Start with a base map, unlabeled terrain, in shaded green and ochre, nude relief, cool continental mass bathing in blue, a face whose features now are visible, unannotated, apolitical, as if a mighty snow had settled here and muffled every static line and letter, earth as naked as the moon, but full of lively color, from the fissured west into the placid belly of the country, eastward over quartzite ridge, carbonate valley into southwest-trending s-curves up the coast, a range two thousand miles, two hundred fifty million years of mountain formed in three successive waves of rock uplifted and depressed, and in the west it’s just begun. Nine hundred million acres under time, under stress and stretches of content. Reserved for a duration. Blue-green grid of constant revolution.
Copyright © 2017 by Susan Barba. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 11, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
A long night I spent
thinking that reality was the story
of the human species
the vanquished search for the vanquished
Sounds come by, ruffling my soul
I sense space’s elasticity,
go on reading the books she wrote on the
wars she’s seen
Why do seasons who regularly follow
their appointed time, deny their kind of energy
why is winter followed by a few
more days of winter?
We came to transmit the shimmering
from which we came; to name it
we deal with a permanent voyage,
the becoming of that which itself had
Copyright © 2017 by Etel Adnan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
For most in the United States the word brings a phase when mortars in Vietnam still whistled around them and the scandal of Nixon and his Machiavellian buds poured from the news into their subconscious—I see that Watergate too: the televised hearings, and in particular one session—Sam Ervin had just asked Ehrlichman or Dean or Haldeman, a long-winded, periphrastic, left-branching question—it must have lasted forty seconds and seemed three days before he paused for effect, and Ehrlichman or Dean or Haldeman answered: “Senator, could you please repeat the question?” And he did, verbatim! And that is one Watergate. But I think also of the morning my father sent me to the creek that ran through our pasture to remove a dead calf a flood had floated north to lodge against our water gate— a little Guernsey heifer—I had petted her often— Now flies buzzed around her, bloated and entangled in the mesh—and I remember her eyes were open, so she seemed to watch as I pulled first one leg then another from the vines and wire that trapped her, and pulled her to the bank through the shallow water. Because the second water gate, which features the tender relationship between a dead calf and a little boy, happened twenty years before the first, in which men break into an office complex in a hotel, I prefer its posts and hog wire that kept cows from a neighbor’s field to the gray rows of filing cabinets that brought down a presidency. The water pours out of the mountain and runs to the sea. Sometimes I say it to myself, until the meanings leave. I say Watergate until it is water pouring through water.
Copyright © 2017 by Rodney Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Where are you from?
Where are you headed?
What are you doing?
Little brother, we are all grieving
& galaxy & goodbye. Once, I climbed inside
the old clock tower of my hometown
& found a dead bird, bathed in broken light,
like a little christ.
Little christ of our hearts, I know
planets light-years away
are under our tongues. We’ve tasted them.
We’ve climbed the staircases saying, There, there.
Little brother, we are all praying. Every morning,
I read out loud but not loud enough
to alarm anyone. Once, my love said, Please
open the door. I can hear you talk. Open the door.
Little christ of our hearts, tell anyone
you've been talking to god & see
what happens. Every day,
I open the door. I do it by looking
at my daughter on a swing—
eyes closed & crinkled, teeth bare.
I say, Good morning good morning you
little beating thing.
Little brother, we are all humming.
More & more, as I read, I sound
like my father with his book of prayers,
turning pages in his bed—a hymn
for each day of the week, a gift
from his mother, who taught me
the ten of diamonds is a win, left me
her loose prayer clothes. Bismillah.
Little christ of our hearts, forgive me,
for I loved eating the birds with lemon,
& the sound of their tiny bones. But I couldn’t
stomach the eyes of the fried fish.
Little brother, we are always hungry.
Here, this watermelon. Here, some salt
for the tomatoes. Here, this song
for the dead birds in time boxes,
& the living. That day in the clock tower,
I saw the city too, below—
the merchants who call, the blue awnings,
the corn carts, the clotheslines, the heat,
the gears that turn, & the remembering.
Copyright © 2018 by Zeina Hashem Beck. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
What still grows in winter?
Fingernails of witches and femmes,
green moss on river rocks,
lit with secrets... I let myself
go near the river but not
the railroad: this is my bargain.
Water boils in a kettle in the woods
and I can hear the train grow louder
but I also can’t, you know?
Then I’m shaving in front of an
unbreakable mirror while a nurse
watches over my shoulder.
Damn. What still grows in winter?
Lynda brought me basil I crushed
with my finger and thumb just to
smell the inside of a thing. So
I go to the river but not the rail-
road, think I’ll live another year.
The river rock dig into my shoulders
like a lover who knows I don’t want
power. I release every muscle against
the rock and I give it all my warmth.
onto my chest quick as table salt.
Branches above me full of pine needle
whips: when the river rock is done
with me, I could belong to the evergreen.
Safety is a rock I throw into the river.
