Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Things feel partial. My love for things is partial. Mikel on his last legs, covered
in KS lesions demanded that I see the beauty of a mass of chrysanthemums. Look,
he demanded. I lied that I could see the beauty there but all I saw was a smear
of yellow flowers. I wanted to leave that place. I wanted to leave him to die
without me. And soon that’s what I did. Even the molecule I allowed myself to feel
of our last goodbye made me scream. What would have happened if I’d opened
my heart all the way as I was told to do if I wanted Jesus to live inside one of its
dank chambers? Whitman told me to unscrew the locks from the doors and the doors
themselves from the jambs. Let love come streaming in like when the St. Joe flooded
Save-A-Lot and drove it out of business. The only store in town. Don’t put my ashes
in the river Mikel said. Put them in a tributary. I did. I put them in a tributary without
touching them. Now I want to chalk my fingerprints with them but it’s too late.
I want to hold them like he held me and touched my upper lip and called it cupid’s
cusp, a phrase that made me wince. I felt love all the way then, and never since.

Copyright © 2019 by Diane Seuss. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 16, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Exotic, “omg so thick,” a rug, so to speak—
black cortex, I can almost be beautiful
with you. Once, mother snatched
my split ends like newly acquired money
and named them Taliban Beard.
I never wanted this much of anything,
so I scissored you at the scrunchy
and sold you all to the World Wide Web.
In plastic bags, you were shipped
next to different manes, the past
stored in your filaments like fetuses
in formaldehyde, fragrances distending
as if skin of people huddled
into the eyeless belly of a boat at night.
Cut and alone, dark keratin lies cold
in factory halls: congregation of wait,
you’re patient until you too are wanted.
But when my spools stop, and the silence holds—
let them braid you into other heads.
Let them brush you for my funeral.
Let those of you spared on hospital tiles,
picked from lovers’ teeth, and nestled deep
in the vacuum, or shampooed
between dirt and debris in drains, light up.
May you glow with the weight of love
you can only share with what pries
out of yourself. Those stuck to balloons,
left in brushes, escapees taken away to elsewhere—
what is to be said of you? I won’t be gone
until you are. Heavy root
that rots to bloom when I shrink—
stay and conquer the sargasso in my tomb.

Copyright © 2019 Aria Aber. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, March/April 2019. Reprinted with permission of the author.

The silence is broken: into the nature 
  My soul sails out, 
Carrying the song of life on his brow,
   To meet the flowers and birds.

When my heart returns in the solitude, 
   She is very sad,
Looking back on the dead passions
  Lying on Love’s ruin. 

I am like a leaf
   Hanging over hope and despair, 
Which trembles and joins 
  The world’s imagination and ghost. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,
I will recruit for myself and you as I go,
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.

This poem is in the public domain. 

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d'oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven,
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,
And the cow crunching with depress'd head surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.

I find I incorporate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss, fruits, grains, esculent roots,
And am stucco'd with quadrupeds and birds all over,
And have distanced what is behind me for good reasons,
But call any thing back again when I desire it.

In vain the speeding or shyness,
In vain the plutonic rocks send their old heat against my approach,
In vain the mastodon retreats beneath its own powder'd bones,
In vain objects stand leagues off and assume manifold shapes,
In vain the ocean settling in hollows and the great monsters lying low,
In vain the buzzard houses herself with the sky,
In vain the snake slides through the creepers and logs,
In vain the elk takes to the inner passes of the woods,
In vain the razor-bill'd auk sails far north to Labrador,
I follow quickly, I ascend to the nest in the fissure of the cliff.

This poem is in the public domain.

The pure contralto sings in the organ loft,
The carpenter dresses his plank, the tongue of his foreplane whistles its wild ascending lisp,
The married and unmarried children ride home to their Thanksgiving dinner,
The pilot seizes the king-pin, he heaves down with a strong arm,
The mate stands braced in the whale-boat, lance and harpoon are ready,
The duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches,
The deacons are ordain'd with cross'd hands at the altar,
The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel,
The farmer stops by the bars as he walks on a First-day loafe and looks at the oats and rye,
The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum a confirm'd case,
(He will never sleep any more as he did in the cot in his mother's bed-room;)
The jour printer with gray head and gaunt jaws works at his case,
He turns his quid of tobacco while his eyes blurr with the manuscript;
The malform'd limbs are tied to the surgeon's table,
What is removed drops horribly in a pail;
The quadroon girl is sold at the auction-stand, the drunkard nods by the bar-room stove,
The machinist rolls up his sleeves, the policeman travels his beat, the gate-keeper marks who pass,
The young fellow drives the express-wagon, (I love him, though I do not know him;)
The half-breed straps on his light boots to compete in the race,
The western turkey-shooting draws old and young, some lean on their rifles, some sit on logs,
Out from the crowd steps the marksman, takes his position, levels his piece;
The groups of newly-come immigrants cover the wharf or levee,
As the woolly-pates hoe in the sugar-field, the overseer views them from his saddle,
The bugle calls in the ball-room, the gentlemen run for their partners, the dancers bow to each other,
The youth lies awake in the cedar-roof'd garret and harks to the musical rain,
The Wolverine sets traps on the creek that helps fill the Huron,
The squaw wrapt in her yellow-hemm'd cloth is offering moccasins and bead-bags for sale,
The connoisseur peers along the exhibition-gallery with half-shut eyes bent sideways,
As the deck-hands make fast the steamboat the plank is thrown for the shore-going passengers,
The young sister holds out the skein while the elder sister winds it off in a ball, and stops now and then for the knots,
The one-year wife is recovering and happy having a week ago borne her first child,
The clean-hair'd Yankee girl works with her sewing-machine or in the factory or mill,
The paving-man leans on his two-handed rammer, the reporter's lead flies swiftly over the notebook, the sign-painter is lettering with blue and gold,
The canal boy trots on the tow-path, the book-keeper counts at his desk, the shoemaker waxes his thread,
The conductor beats time for the band and all the performers follow him,
The child is baptized, the convert is making his first professions,
The regatta is spread on the bay, the race is begun, (how the white sails sparkle!)
The drover watching his drove sings out to them that would stray,
The pedler sweats with his pack on his back, (the purchaser higgling about the odd cent;)
The bride unrumples her white dress, the minute-hand of the clock moves slowly,
The opium-eater reclines with rigid head and just-open'd lips,
The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck,
The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and wink to each other,
(Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths nor jeer you;)
The President holding a cabinet council is surrounded by the great Secretaries,
On the piazza walk three matrons stately and friendly with twined arms,
The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold,
The Missourian crosses the plains toting his wares and his cattle,
As the fare-collector goes through the train he gives notice by the jingling of loose change,
The floor-men are laying the floor, the tinners are tinning the roof, the masons are calling for mortar,
In single file each shouldering his hod pass onward the laborers;
Seasons pursuing each other the indescribable crowd is gather'd, it is the fourth of Seventh-month, (what salutes of cannon and small arms!)
Seasons pursuing each other the plougher ploughs, the mower mows, and the winter-grain falls in the ground;
Off on the lakes the pike-fisher watches and waits by the hole in the frozen surface,
The stumps stand thick round the clearing, the squatter strikes deep with his axe,
Flatboatmen make fast towards dusk near the cotton-wood or pecan-trees,
Coon-seekers go through the regions of the Red river or through those drain'd by the Tennessee, or through those of the Arkansas,
Torches shine in the dark that hangs on the Chattahooche or Altamahaw,
Patriarchs sit at supper with sons and grandsons and great-grand-sons around them,
In walls of adobie, in canvas tents, rest hunters and trappers after their day's sport,
The city sleeps and the country sleeps,
The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time,
The old husband sleeps by his wife and the young husband sleeps by his wife;
And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am,
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.

This poem is in the public domain.

Now I will do nothing but listen,
To accrue what I hear into this song, to let sounds contribute toward it.

I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat, gossip of flames, clack of sticks cooking my meals,
I hear the sound I love, the sound of the human voice,
I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following,
Sounds of the city and sounds out of the city, sounds of the day and night,
Talkative young ones to those that like them, the loud laugh of work-people at their meals,
The angry base of disjointed friendship, the faint tones of the sick,
The judge with hands tight to the desk, his pallid lips pronouncing a death-sentence,
The heave'e'yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves, the refrain of the anchor-lifters,
The ring of alarm-bells, the cry of fire, the whirr of swift-streaking engines and hose-carts with premonitory tinkles and color'd lights,
The steam-whistle, the solid roll of the train of approaching cars,
The slow march play'd at the head of the association marching two and two,
(They go to guard some corpse, the flag-tops are draped with black muslin.)

