Thirty seconds into the barbecue,
my Cleveland cousins
have everyone speaking
Southern—broadened vowels
and dropped consonants,
whoops and caws.
It's more osmosis than magic,
a sliding thrall back to a time
when working the tire factories
meant entire neighborhoods coming
up from Georgia or Tennessee,
accents helplessly intact—
while their children, inflections flattened

to match the field they thought
they were playing on, knew
without asking when it was safe
to roll out a drawl… just as

it's understood “potluck” means
resurrecting the food
we've abandoned along the way
for the sake of sleeker thighs.
I look over the yard to the porch
with its battalion of aunts,
the wavering ranks of uncles
at the grill; everywhere else
hordes of progeny are swirling

and my cousins yakking on
as if they were waist-deep in quicksand
but like the books recommend aren’t moving
until someone hauls them free—

Who are all these children?
Who had them, and with whom?
Through the general coffee tones
the shamed genetics cut a creamy swath.

Cherokee’s burnt umber transposed
onto generous lips, a glance flares gray
above the crushed nose we label
Anonymous African:  It's all here,
the beautiful geometry of Mendel's peas

and their grim logic—

and though we remain
clearly divided on the merits
of okra, there’s still time
to demolish the cheese grits
and tear into slow-cooked ribs
so tender, we agree they’re worth
the extra pound or two
our menfolk swear will always
bring them home. Pity
the poor soul who lives
a life without butter—
those pinched knees
and tennis shoulders
and hatchety smiles!

Copyright © 2007 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Callaloo. Used with the permission of the poet.

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.
     And he said:
     Your children are not your children.
     They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
     They come through you but not from you,
     And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

     You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
     For they have their own thoughts.
     You may house their bodies but not their souls,
     For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
     You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
     For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
     You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
     The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
     Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
     For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.

              10

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

Copyright © 1956, 1984, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust from The Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, Edited by George J. Firmage. Reprinted by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
                                                                                                              I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
                               it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it

From The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara by Frank O’Hara, copyright © 1971 by Maureen Granville-Smith, Administratrix of the Estate of Frank O’Hara, copyright renewed 1999 by Maureen O’Hara Granville-Smith and Donald Allen. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

What was said to the rose that made it open was said
to me here in my chest.

What was told the cypress that made it strong
and straight, what was

whispered the jasmine so it is what it is, whatever made
sugarcane sweet, whatever

was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in
Turkestan that makes them

so handsome, whatever lets the pomegranate flower blush
like a human face, that is

being said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence in
language, that's happening here.

The great warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude,
chewing a piece of sugarcane,

in love with the one to whom every that belongs!

From The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems, translated by Coleman Barks, published by HarperCollins. Translation copyright © 2002 by Coleman Barks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

At dusk the girl who will become my mom
must trudge through the snow, her legs
cold under skirts, a bandanna tight on her braids.
In the henhouse, a klook pecks her chapped hand
as she pulls a warm egg from under its breast.
This girl will always hate hens, 
and she already knows she won't marry a farmer.
In a dim barn, my father, a boy, forks hay
under the holsteins' steaming noses.
They sway on their hooves and swat dangerous tails,
but he is thinking of snow, how it blows
across the gray pond scribbled with skate tracks,
of the small blaze on its shore, and the boys
in black coats who skate hand-in-hand
round and round, building up speed
until the leader cracks that whip
of mittens and arms, and it jerks around
fast, flinging off the last boy.
He'd be that one—flung like a spark
trailing only his scarf.

From Sleeping Preacher by Julia Kasdorf. Copyright © 1992 by Julia Kasdorf. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15261. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
    Dark like me—
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
    Black like me.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

It is really something when a kid who has a hard time becomes a kid who’s having a good time in no small part thanks to you throwing that kid in the air again and again on a mile long walk home from the Indian joint as her mom looks sideways at you like you don’t need to keep doing this because you’re pouring with sweat and breathing a little bit now you’re getting a good workout but because the kid laughs like a horse up there laughs like a kangaroo beating her wings against the light because she laughs like a happy little kid and when coming down and grabbing your forearm to brace herself for the time when you will drop her which you don’t and slides her hand into yours as she says for the fortieth time the fiftieth time inexhaustible her delight again again again and again and you say give me til the redbud tree or give me til the persimmon tree because she knows the trees and so quiet you almost can’t hear through her giggles she says ok til the next tree when she explodes howling yanking your arm from the socket again again all the wolves and mourning doves flying from her tiny throat and you throw her so high she lives up there in the tree for a minute she notices the ants organizing on the bark and a bumblebee carousing the little unripe persimmon in its beret she laughs and laughs as she hovers up there like a bumblebee like a hummingbird up there giggling in the light like a giddy little girl up there the world knows how to love.

Copyright © 2023 by Ross Gay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 26, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.