My body, ready. Don’t even think
a train run through this town anymore.
Copyright © 2018 by Oliver Baez Bendorf. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
February on another coast is April
here. Astrology is months:
you are February, or are you
June, and who is
December? Who is books
read in spring, wingspan
Another starry tree, coastal
counterpoint where magnolia is
a brighter season
peach and pear
are grafted onto the same tree
fear and fat stick
to the same sprained bone
For this adolescent reprise
recycle everything trivial
but this time bring
the eye into sight:
make sight superior
to what is seen
A decade is to look at June
and see April
to look at April
and see February
Relief of repetition
seasons mean again,
one flowering branch suspended
in the half-light of spring
We sat on steps
beneath a tree
No: I walked by
The tree bloomed
and I looked up
Copyright © 2018 by Jennifer Hayashida. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
you’re embarrassed by your own om you say—planning your funeral considering deep drones only a limited number of patterns exist for such a song played in one breath a prayer for a pregnant woman’s easy delivery a tender preamble for a new instrument a piece played for expressing gratitude a state of mind resembling moonlight a lighter one for festive occasions a piece for overcoming difficulties that could have been handled better a piece representing manifestations of self-discipline an offering at a service for the dead a piece expressing longing for home if there are indeed “still songs to sing beyond mankind” we’ll need those now
Copyright © 2018 by Jen Bervin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more
when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her
someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream
stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)
one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was
all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.
Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain
From Complete Poems: 1904–1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.
The bumper sticker says Live In The Moment! on a Jeep that cuts me off. I’m working to forget it, to let go of everything but the wheel in my hands, as a road connects two cities without forcing them to touch. When I drive by something, does it sway toward me or away? Does it slip into the past or dance nervously in place? The past suffers from anxiety too. It goes underground, emerging once in a blue moon to hiss. I hear the grass never saying a word. I hear it spreading its arms across each grave & barely catch a name. My dying wish is scattering now before every planet. I want places to look forward to. Listen: the earth is a thin voice in a headset. It’s whispering breathe... breathe... but who believes in going back?
Copyright © 2018 by Ben Purkert. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
"Save your hands,” my mother says, seeing me untwist a jar's tight cap— just the way she used to tell me not to let boys fool around, or feel my breasts: "keep them fresh for marriage,” as if they were a pair of actual fruit. I scoffed to think they could bruise, scuff, soften, rot, wither. I look down now at my knuckly thumbs, my index finger permanently askew in the same classic crook as hers, called a swan's neck, as if snapped, it's that pronounced. Even as I type, wondering how long I'll be able to—each joint in my left hand needing to be hoisted, prodded, into place, one knuckle like a clock's dial clicking as it's turned to open, bend or unbend. I balk at the idea that we can overuse ourselves, must parcel out and pace our energies so as not to run out of any necessary component while still alive— the definition of "necessary” necessarily suffering change over time. The only certainty is uncertainty, I thought I knew, so ignored whatever she said about boys and sex: her version of a story never mine. It made me laugh, the way she made up traditions, that we didn't kiss boys until a certain age, we didn't fool around. What we? What part of me was she? No part I could put my finger on. How odd, then, one day, to find her half-napping in her room, talking first to herself and then to me, about a boy she used to know, her friend's brother, who she kissed, she said, just because he wanted her to. "Now why would I do that,” she mused, distraught anew and freshly stung by the self-betrayal. So much I still want to do with my hands— type, play, cook, caress, swipe, re-trace.
Copyright © 2018 by Carol Moldaw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Consider the palms. They are faces, eyes closed, their five spread fingers soft exclamations, sadness or surprise. They have smile lines, sorrow lines, like faces. Like faces, they are hard to read. Somehow the palms, though they have held my life piece by piece, seem young and pale. So much has touched them, nothing has remained. They are innocent, maybe, though they guess they have a darker side that they cannot grasp. The backs of my hands, indeed, are so different that sometimes I think they are not mine, shadowy from the sun, all bones and strain, but time on my hands, blood on my hands— for such things I have never blamed my hands. One hand writes. Sometimes it writes a reminder on the other hand, which knows it will never write, though it has learned, in secret, how to type. That is sad, perhaps, but the dominant hand is sadder, with its fear that it will never, not really, be written on. They are like an old couple at home. All day, each knows exactly where the other is. They must speak, though how is a mystery, so rarely do they touch, so briefly come together, now and then to wash, maybe in prayer. I consider my hands, palms up. Empty, I say, though it is exactly then that they are weighing not a particular stone or loaf I have chosen but everything, everything, the whole tall world, finding it light, finding it light as air.