I hear the violoncello, ('tis the young man's heart's complaint,)
I hear the key'd cornet, it glides quickly in through my ears,
It shakes mad-sweet pangs through my belly and breast.

I hear the chorus, it is a grand opera,
Ah this indeed is music—this suits me.

A tenor large and fresh as the creation fills me,
The orbic flex of his mouth is pouring and filling me full.

I hear the train'd soprano (what work with hers is this?)
The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies,
It wrenches such ardors from me I did not know I possess'd them,
It sails me, I dab with bare feet, they are lick'd by the indolent waves,
I am cut by bitter and angry hail, I lose my breath,
Steep'd amid honey'd morphine, my windpipe throttled in fakes of death,
At length let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,
And that we call Being.

This poem is in the public domain.

Is this then a touch? quivering me to a new identity,
Flames and ether making a rush for my veins,
Treacherous tip of me reaching and crowding to help them,
My flesh and blood playing out lightning to strike what is hardly different from myself,
On all sides prurient provokers stiffening my limbs,
Straining the udder of my heart for its withheld drip,
Behaving licentious toward me, taking no denial,
Depriving me of my best as for a purpose,
Unbuttoning my clothes, holding me by the bare waist,
Deluding my confusion with the calm of the sunlight and pasture-fields,
Immodestly sliding the fellow-senses away,
They bribed to swap off with touch and go and graze at the edges of me,
No consideration, no regard for my draining strength or my anger,
Fetching the rest of the herd around to enjoy them a while,
Then all uniting to stand on a headland and worry me.

The sentries desert every other part of me,
They have left me helpless to a red marauder,
They all come to the headland to witness and assist against me.

I am given up by traitors,
I talk wildly, I have lost my wits, I and nobody else am the greatest traitor,
I went myself first to the headland, my own hands carried me there.

You villain touch! what are you doing? my breath is tight in its throat,
Unclench your floodgates, you are too much for me.

This poem is in the public domain.

in the rain-
darkness,        the sunset
being sheathed i sit and
think of you

the holy
city which is your face
your little cheeks the streets
of smiles

your eyes half-
thrush
half-angel and your drowsy
lips where float flowers of kiss

and
there is the sweet shy pirouette
your hair
and then

your dancesong
soul.      rarely-beloved
a single star is
uttered,and i

think
           of you

This poem is in the public domain.

your little voice 
                              Over the wires came leaping 
and i felt suddenly 
dizzy 
          With the jostling and shouting of merry flowers 
wee skipping high-heeled flames 
courtesied before my eyes 
                                                or twinkling over to my side 
Looked up 
with impertinently exquisite faces 
floating hands were laid upon me 
I was whirled and tossed into delicious dancing 
up 
Up 
with the pale important 
                                                stars and the Humorous 
                                                                                                moon 
dear girl 
How i was crazy how i cried when i heard 
                                                                              over time 
and tide and death 
leaping 
Sweetly 
               your voice

This poem is in the public domain.

Thy fingers make early flowers of
all things.
thy hair mostly the hours love:
a smoothness which
sings,saying
(though love be a day)
do not fear,we will go amaying.

thy whitest feet crisply are straying.
Always
thy moist eyes are at kisses playing,
whose strangeness much
says;singing
(though love be a day)
for which girl art thou flowers bringing?

To be thy lips is a sweet thing
and small.
Death,Thee i call rich beyond wishing
if this thou catch,
else missing.
(though love be a day
and life be nothing,it shall not stop kissing).

This poem is in the public domain.

I have taken scales from off
The cheeks of the moon.
I have made fins from bluejays’ wings,
I have made eyes from damsons in the shadow.
I have taken flushes from the peachlips in the sun.
From all these I have made a fish of heaven for you,
Set it swimming on a young October sky.
I sit on the bank of the stream and watch
The grasses in amazement
As they turn to ashy gold.
Are the fishes from the rainbow
Still beautiful to you,
For whom they are made,
For whom I have set them,
Swimming?

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 3, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

There is more glory in a drop of dew,
    That shineth only for an hour,
Than there is in the pomp of earth’s great Kings
    Within the noonday of their power.

There is more sweetness in a single strain
    That falleth from a wild bird’s throat,
At random in the lonely forest’s depths,
    Than there’s in all the songs that bards e’er wrote.

Yet men, for aye, rememb’ring Caesar’s name,
    Forget the glory in the dew,
And, praising Homer’s epic, let the lark’s
    Song fall unheeded from the blue.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

For Nicole Phungrasamee Fein

Hope is encountered, variously
remembered, granted the patterns
of heaven—countless tiny
stars, oxalis hearts,
forget-me-nots, test sheets

Distant mountain ridgelines
flatten to paper in daylight
with every purposeful motion
night vision of timeless time
approaching the pulse of suspension

Metabolic edge of experiment,
the radiant points, scales and
variations of beads and dots
breathe benevolent notes, their
particular legibility of trackless

Resistance, deep-rooted, time
becomes sight incarnate, embodied
control framing chaos, space beyond
clarity, branches of lavender, thistle
grinding binding wetting the colors

A meteor shower—constellation
as memory of perfection

From Fate News (Omnidawn, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Norma Cole. Used with the permission of Omnidawn Publishing.

First there was the blue wing
of a scraggly loud jay tucked
into the shrubs. Then the bluish-
black moth drunkenly tripping
from blade to blade. Then
the quiet that came roaring
in like the R. J. Corman over
Broadway near the RV shop.
These are the last three things
that happened. Not in the universe,
but here, in the basin of my mind,
where I’m always making a list
for you, recording the day’s minor
urchins: silvery dust mote, pistachio
shell, the dog eating a sugar
snap pea. It’s going to rain soon,
close clouds bloated above us,
the air like a net about to release
all the caught fishes, a storm
siren in the distance. I know
you don’t always understand,
but let me point to the first
wet drops landing on the stones,
the noise like fingers drumming
the skin. I can’t help it. I will
never get over making everything
such a big deal.

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.

Sometimes I tremble like a storm-swept flower,
And seek to hide my tortured soul from thee,
Bowing my head in deep humility
Before the silent thunder of thy power.
Sometimes I flee before thy blazing light,
As from the specter of pursuing death;
Intimidated lest thy mighty breath,
Windways, will sweep me into utter night.
For oh, I fear they will be swallowed up—
The loves which are to me of vital worth,
My passion and my pleasure in the earth—
And lost forever in thy magic cup!
I fear, I fear my truly human heart
Will perish on the altar-stone of art!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

If the saints are to be believed, if this body is a dress
we slip into, out of, if each day and night is the mantle
we tie around our shoulders, fabric thin as the time it takes
teeth to flatten the end of a thread and lead it through

an eyed needle, then what am I to make of the gorgeous
terror every star makes out of its own distance? Sometimes
I can see the body as a blaze, bright-gloried, flamed
and holy as a pin-prick the size of a soul. And if the soul

is a blaze to be believed, then belief blazes a highway
to some beyond, a beauty that begins with every ordinary
sweetness, every one small but still indefinable love.
Every morning, when I wash the wrongs I’ve made right

out of my hair, I want to believe in each drop of water
as a promise of and from the all that we’re meant to contain.

Copyright © 2018 by Emma Bolden. “Beyond Love” originally appeared in the Colorado Review. Used with permission of the author.

 

          White, glittering sunlight fills the market square,
           Spotted and sprigged with shadows. Double rows
           Of bartering booths spread out their tempting shows
          Of globed and golden fruit, the morning air
          Smells sweet with ripeness, on the pavement there
           A wicker basket gapes and overflows
           Spilling out cool, blue plums. The market glows,
          And flaunts, and clatters in its busy care.
           A stately minster at the northern side
          Lifts its twin spires to the distant sky,
           Pinnacled, carved and buttressed; through the wide
          Arched doorway peals an organ, suddenly —
           Crashing, triumphant in its pregnant tide,
          Quenching the square in vibrant harmony.

This poem is in the public domain. 

                    I
In the evening, love returns,
   Like a wand’rer ’cross the sea;
In the evening, love returns
   With a violet for me;
In the evening, life’s a song,
   And the fields are full of green;
All the stars are golden crowns,
   And the eye of God is keen.

                   II
In the evening, sorrow dies
   With the setting of the sun;
In the evening, joy begins,
   When the course of mirth is done;
In the evening, kisses sweet
   Droop upon the passion vine;
In the evening comes your voice:
   “I am yours, and you are mine.”

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.

Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.

This poem is in the public domain.

