kind of gratitude at last.
Copyright © 2019 by Jon Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
It is easy to erase it—a touch of the delete key on this keyboard. Barely moving my finger. Versus how much intention it took to use the eraser on a pencil, to flip the pencil around my thumb and scrub out the lead etched on the paper.
Stone and rain laugh at me. The amount of time it takes to get marks out of stone (gouges, rough edges, grooves) by rubbing them with water.
Copyright © 2019 by Todd Fredson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The morning is clouded and the birds are hunched,
More cold than hungry, more numb than loud,
This crisp, Arizona shore, where desert meets
The coming edge of the winter world.
It is a cold news in stark announcement,
The myriad stars making bright the black,
As if the sky itself had been snowed upon.
But the stars—all those stars,
Where does the sure noise of their hard work go?
These plugs sparking the motor of an otherwise quiet sky,
Their flickering work everywhere in a white vastness:
We should hear the stars as a great roar
Gathered from the moving of their billion parts, this great
Hot rod skid of the Milky Way across the asphalt night,
The assembled, moving glints and far-floating embers
Risen from the hearth-fires of so many other worlds.
Where does the noise of it all go
If not into the ears, then hearts of the birds all around us,
Their hearts beating so fast and their equally fast
Wings and high songs,
And the bees, too, with their lumbering hum,
And the wasps and moths, the bats, and the dragonflies—
None of them sure if any of this is going to work,
This universe—we humans oblivious,
Drinking coffee, not quite awake, calm and moving
Into the slippers of our Monday mornings,
Shivering because, we think,
It’s a little cold out there.
Copyright © 2019 by Alberto Ríos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.