Copyright © 2018 by James Richardson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
The swollen season gives birth to another police procedural, but who doesn’t love a good detective? A dead fall. A heater, angry to be awoken, burps up the summer’s burnt dust in my face. Before her cremation, the family swore they’d removed Nana’s wedding band, but all pockets turned up empty afterwards. It’s a miracle the ring hadn’t been lost sooner, dancing from finger to finger as her body’s bones made themselves known like a barn caving in a beam at a time. Infection spreads like fire across a small town. I’m passing through Logansport today, this Sunday in Ordinary Time. Barreling forward, forty-eight in a thirty to make Mass, when Mama says, why all this hurried death in your poetry? Bells at noon. I daydream of picking open a tabernacle with a wiry hair from my beard & a hairline sliver of silver to gorge on my crisp God, half-hoping Christ tries to intercede. The Bible tells me: “anyone who does evil hates the light,” & no matter how brightly I bite back, the Bible never changes its mind. Lord, help me to discern the difference between persistence & insistence, indulgence & rigor in every laugh, & the two chords my clavicles ring when plucked. Help me grin through their high pitch twangs, the way a good father listens to his child learn to play the violin. I’m still learning to pick up my feet when I walk, stumbling less through names of famous philosophers at smart parties & it’s Spring before anyone’s ready & I’m wondering how to build a case against the bees plotting to ball their queen to death without becoming a fanatic of my own. A death at the legs of so many lovers seems a difficult death to explain to children & this: if a button breaks your fall, it doesn’t make it luckier than other buttons. Listen: squint & it sings of simple addition. A kernel cooked in its own slick. & you, dear dear, forgive me when I take you for steak & say nothing after a second Sazerac, after you unwittingly spread horseradish on your bread instead of butter.
Copyright © 2018 by Peter Twal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Aging. Being in pain. Finishing. Rotting.
We feel we’ve contracted into very dim, very old white dwarf stars, not yet black holes. Wrinkled, but not quite withered. Dropped out of summer like a stone, we watch time fall. With the leaves. Into a deeper color. Wavelengths missing in the reflected light.
The road toward rotting has been so long. We forget where we are going. Like a child, I look amazed at a thistle. Or drink cheap wine and hug my knees. To shorten the shadow? To ward off letting go?
So much body now, to be cared for. What with the arrow, lost cartilage, skeleton within. Memory no longer holds up. A bridge to theory and dreams. Impervious to vertigo. Days are long and too spacious.
Though the sun is a mere eight light-minutes away elderly dust hangs. Over the long sentences I wrote in the last century. Now thoughts in purpose tremor, in lament, in search of. Not being too soon? Going to be? Unconformities separating strata of decay?
You say aimlessness has its virtues. Just as not fully understanding may be required for harmony. And blow your nose. You sing fast falls the eventide, damp on the skin, with bitter wind. And here it is again, the craving for happiness that night induces. Or the day of marriage.
The difference of our bodies makes for different velocities. But gravity is always attracting, and my higher speed. Cannot outrun the inner fright we seem made of. Though I gesticulate broadly. As in a silent movie. Running after the train, waving goodbye.
Distant galaxies are moving away from us. Friends, lovers, family. Even the sky shifts toward red. Where every clearness is only. A more welcoming slope of the night. And I don't remember why I opened the door.
Mouth full of moans, you believe the natural state. Is a body at rest. And close your eyes to the threat of your face disappearing. Without thought or emotion. Into its condition. And I thought I knew you.
Are the complications thinning to a final simplicity? The nearest thing to a straight path in curved space? Clouds of gas slowly collapsing? With only one possible outcome? But unlike a black hole I keep my hair on. As I move toward the unquestionable dark.
This dark, Mrs. Ramsay thinks, is perhaps the core of every self. The deep note of existence the ear finds, but cannot hold on to. Across the vicissities of the symphony. Or else this dark could be our shelter in the time of long dominion. And though we are not well suited to the perspectives it opens it is an awesome thing to see. Once you can see it.
Copyright © 2018 by Rosmarie Waldrop. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
is what my sons call the flowers— purple, white, electric blue— pom-pomming bushes all along the beach town streets. I can’t correct them into hydrangeas, or I won’t. Bees ricochet in and out of the clustered petals, and my sons panic and dash and I tell them about good insects, pollination, but the truth is I want their fear-box full of bees. This morning the radio said tender age shelters. This morning the glaciers are retreating. How long now until the space-print backpack becomes district-policy clear? We’re almost to the beach, and High dangerous! my sons yell again, their joy in having spotted something beautiful, and called it what it is.
Copyright © 2019 by Catherine Pierce. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Thank you my life long afternoon
late in this spring that has no age
my window above the river
for the woman you led me to
when it was time at last the words
coming to me out of mid-air
that carried me through the clear day
and come even now to find me
for old friends and echoes of them
those mistakes only I could make
homesickness that guides the plovers
from somewhere they had loved before
they knew they loved it to somewhere
they had loved before they saw it
thank you good body hand and eye
and the places and moments known
only to me revisiting
once more complete just as they are
and the morning stars I have seen
and the dogs who are guiding me
From Collected Poems 1996–2011 by W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 2013 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of The Library of America.