Alas, that June should come when thou didst go;
I think you passed each other on the way;
And seeing thee, the Summer loved thee so
That all her loveliness she gave away;
Her rare perfumes, in hawthorn boughs distilled,
Blushing, she in thy sweeter bosom left,
Thine arms with all her virgin roses filled,
Yet felt herself the richer for thy theft;
Beggared herself of morning for thine eyes,
Hung on the lips of every bird the tune,
Breathed on thy cheek her soft vermilion dyes,
And in thee set the singing heart of June.
And so, not only do I mourn thy flight,
But Summer comes despoiled of her delight.

This poem is in the public domain. 

I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering
      shirt of you in the wind.
Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and
      the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the stuff.
And again it was nobody else but you I heard in the
      singing voice of a careless humming woman.
One night when I sat with chums telling stories at a
      bonfire flickering red embers, in a language its own
      talking to a spread of white stars:
                          It was you that slunk laughing
                          in the clumsy staggering shadows.
Broken answers of remembrance let me know you are
      alive with a peering phantom face behind a doorway
      somewhere in the city’s push and fury.
Or under a pack of moss and leaves waiting in silence
      under a twist of oaken arms ready as ever to run
      away again when I tag the fluttering shirt of you.

This poem is in the public domain.

Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:
I heard it in the air of one night when I listened
To a mother singing softly to a child restless and angry
	in the darkness.

This poem is in the public domain.

Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.

Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.

This poem is in the public domain.

The rising sun had crowned the hills,
            And added beauty to the plain;
O grand and wondrous spectacle!
            That only nature could explain.

I stood within a leafy grove,
            And gazed around in blissful awe;
The sky appeared one mass of blue,
            That seemed to spread from sea to shore.

Far as the human eye could see,
            Were stretched the fields of waving corn.
Soft on my ear the warbling birds
            Were heralding the birth of morn.

While here and there a cottage quaint
            Seemed to repose in quiet ease
Amid the trees, whose leaflets waved
            And fluttered in the passing breeze.

O morning hour! so dear thy joy,
            And how I longed for thee to last;
But e’en thy fading into day
            Brought me an echo of the past.

 ‘Twas this,—how fair my life began;
            How pleasant was its hour of dawn;
But, merging into sorrow’s day,
            Then beauty faded with the morn.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets. 

there are the stars
and the sickle stare
of the moon

there are the frogs
dancing in the joy
of the ditch and the crickets
serenading everything

there are the trees
and the huge shadow
of the wind whispering
the old hymns of my childhood

and of course, there are the stars again.
winking at me like a curious woman.

               i am learning to breathe.

From A Jury of Trees (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe and Letras Latinas, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Andrés Montoya. Used with the permission of Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe.

This morning this planet is covered by winds and blue.
This morning this planet glows with dustless perfect light,
enough that I can see one million sharp leaves
from where I stand. I walk on this planet, its hard-packed
 
dirt and prickling grass, and I don’t fall off. I come down
soft if I choose, hard if I choose. I never float away.
Sometimes I want to be weightless on this planet, and so
 
I wade into a brown river or dive through a wave
and for a while feel nothing under my feet. Sometimes
I want to hear what it was like before the air, and so I duck
under the water and listen to the muted hums. I’m ashamed
 
to say that most days I forget this planet. That most days
I think about dentist appointments and plagiarists
and the various ways I can try to protect my body from itself.
 
Last weekend I saw Jupiter through a giant telescope,
its storm stripes, four of its sixty-seven moons, and was filled
with fierce longing, bitter that instead of Ganymede or Europa,
I had only one moon floating in my sky, the moon
 
called Moon, its face familiar and stale. But this morning
I stepped outside and the wind nearly knocked me down.
This morning I stepped outside and the blue nearly
 
crushed me. This morning this planet is so loud with itself—
its winds, its insects, its grackles and mourning doves—
that I can hardly hear my own lamentations. This planet.
All its grooved bark, all its sand of quartz and bones
 
and volcanic glass, all its creeping thistle lacing the yards
with spiny purple. I’m trying to come down soft today.
I’m trying to see this place even as I’m walking through it.

Copyright © 2017 Catherine Pierce. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

The glory of the day was in her face,
The beauty of the night was in her eyes.
And over all her loveliness, the grace
Of Morning blushing in the early skies.

And in her voice, the calling of the dove;
Like music of a sweet, melodious part.
And in her smile, the breaking light of love;
And all the gentle virtues in her heart.

And now the glorious day, the beauteous night,
The birds that signal to their mates at dawn,
To my dull ears, to my tear-blinded sight
Are one with all the dead, since she is gone.

This poem is in the public domain. 

How again today our patron star
whose ancient vista is the long view

turns its wide brightness now and here:
Below, we loll outdoors, sing & make fire.

We build no henge
but after our swim, linger

by the pond. Dapples flicker
pine trunks by the water.

Buzz & hum & wing & song combine.
Light builds a monument to its passing.

Frogs content themselves in bullish chirps,
hoopskirt blossoms

on thimbleberries fall, peeper toads
hop, lazy—

            Apex. The throaty world sings ripen.
Our grove slips past the sun’s long kiss.

We dress.
We head home in other starlight. 

Our earthly time is sweetening from this.
 

Copyright © 2015 by Tess Taylor. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 19, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

If music be the food of love, play on.

This is the house that music built:
each note a fingertip’s purchase,
rung upon rung laddering

across the unspeakable world. 
As for those other shrill facades,
rigged-for-a-day porticos

composed to soothe regiments
of eyes, guilt-reddened,
lining the parade route

(horn flash, woodwind wail) . . .
well, let them cheer. 
I won’t speak judgment on

the black water passing for coffee,
white water for soup.
We supped instead each night

on Chopin—hummed our grief-
soaked lullabies to the rapture
rippling through. Let it be said

while in the midst of horror
we fed on beauty—and that,
my love, is what sustained us.

[Alice Herz-Sommer, survivor of the Theresienstadt ghetto / concentration camp]

Copyright © 2016 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 5, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

As the body of the beloved is a window
through which we behold the blackness and vastness of space
pulsing with stars, and as the man

on the corner with his fruit stand is a window,
and the cherries, blackberries, raspberries
avocados and carrots are a rose window

like the one in Chartres, yes, or the one in Paris
through which light floods from the other world, the pure one
stabbing tourists with malicious abundant joy

though the man is tired in the summer heat
and reads his newspaper listlessly, without passion
and people pass his stand buying nothing

let us call this scene a window looking out
not at a paradise but as a paradise
might be, if we had eyes to see

the women in their swaying dresses, the season’s fruit
the babies in their strollers infinitely soft: clear window
after clear window

Copyright © 2016 by Alicia Ostriker. Originally published in Tupelo Quarterly. Used with permission of the author.

for Mark di Suvero

Nailbeds pink, deeper pink toward the cuticles,
      cuticles a little rough, but clean.
                              Obsessively clean.
A little yellowing under the edges of the nails,
                              the fingers boney, bowing, and large knuckles
where skin bunches like roses puckered on fabric.
                              A hand in need of moisturizer.
A sanitized hand. A worried hand? Hands don’t worry.
Spots that change. One that elongates into a question mark.
                              Well, hasn’t that hand done something?
                                         It is a form of making when it makes.
But mostly the hand is an idle thing
      & therefore available for scrutiny
unlike the artist himself, his stillness a form of motion,
                              intent upon a subject so close to his heart
                              that he must hold it out, away from all other limbs
                              and parts of the body, to see it as itself, a hand,
agent of the mind and yet separate from all thought.
                              All his effort goes into the hand, and through the hand
                                         makes visible the scale of imagination, so that
                              what’s left is not the hand
                                         but its testament.

Copyright © 2013 by D. A. Powell. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 8, 2013. 

after Encounters at the End of the World by Werner Herzog


With booms & chirrs seals
speak under the ice of an ocean
frozen over.
Stationary ocean. Electrified song.
Color: snow day with autumn
leaves inside it, 
glassene sheers of cantaloupe & kiwi on
lavender, gunmetal, jetwing—
				   When you rode the elephant through
the puncture, the first syllable of my name
parted the deep with your beautiful hand.
Sparrow shuddered in her dustbath, swath of pleasure
raked up
	    & out.
		    This is where I sat
in the avalanche.
	                 In winter,
where I was born,
you pulled a cord of silk in your beautiful hand.
I heard nothing
under the ice. Bye bye now, our people would say.
Bye bye later.
First, song,
	       a detonation—
then white everywhere.

Copyright © 2014 by Kathy Fagan. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on January 17, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Not that anyone would
notice it at first.
I have taken to marveling
at the trees in our park.
One thing I can tell you:
they are beautiful
and they know it.
They are also tired,
hundreds of years
stuck in one spot—
beautiful paralytics.
When I am under them,
they feel my gaze,
watch me wave my foolish
hand, and envy the joy
of being a moving target.

Loungers on the benches
begin to notice.
One to another,
"Well, you see all kinds..."
Most of them sit looking
down at nothing as if there
was truly nothing else to
look at until there is
that woman waving up
to the branching boughs
of these old trees. Raise your
heads, pals, look high,
you may see more than
you ever thought possible,
up where something might
be waving back, to tell her
she has seen the marvelous.

From Coming to That by Dorothea Tanning. Copyright © 2011 by Dorothea Tanning. Used with permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.

I went down to
mingle my breath
with the breath
of the cherry blossoms.

There were photographers:
Mothers arranging their
children against
gnarled old trees;
a couple, hugging,
asks a passerby
to snap them
like that,
so that their love
will always be caught
between two friendships:
ours & the friendship
of the cherry trees.

Oh Cherry,
why can’t my poems
be as beautiful?


A young woman in a fur-trimmed
coat sets a card table
with linens, candles,
a picnic basket & wine.
A father tips
a boy’s wheelchair back
so he can gaze
up at a branched
heaven.
                     All around us
the blossoms
flurry down
whispering,

        Be patient
you have an ancient beauty.

                                            Be patient,
                                  you have an ancient beauty.

From The Undertaker’s Daughter (University of Pittsburg Press, 2011). All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Used with permission.

To show the lab’ring bosom’s deep intent,
And thought in living characters to paint,
When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learnt from thee to live,
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight?
Still, wond’rous youth! each noble path pursue;
On deathless glories fix thine ardent view:
Still may the painter’s and the poet’s fire,
To aid thy pencil and thy verse conspire!
And may the charms of each seraphic theme
Conduct thy footsteps to immortal fame!
High to the blissful wonders of the skies
Elate thy soul, and raise thy wishful eyes.
Thrice happy, when exalted to survey
That splendid city, crown’d with endless day,
Whose twice six gates on radiant hinges ring:
Celestial Salem blooms in endless spring.
   Calm and serene thy moments glide along,
And may the muse inspire each future song!
Still, with the sweets of contemplation bless’d,
May peace with balmy wings your soul invest!
But when these shades of time are chas’d away,
And darkness ends in everlasting day,
On what seraphic pinions shall we move,
And view the landscapes in the realms above?
There shall thy tongue in heav’nly murmurs flow,
And there my muse with heav'nly transport glow;
No more to tell of Damon’s tender sighs,
Or rising radiance of Aurora’s eyes;
For nobler themes demand a nobler strain,
And purer language on th’ ethereal plain.
Cease, gentle Muse! the solemn gloom of night
Now seals the fair creation from my sight.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

1.

Peony silks,
	in wax-light:
		that petal-sheen,

gold or apricot or rose
	candled into-
		what to call it,

lumina, aurora, aureole?
	About gowns,
		the Old Masters,


were they ever wrong?
	This penitent Magdalen's
		wrapped in a yellow

so voluptuous
	she seems to wear
		all she's renounced;

this boy angel
	isn't touching the ground,
		but his billow

of yardage refers
	not to heaven
		but to pleasure's

textures, the tactile
	sheers and voiles
		and tulles

which weren't made
	to adorn the soul.
		Eternity's plainly nude;

the naked here and now
	longs for a little
		dressing up. And though

they seem to prefer
	the invisible, every saint
		in the gallery

flaunts an improbable
	tumble of drapery,
		a nearly audible liquidity

(bright brass embroidery,
	satin's violin-sheen)
		raveled around the body's

plain prose; exquisite
	(dis?)guises; poetry,
		music, clothes.

2.

Nothing needs to be this lavish.
	Even the words I'd choose
		for these leaves;

intricate, stippled, foxed,
	tortoise, mottled, splotched
		-jeweled adjectives

for a forest by Fabergé,
	all cloisonné and enamel,
		a yellow grove golden

in its gleaming couture,
	brass buttons
		tumbling to the floor.

Who's it for?
	Who's the audience
		for this bravura?

Maybe the world's
	just trompe l'oeil,
		appearances laid out

to dazzle the eye;
	who could see through this
		to any world beyond forms?

Maybe the costume's
	the whole show,
		all of revelation

we'll be offered.
	So? Show me what's not
		a world of appearances.

Autumn's a grand old drag
	in torched and tumbled chiffon
		striking her weary pose.

Talk about your mellow
	fruitfulness! Smoky alto,
		thou hast thy music,

too; unforgettable,
	those October damasks,
		the dazzling kimono

worn, dishabille,
	uncountable curtain calls
		in these footlights'

dusky, flattering rose.
	The world's made fabulous
		by fabulous clothes.

From Atlantis by Mark Doty, published by Harper Perennial. Copyright © 1995 by Mark Doty. Used by permission of the author.

Before you came,
things were as they should be:
the sky was the dead-end of sight,
the road was just a road, wine merely wine.

Now everything is like my heart,
a color at the edge of blood:
the grey of your absence, the color of poison, of thorns,
the gold when we meet, the season ablaze,
the yellow of autumn, the red of flowers, of flames,
and the black when you cover the earth
with the coal of dead fires.

And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?
The sky is a shirt wet with tears,
the road a vein about to break,
and the glass of wine a mirror in which
the sky, the road, the world keep changing.

Don't leave now that you're here—
Stay. So the world may become like itself again:
so the sky may be the sky,
the road a road,
and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine.

From The Rebel's Silhouette by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, translated by Agha Shahid Ali. Copyright © 1991 by Agha Shahid Ali. Used by permission of University of Massachusetts Press.

Not, exactly, green:
closer to bronze
preserved in kind brine,

something retrieved
from a Greco-Roman wreck,
patinated and oddly

muscular. We cannot
know what his fantastic
legs were like—

though evidence
suggests eight
complexly folded

scuttling works
of armament, crowned
by the foreclaws’

gesture of menace
and power. A gull’s
gobbled the center,

leaving this chamber
—size of a demitasse—
open to reveal

a shocking, Giotto blue.
Though it smells
of seaweed and ruin,

this little traveling case
comes with such lavish lining!
Imagine breathing

surrounded by
the brilliant rinse
of summer’s firmament.

What color is
the underside of skin?
Not so bad, to die,

if we could be opened
into this—
if the smallest chambers

of ourselves,
similarly,
revealed some sky.

From Atlantis, published by HarperCollins. Copyright © 1995 by Mark Doty. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

I.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

II.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

III.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Written June 12, 1814. This poem is in the public domain.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

This poem is in the public domain.

You ought to know Mr. Mistoffelees!
The Original Conjuring Cat—
(There can be no doubt about that).
Please listen to me and don’t scoff. All his
Inventions are off his own bat.
There’s no such Cat in the metropolis;
He holds all the patent monopolies
For performing surprising illusions
And creating eccentric confusions.
     At prestidigitation
          And at legerdemain
     He’ll defy examination
          And deceive you again.
The greatest magicians have something to learn
From Mr. Mistoffelees’ Conjuring Turn.
Presto!
     Away we go!
          And we all say: OH!
               Well I never!
               Was there ever
               A Cat so clever
                    As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!

He is quiet and small, he is black
From his ears to the tip of his tail;
He can creep through the tiniest crack
He can walk on the narrowest rail.
He can pick any card from a pack,
He is equally cunning with dice;
He is always deceiving you into believing
That he’s only hunting for mice.
     He can play any trick with a cork
          Or a spoon and a bit of fish-paste;
     If you look for a knife or a fork
          And you think it is merely misplaced—
You have seen it one moment, and then it is gawn!
But you’ll find it next week lying out on the lawn.
          And we all say: OH!
               Well I never!
               Was there ever
               A Cat so clever
                    As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!

His manner is vague and aloof,
You would think there was nobody shyer—
But his voice has been heard on the roof
When he was curled up the fire.
And he’s sometimes been heard by the fire
When he was about on the roof—
(At least we all heard somebody who purred)
Which is incontestable proof
     Of his singular magical powers:
          And I have known the family to call
     Him in from the garden for hours,
          While he was asleep in the hall.
And not long ago this phenomenal Cat
Produced seven kittens right out of a hat!
          And we all say: OH!
               Well I never!
               Was there ever
               A Cat so clever
                    As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!

From Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Copyright © 1939 by T. S. Eliot, renewed © 1967 by Esme Valerie Eliot. Used with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Twas on a lofty vase's side,
Where China's gayest art had dyed
    The azure flowers that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclined,
    Gazed on the lake below.

Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
    The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
    She saw; and purred applause.

Still had she gazed; but 'midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
    The genii of the stream:
Their scaly armor's Tyrian hue
Through richest purple to the view
    Betrayed a golden gleam.

The hapless nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
    With many an ardent wish,
She stretched in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
    What cat's averse to fish?

Presumptuous maid! with looks intent
Again she stretched, again she bent,
    Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by and smiled)
The slippery verge her feet beguiled,
    She tumbled headlong in.

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
    Some speedy aid to send.
No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard;
    A favorite has no friend!

From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne'er retrieved,
    And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
    Nor all that glisters, gold.

This poem is in the public domain.

Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft
as rabbits.
I slipped my feet
into them
as though into
two
cases
knitted
with threads of
twilight
and goatskin.
Violent socks,
my feet were
two fish made
of wool,
two long sharks
sea-blue, shot
through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons:
my feet
were honored
in this way
by
these
heavenly
socks.
They were
so handsome
for the first time
my feet seemed to me
unacceptable
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
unworthy
of that woven
fire,
of those glowing
socks.

Nevertheless
I resisted
the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere
as schoolboys
keep
fireflies,
as learned men
collect
sacred texts,
I resisted
the mad impulse
to put them
into a golden
cage
and each day give them
birdseed
and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
green deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled on
the magnificent
socks
and then my shoes.

The moral
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
beauty
and what is good is doubly
good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
in winter.

"Ode to My Socks" from Neruda & Vallejo: Selected Poems, by Pablo Neruda and translated by Robert Bly (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993). Used with permission of Robert Bly.

                                        I caught sight of it at a bus stop:
a white T-shirt, though
                                                     it was partly covered by
     the turning form of a lanky youth massed
                with other human forms intent upon
          boarding the bus on which
                                I was riding, tucked in a corner seat on
                the last row of seats on the bus, the right side, sheltered,
        watching the surge as it entered the double rear doors that
                        soon welcomed as a bottleneck the half dozen
     new passengers — tall, he walked back along the aisle until he stood
                                maybe a dozen feet from me, holding a rail
      with one hand (the right), the other arm dangling, his hips relaxed,
every color — hair, eyebrows, lashes, half-day beard shadow,
        heavy cotton pants, a
jacket dangling from the dangling left arm — black except for his
      white T-shirt, unornamented, the folds from his twist
           as he stood, deep drapery folds, the cotton heavier than ordinary
     for such a garment, the trim at waist and short sleeves the same material rolled,
      eye-catching for its clean bright whiteness, hinting at his beauty, and
                        beautiful in its self:                a white T-shirt, an
        object, he
                                would move slightly, the creases deepen
    as the twist deepened
                             slightly —
                                        at Castro, Market and 17th streets
        he got off, many did, many boarded, his eyes, a light brown, met mine through
                the bus window for a moment, the T-shirt at his neck white,
                                an object still

 

Copyright © 2013 by Lewis Ellingham. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on March 5, 2013. Browse the Poem-a-Day archive.

Sitting at her table, she serves
the sopa de arroz to me
instinctively, and I watch her,
the absolute mamá, and eat words
I might have had to say more
out of embarrassment. To speak,
now-foreign words I used to speak,
too, dribble down her mouth as she serves
me albóndigas. No more
than a third are easy to me.
By the stove she does something with words
and looks at me only with her
back. I am full. I tell her
I taste the mint, and watch her speak
smiles at the stove. All my words
make her smile. Nani never serves
herself, she only watches me
with her skin, her hair. I ask for more.

I watch the mamá warming more
tortillas for me. I watch her
fingers in the flame for me.
Near her mouth, I see a wrinkle speak
of a man whose body serves
the ants like she serves me, then more words
from more wrinkles about children, words
about this and that, flowing more
easily from these other mouths. Each serves
as a tremendous string around her,
holding her together. They speak
Nani was this and that to me
and I wonder just how much of me
will die with her, what were the words
I could have been, was. Her insides speak
through a hundred wrinkles, now, more
than she can bear, steel around her,
shouting, then, What is this thing she serves?

She asks me if I want more.
I own no words to stop her.
Even before I speak, she serves.

From Whispering to Fool the Wind (Sheep Meadow Press, 1982). Copyright © 1982 by Alberto Ríos. Reprinted by permission of the author.

                                       When we first found him,
he was a poor creature who couldn't handle a paring knife,
             but that year in Tuscany did him well.

                                       He returned a devout palate.

A man of peculiar desire.
             Please note, he must be garnished with mint;

                                      chop finely, so, when rare, the meat bathes
                                      the cut leaf.

It was a long day when our chef committed himself
             to the fineries of flesh—

                                      the first drop of blood crowned the shaved
                                      Parmesan;

the bouillabaisse thickened.
             Loving the body for the body alone is bitter.

                                      He knew this, yes. He always thought parsley

the sprig of amateurs. At high temperatures
             his flesh will emit a faint, distinguished odor,

                                      but this is common

for roasts of his nature. Add Chianti just after the boil.
             That his lips were cracked with salt is no cause for concern—

                                      thirst is

the first measure of longing.
             Open this. Breathe a short while before we eat.

Copyright © 2007 by David Welch. “Our Chef Is Delicious” originally appeared in Pleiades. Used with permission of the author.

 

Start with your own body,
the small bones of the hands
moving toward the inlets of the fingers.

Wanting it too much invites haste.
You must love what is raw
and hungered for.

Think of the crab cake as the ending,
as you till away at the meat, digging for
errant shells and jagged edges.

Always, it’s a matter of guesswork
but you hold it together
by the simplest of ingredients,

for this is how the body learns to be generous,
to forgive the flaws inherited
and enjoy what lies ahead.

Yet you never quite know
when it happens,
the moment when the lumps

transcend egg and breadcrumbs,
the quiver of oil in a hot pan,
to become unworldly:

the manifold of pleasure
with the sweet ache of crab
still bright on your tongue.

From Underlife (CavanKerry Press, 2009). Copyright © 2009 by January Gill O’Neil. Used with the permission of the author.

I liked how the starry blue lid
of that saucepan lifted and puffed,
then settled back on a thin
hotpad of steam, and the way
her kitchen filled with the warm,
wet breath of apples, as if all
the apples were talking at once,
as if they’d come cold and sour
from chores in the orchard,
and were trying to shoulder in
close to the fire. She was too busy
to put in her two cents’ worth
talking to apples. Squeezing
her dentures with wrinkly lips,
she had to jingle and stack
the bright brass coins of the lids
and thoughtfully count out
the red rubber rings, then hold
each jar, to see if it was clean,
to a window that looked out
through her back yard into Iowa.
And with every third or fourth jar
she wiped steam from her glasses,
using the hem of her apron,
printed with tiny red sailboats
that dipped along with leaf-green
banners snapping, under puffs
or pale applesauce clouds
scented with cinnamon and cloves,
the only boats under sail
for at least two thousand miles.

From Delights and Shadows (Copper Canyon Press, 2004). Copyright © 2004 by Ted Kooser. Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.

The periodic pleasure
of small happenings
is upon us—
behind the stalls
at the farmer’s market
snow glinting in heaps,
a cardinal its chest
puffed out, bloodshod
above the piles of awnings,
passion’s proclivities;
you picking up a sweet potato
turning to me  ‘This too?’—
query of tenderness
under the blown red wing.
Remember the brazen world?
Let’s find a room
with a window onto elms
strung with sunlight,
a cafe with polished cups,
darling coffee they call it,
may our bed be stoked
with fresh cut rosemary
and glinting thyme,
all herbs in due season
tucked under wild sheets:
fit for the conjugation of joy.

Copyright © 2015 by Meena Alexander. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 15, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

“It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an 
object of worship —why I haven’t been able to find out. From Egypt the onion 
entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.” — Better Living Cookbook

When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way the knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.
And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,
disappear.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “The Traveling Onion” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

For all the bother, it's the peeling away
we savored, the slow striptease
toward a tender heart—

how each petal dipped in the buttery sauce
was raked across our lower
teeth, its residue

less redolent of desire than sweet restraint,
a mere foretaste of passion,
but the scaly plates

piled up like potsherds in a kitchen midden,
a history in what's now
useless, discarded—

so we strained after less and less as the barbs
perhaps drew a little blood
and we cut our way

into the core to rid us of the fiber
that would stifle every ut-
terance between us.

In our quest for that morsel,
how we risked silence,
risked even
love.

From The Burning of Troy by Richard Foerster. Copyright © 2006 by Richard Foerster. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.

An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.

I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He pays.
He ain't no average joe.

The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop, spit spit. . .
pssss. . .
The counter girls laugh.
I concentrate.
It is the crucial point--
they are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fries done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
Thirty cheeseburgers! Thirty fries!
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success.
Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.

From Show and Tell: New and Selected Poems by Jim Daniels. Originally appeared in Places/Everyone. Copyright © 1985 by Jim Daniels. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. All rights reserved.

—“Eu ja vivo enjoado” up to ‘quebra’— 

O sopro é do vento
    we keep moving sopro
and voice pass and later
    and earlier chords always
                                           take

   a turn to the percussive
or if they stay it’s in service
    of the beat of running
the percusion of meat
       and bones cracking
                                   dirt

     and when we press
  the chamber of the cabaça
        seca against our stomachs
    tighten the wire around its
                                           neck

      stretch it taut before
  striking with our sticks we
                                           run 

      clandestinos hiding in the
dark or light or stringing
                                        wire

   in streets full of tourists
         or accompanying the
                                      mouths

of gringo instructors
     who go ginga ginga ginga
 asking Angola or regional
                                        singing

      along with the radio
 um pedaço de arame
     um pedaço de pau de pé

                                          in 

     Toque de Angola
Toque de São Bento
          Pequeno Grande e de
Bimba Toque de Iuna we
                                        follow

         o compaço de aço
   o compaço do passo
o compaço da culpa do
                                     sol 

                                                   

After Nathaniel Mackey and Mestre Pastinha 

 

Copyright © 2018 Ananda Lima. This poem originally appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review. Used with permission of the author.

 

I would have each couple turn,
join and unjoin, be lost
in the greater turning
of other couples, woven
in the circle of a dance,
the song of long time flowing

over them, so they may return,
turn again in to themselves
out of desire greater than their own,
belonging to all, to each,
to the dance, and to the song
that moves them through the night.

What is fidelity? To what
does it hold? The point
of departure, or the turning road
that is departure and absence
and the way home? What we are
and what we were once

are far estranged. For those
who would not change, time
is infidelity. But we are married
until death, and are betrothed
to change. By silence, so,
I learn my song. I earn

my sunny fields by absence, once
and to come. And I love you
as I love the dance that brings you
out of the multitude
in which you come and go.
Love changes, and in change is true.

Copyright © 2012 by Wendell Berry, from New Collected Poems. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint.

When the boys are carnivals
we gather round them in the dark room
& they make their noise while drums
ricochet against their bodies & thin air
below the white ceiling hung up like a moon
& it is California, the desert. I am driving in a car,
clapping my hands for the beautiful windmills,
one of whom is my brother, spinning,
on a hillside in the garage
with other boys he'll grow old with, throw back.
How they throw back their bodies
on the cardboard floor, then spring-to, flying
like the heads of hammers hitting strings
inside of a piano.
                                  Again, again.
This is how they fall & get back up. One
who was thrown out by his father. One
who carries death with him like a balloon
tied to his wrist. One whose heart will break.
One whose grandmother will forget his name.
One whose eye will close. One who stood
beside his mother's body in a green hospital. One.
Kick up against the air to touch the earth.
See him fall, then get back up.
Then get back up.

Copyright © 2015 by Aracelis Girmay. From The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

(Skip to the original poem in Spanish)

translated by Edith Grossman

Against a topaz sky
and huge windows starry 
with delirious heartsease
and sensual red cayenne;
the sweet twilight breeze
fragrant with almond and Indian orange;
on the Moorish tiles,
wearing their spike-heeled shoes,
lowcut dresses and wide swirling skirts;
their long obsidian hairdos
in the style of the time;
perfumed, olive-skinned, smiling,
my aunts danced the mambo
and sang: "Doctor, tomorrow, 
you can't pull my tooth
even if I die of the pain."

those evenings of my childhood
when my aunts were young and belonged to me,
and I danced hiding in their skirts,
our lives were a happy mambo—
I remember.

Contra un cielo topacio
y ventanales estrellados
con delirantes trinitarias
y rojas, sensuales cayenas;
el fragante céfiro verpertino
oloroso de almendros y azahar de la India;
sobre las baldozsas de diseños moriscos,
con zapatillas de tacón aguja,
vestidos descotados y amplias polleras;
sus largas, obsidianas cabelleras
a la usanza de la época;
perfumadas, trigueñas, risueñas,
mis tías bailaban el mambo
canturreando, "Doctor, mañana
no me saca ud. la muela,
aunque me muera del dolor."

Aquellas tardes en mi infancia
cuando mis tías eran muchanchas y me pertenecían,
y yo bailaba cobijado entre sus polleras,
nuestras vidas eran un mambo feliz
que no se olvida.

From My Night With Federico García Lorca by Jaime Manrique, translated by Edith Grossman. Copyright © 1996, 1997. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. All rights reserved.

white field. And the dog
dashing past me
into the blank,

toward the nothing.
Or:
not running anymore but

this idea of him, still
in his gold
fur, being

what I loved him for
first, so that now
on the blankets piled

in one corner
of the animal hospital
where they’ve brought him out

a final hour, two,
before the needle
with its cold

pronouncements,
he trembles with what
he once was: breath

and muscle puncturing
the snow, sudden
stetting over the tips

of the meadow’s buried
grasses after–what
was it, a rabbit?

Field mouse? Dashing
past me on my skis,
for the first time

faster, as if
he had been hiding this,
his good uses. What

a shock to watch
what you know unfold
deeper into, or out of

itself. It is like
loving an animal:
hopeless, an extravagance

we were meant for:
startled, continually,
by what we’re willing

to feel. The tips
of the grasses high
in the white. And the flat

light, drops of water
on the gold
coat, the red, the needle

moving in, then out,
and now the sound of an animal
rushing past me in the snow.

From Imaginary Vessels (Copper Canyon Press, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Paisley Rekdal. Used with the permission of the poet.

O breathing drum, O cask of dark
waters, O decaying star, my
barking heart, my breaking brother,
what will seep into the space
your body leaves? O huge
eighteen-muscled ears, oscillating
ossicles and cochlea, your busy canals
now hollow caves of quiet. I have said
your fur is black, but you are
silvered, rimed with frost.
You are the new moon.
You are light in the dark house.
How long will I see your shadow?
O heavy hunk of existence, O great flank
I have rested my head upon
when I was too weak for human touch.
Sleek leading man, you debonair dog,
how people on the avenue stopped to swoon.
O splaying legs once faster than rabbits,
canines slashing flesh. Urgent thug,
unstoppable thrust. O happy snapping
at the wind. What do you remember
now that you are mud slide, glacier
melting, cliff collapsing into the sea?
I have memorized your milky breath,
your ballet leaps and whirly-gigging.
Your princely patience, as the children
dressed you—Soccer Zeke
in jersey and shorts, one paw on the ball.
Snorkel Zeke with mask and fins.
Bar Mitzvah Zeke in a yarmulke
and my father’s silk tallit. O my text
of decrepitude, my usher to death,
companion of ten thousand years,
I’ll fry you a fish. I’ll sit by your bowl.
Eat from my hand. I have nowhere to go.

Copyright © 2017 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of the poet.

Dog knows when friend will come home
because each hour friend’s smell pales,
air paring down the good smell
with its little diamond. It means I miss you
O I miss you, how hard it is to wait
for my happiness, and how good when
it arrives. Here we are in our bodies,
ripe as avocados, softer, brightening
with latencies like a hot, blue core
of electricity: our ankles knotted to our
calves by a thread, womb sparking
with watermelon seeds we swallowed
as children, the heart again badly hurt, trying
and failing. But it is almost five says
the dog. It is almost five.

Copyright © 2018 Nomi Stone. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Summer 2018.

                                   barks at whatever’s
not the world as he prefers to know it:
trash sacks, hand trucks, black hats, canes
and hoods, shovels, someone smoking a joint
beneath the Haitian Evangelicals’ overhang,
anyone—how dare they—walking a dog.
George barks, the tense white comma
of himself arced in alarm.
                                                   At home he floats
in the creaturely domestic: curled in the warm
triangle behind a sleeper’s knees,
wiggling on his back on the sofa, all jelly
and sighs, requesting/receiving a belly rub.
No worries. But outside the apartment’s
metal door, the unmanageable day assumes
its blurred and infinite disguises.
                                                                 Best to bark.
No matter that he’s slightly larger
than a toaster; he proceeds as if he rules
a rectangle two blocks deep, bounded west
and east by Seventh Avenue and Union Square.
Whatever’s there is there by his consent,
and subject to the rebuke of his refusal
—though when he asserts his will
he trembles. If only he were not solely
responsible for raising outcry
at any premonition of trouble
on West 16th Street, or if, right out
on the pavement, he might lay down
the clanking armor of his bluster.

Some evening when he’s climbed the stairs
after our late walk, and rounds
the landing’s turn and turns his way
toward his steady sleep, I wish he might
be visited by a dream of the world as kind,
how any looming unknown might turn out
to hold—the April-green of an unsullied
tennis ball? Dear one, surely the future
can’t be entirely out to get us?
And if it is, barking won’t help much.

But no such luck, not yet.
He takes umbrage, this morning,
at a stone image serene in a neighbor’s garden,
and stiffens and fixes and sounds
his wild alarm: Damn you,
Buddha, get out of here, go away!

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Doty. Used with permission of the author.

Here there may be, in the midst of summer,
a few days when suddenly it’s fall.
Thrushes sing on a sharper note.
The rocks stand determined out in the water.
They know something. They’ve always known it.
We know it too, and we don’t like it.
On the way home, in the boat, on just such evenings
you would stand stock-still in the bow, collected,
scouting the scents coming across the water.
You read the evening, the faint streak of smoke
from a garden, a pancake frying
half a mile away, a badger
standing somewhere in the same twilight
sniffing the same way. Our friendship
was of course a compromise; we lived
together in two different worlds: mine,
mostly letters, a text passing through life,
yours, mostly smells. You had knowledge
I would have given much to have possessed:
the ability to let a feeling—eagerness, hate, or love—
run like a wave throughout your body
from nose to tip of tail, the inability
ever to accept the moon as fact.
At the full moon you always complained loudly against it.
You were a better Gnostic than I am. And consequently
you lived continually in paradise.
You had a habit of catching butterflies on the leap,
and munching them, which some people thought disgusting.
I always liked it. Why
couldn’t I learn from you? And doors.
In front of closed doors you lay down and slept
sure that sooner or later the one would come
who’d open up the door. You were right.
I was wrong. Now I ask myself, now this
long mute friendship is forever finished,
if possibly there was anything I could do
which impressed you. Your firm conviction
that I called up the thunderstorms
doesn’t count. That was a mistake. I think
my certain faith that the ball existed,
even when hidden behind the couch,
somehow gave you an inkling of my world.
In my world most things were hidden
behind something else. I called you “dog,”
I really wonder whether you perceived me
as a larger, noisier “dog”
or as something different, forever unknown,
which is what it is, existing in that attribute
it exists in, a whistle
through the nocturnal park one has got used to
returning to without actually knowing
what it is one is returning to. About you,
and who you were, I knew no more.
One might say, from this more objective
standpoint, we were two organisms. Two
of those places where the universe makes a knot
in itself, short-lived, complex structures
of proteins that have to complicate themselves
more and more in order to survive, until everything
breaks and turns simple once again, the knot
dissolved, the riddle gone. You were a question
asked of another question, nothing more,
and neither had the answer to the other.

By Lars Gustafsson, translated by Yvonne L. Sandstroem, from The Stillness of the World Before Bach, copyright © 1977 by Lars Gustafsson, copyright © 1983 by Yvonne L. Sandstroem. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

The wine of uncharted days,
Their unsteady stance against the working world,

The intense intoxication of nothing to be done,
A day off,

The dance of the big-hearted dog 
In us, freed into a sudden green, an immense field:

Off we go, more run than care, more dance—
If a polka could be done not in a room but straight

Ahead, into the beautiful distance, the booming 
Sound of the phonograph weakening, but our legs

Getting stronger with their bounding practice:
This day, that feeling, drunkenness

Born of indecision, lack of focus, but everything 
Forgiven: Today is a day exposed for what it is,

A workday suddenly turned over on its back, 
Hoping to be rubbed.

Copyright © 2012 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author.

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

From Collected Poems by Mark Strand. Copyright © 2014 by Mark Strand. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

I wake in the golden belly of this abode
and sense some diurnal grace at work.
I take my body to the fall, to bathe
and anoint my genitals with shea.
I have made my journey to the cold hills
to commune with my people there.
I come for the second beautiful harvest
and have waited long to look into its eye.
The harvest hosts libations, the meal
and my desire—so I drink the deep
heady liquid of its languid stare, under
the hum of many voices: burgeoning
friendships and reunion in the low light.
I break into the soft weirdness of injera
and dip my fingers into the meat stew,
to celebrate the glory of the kings.
The clear splendor of the serving boy,
his slow blink as of a camel, does not
distract me—here to reap but seduced
by the second beautiful harvest.

Copyright © 2019 by Dante Micheaux. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

It was easy enough
to bend them to my wish,
it was easy enough
to alter them with a touch,
but you
adrift on the great sea,
how shall I call you back?

Cedar and white ash,
rock-cedar and sand plants
and tamarisk
red cedar and white cedar
and black cedar from the inmost forest,
fragrance upon fragrance
and all of my sea-magic is for nought.

It was easy enough—
a thought called them
from the sharp edges of the earth;
they prayed for a touch,
they cried for the sight of my face,
they entreated me
till in pity
I turned each to his own self.

Panther and panther,
then a black leopard
follows close—
black panther and red
and a great hound,
a god-like beast,
cut the sand in a clear ring
and shut me from the earth,
and cover the sea-sound
with their throats,
and the sea-roar with their own barks
and bellowing and snarls,
and the sea-stars
and the swirl of the sand,
and the rock-tamarisk
and the wind resonance—
but not your voice.

It is easy enough to call men
from the edges of the earth.
It is easy enough to summon them to my feet
with a thought—
it is beautiful to see the tall panther
and the sleek deer-hounds
circle in the dark.

It is easy enough
to make cedar and white ash fumes
into palaces
and to cover the sea-caves
with ivory and onyx.

But I would give up
rock-fringes of coral
and the inmost chamber
of my island palace
and my own gifts
and the whole region
of my power and magic
for your glance.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Grey, drooping-shouldered bushes scrape the edges
Of bending swirls of yellow-white flowers.
So do my thoughts meet the wind-scattered color of you.
 
A green-shadowed trance of water
Is splintered to little, white tasseled awakenings
By the beat of long, black oars.
So do my thoughts enter yours.
 
Split, brown-blue clouds press into each other
Over hills dressed in mute, clinging haze.
So do my thoughts slowly form
Over the draped mystery of you.

This poem is in the public domain.

Dear Adrienne
 
But love was never more
than what Elijah
listened to
                        That small
                        that still
a summoning forever
immanent
regardless of its wavelength
pitted against tyrannies
gigantic
in a kitchen
or some other battlefield
                       computer rituals of quit
                       or cancel
                       or the friend who lies
It is often—like the calling 
of the psychopath
“a clean cut kid”—
that we mistake
the madness of the trickster
demon
for our own
or 
minimize the meaning
of these words on open
opening 
space
 
inside this cartoon
context
where it’s normal
to approach a wall
for money
 
this then
is the lens 
to magnify
ignite
redeem
and willingly defy
the maggots eager
for that moment when
our spirits die
and dying
deify the fearsome
meretricious
killer agencies
that jeopardize
the birdsong of our days
 
Oh, Adrienne!
This is that love
                                  It’s here
                                  Between us
                                                          growing
 

From Directed by Desire: The Complete Poems of June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005, 2017 by the June Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

my friends
create the mood
by describing it
turning off all the lights
a place in our minds
wakes as in water
we dance alone and with each other
we make circles around each other
get close then step back
then get close again
my friends
the furniture is round
the furniture is covered
in bluets
there are drugs my friends
why be evasive
when you can listen to an audio book
about a biologist
on a mysterious expedition
to Area X
an area cut off from civilization
today I’ve spoken to no one
and I feel fine
but feelings aren’t facts my friends
and I’ve eaten the last of the cheese
and table water crackers
and I have no salary
but I will hold you

Copyright © 2017 by Ali Power. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 24, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I have a few which is news to me
Tom drops by in the mornings with his travel
mug my mother would call it a coffee klatch

we review our terrible histories with fathers
and talk about the father he’s become and how much
it will cost to replace gutters the ice brought down

and then there’s soft-spoken Harvey
with whom I enjoy long pauses in conversation about how
they raised the Nelson town hall and put a foundation
     underneath

during which we both look at Mt. Monadnock and then down
at the ground and then back at each other silence precipitating
the pretty weather we share before he goes inside for lunch

when I had to pack up my office Tom boxed
and loaded books into my car I didn’t think he’d want
to but his idea of friendship includes carrying heavy things

at the dog park the retired Marine with the schnauzer
asked do you have a husband  I replied I don’t care for men
in that way
as a Marine James mostly played cards

on a supply ship now he mostly hunts and fishes
climbs his orchard ladder for my Cortlands
and in trout season leaves, in my fridge, two rainbows

Copyright © 2015 by Robin Becker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 1, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

The door was opened and I saw you there
And for the first time heard you speak my name.
Then like the sun your sweetness overcame
My shy and shadowy mood; I was aware
That joy was hidden in your happy hair,
And that for you love held no hint of shame;
My eyes caught light from yours, within whose flame
Humor and passion have an equal share.

How many times since then have I not seen
Your great eyes widen when you talk of love,
And darken slowly with a fair desire;
How many times since then your soul has been
Clear to my gaze as curving skies above,
Wearing like them a raiment made of fire.
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

Though you are in your shining days,
Voices among the crowd
And new friends busy with your praise,
Be not unkind or proud,
But think about old friends the most:
Time’s bitter flood will rise,
Your beauty perish and be lost
For all eyes but these eyes.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 20, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

And I carried to that emptiness
between us the birds
that had been calling out

            all night. I carried an old
            bicycle, a warm meal,
            some time to talk.

I would have brought
them to you sooner
but was afraid your own

            hopelessness would keep you
            crouched there. If you spring up,
            let it not be against me

but like a weed or a
fountain.  I grant you
the hard spine of your

            childhood.  I grant you
            the frowning arc of this morning.
            If I could I would grant you

a bright throat and even
brighter eyes, this whole hill
of olive trees, its

            calmness of purpose.
            Let me not forget
            ever what I owe you.

I have loved the love
you felt for those gardens
and I would grant you

            the always steadying
            presence of seeds. 
            I bring to that trouble

between us a bell that might
blur into air.  I bring the woods
and a sense of what lives there.

            Like you, I turn to sunlight for
            answers.  Like you, I am
            not sure where it has gone.

Copyright © 2013 by Joanna Klink. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 10, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

(Ruth Stone, June 8, 1915 - November 19, 2011)
 

And suddenly, it's today, it's this morning
they are putting Ruth into the earth,
her breasts going down, under the hill,
like the moon and sun going down together.
O I know, it's not Ruth—what was Ruth 
went out, slowly, but this was her form,
beautiful and powerful
as the old, gorgeous goddesses who were
terrible, too, not telling a lie
for anyone—and she'd been left here so long, among
mortals, by her mate—who could not,
one hour, bear to go on being human.
And I've gone a little crazy myself
with her going, which seems to go against logic,
the way she has always been there, with her wonder, and her
generousness, her breasts like two
voluptuous external hearts.
I am so glad she kept them, all
her life, and she got to be buried in them—
she 96, and they
maybe 82, each, which is
164 years
of pleasure and longing.  And think of all 
the poets who have suckled at her riskiness, her
risque, her body politic, her
outlaw grace!  What she came into this world with,
with a mew and cry, she gave us.  In her red
sweater and her red hair and her raw
melodious Virginia crackle,
she emptied herself fully out
into her songs and our song-making,
we would not have made our songs without her.
O dear one, what is this?  You are not a child,
though you dwindled, you have not retraced your path,
but continued to move straight forward to where 
we will follow you, radiant mother.  Red Rover, cross over. 

Copyright © 2013 by Sharon Olds. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 5, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

I never thought I’d keep a record of my pain
or happiness
like candles lighting the entire soft lace
of the air
around the full length of your hair/a shower
organized by God
in brown and auburn
undulations luminous like particles
of flame
But now I do
retrieve an afternoon of apricots
and water interspersed with cigarettes
and sand and rocks
we walked across:
                        How easily you held
my hand
beside the low tide
of the world

Now I do
relive an evening of retreat
a bridge I left behind
where all the solid heat
of lust and tender trembling
lay as cruel and as kind
as passion spins its infinite
tergiversations in between the bitter
and the sweet

Alone and longing for you
now I do

Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
you’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I’ve been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone . . .
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.

Poem II from “Twenty-One Love Poems,” from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974–1977 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1978 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

 
At the touch of you,	
As if you were an archer with your swift hand at the bow,	
The arrows of delight shot through my body.	
 
You were spring,	
And I the edge of a cliff,
And a shining waterfall rushed over me. 

 This poem is in the public domain.

was when the
lights were
out

the whole city
in darkness

& we drove north
to our friend’s
yellow apt.
where she had
power & we
could work

later we stayed
in the darkened
apt. you sick
in bed & me
writing ambitiously
by candle light
in thin blue
books

your neighbor had
a generator &
after a while
we had a little
bit of light

I walked the
dog & you
were still
a little bit
sick

we sat on a stoop
one day in the
late afternoon
we had very little
money. enough for
a strong cappuccino
which we shared
sitting there &
suddenly the
city was lit.

Copyright © 2014 by Eileen Myles. Used with permission of the author.

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's carnal ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

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.

We did not say much to each other but
we grinned,
            because this love was so good you sucked the
rib bones

and I licked my fingers like a cat.
Now I’m
            omniscient. I’m going to skip past
the hard

parts that go on for a very long time. Here’s the
future:
            I laugh, because the pleasure was earned
yet vouchsafed,

and I made room for what was dead past and what
yet didn’t
            exist. I was not always kind, but I
was clear.

Copyright © 2019 by Sandra Lim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 12, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

                 Why I love thee?
     Ask why the seawind wanders,
Why the shore is aflush with the tide,
Why the moon through heaven meanders;
Like seafaring ships that ride
On a sullen, motionless deep;
      Why the seabirds are fluttering the strand
       Where the waves sing themselves to sleep
         And starshine lives in the curves of the sand!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Or sometimes watched drifting with the leaves,
some last confetti of yellow or brown. Or it existed

the way the juncos huddled beneath the thistle
feeder in winter, in the way the clouds spilled water

in May to soak the ground. Once we found it
in the attic in a steamer trunk, and another time

we closed it in a suitcase and drove it across
the countryside to Ohio. And often we imagined that

the years were a locked door against which
we kept knocking to be admitted. And on the dresser

of the new house, I spilled the change of the marriage
into a heap, and later we sat on the back porch and watched

the nuptial clouds on their conveyor belts. And we slept
at night with the breaths of the marriage around us.

Copyright © 2018 Doug Ramspeck. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Soft as a Claude painting, the yellow sky tonight—
trees in the parking lot still thick, though the air, yes,
has an edge, the honey was solid in the jar
when I opened it this morning, found a single ant
frozen in the dunes, stunned by sweetness.
Can you really die of sweetness? Hard
to say yes, though I want to, looking up at these clouds
that make my heart jump: oh joy in seeing
though I can’t touch, like the girl repeating persimmon
as the waitress in the diner tells her about a tree
at the top of the hill she used to see, how beautiful
that vivid orange fruit was all at once.
Can’t touch them, but I see them in her eyes as
she remembers persimmons. Maybe that was
my mistake: thinking every love was different, a fruit
inside its own clear mason jar—my love, her love, his,
all separate as the trees they fell from. Maybe love
is more contagion, bubbles in a bathtub slowly
swelling, all the little circles drifting, gliding
gently into each other until they burst, until
nothing’s left but foam, the sound of rushing water.

Copyright © 2018 Annie Kim. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.

A zombie is a head
with a hole in it.

Layers of plastic,
putty, and crust.

The mindless
must be sated.

Mottled men who will
always return

          mouthing wet                          
          promises.                                  

You rise already
harmed and follow

          my sad circle

as if dancing
on shattered legs.

Shoeless, toeless,
such tender absences.

You come to me
ripped

          in linens and reds,

eternal, autumnal
with rust and wonder.

My servant, sublimate
and I am yours

(the hot death
we would give each other).

My dark ardor,
my dark augur.

Love to the very open-
mouthed end.

We are made of
so much hunger.

Copyright © 2017 by Hadara Bar-Nadav. “Zombie” was published in The New Nudity (Saturnalia Books, 2017). Used with permission of the author.

 

let me be yo wil
derness let me be yo wind
blowing you all day.

From Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums. Copyright © 1998 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.

what i want
from you can
you give? what
i give to
you do you
want? hey? hey?

From Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums.  Copyright © 1998 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.

love between us is
speech and breath. loving you is
a long river running.

From Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums. Copyright © 1998 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press. 

the shape
of this

&her smell

&the shine in the small
lit room
to the boy

replace him
w you &
let me love
that shine
in you

let me.

Copyright © 2018 by Eileen Myles. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 21, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

                                       (adore, verb from Latin, adorare,
                                       from ad- ‘to’ + orare- ‘speak, call pray’)

You lie asleep beside me,
one hand on the pillow and cupped
at your mouth, as if to tell a secret.

As if you might say in your sleep
what you could never find 
words for awake.

Or as if you called
across a din of other voices,
or the howl of empty space. Calling

because there are no bells 
to strike the hours where we live. And I must know
when to kneel and when to rise.
What to praise and what to curse.
I must know how to bless
and how to receive blessing. 

One hand on your pillow and cupped
at your mouth,
as if you spoke a word
you’d kept to yourself all day, waiting 
for your most unguarded moment
to say, a thought meant for me, meant to be
shared between us this way,
sealed this way, a secret
no voice can carry without destroying,
a word without carriage, except conveyed
in the peace of your body and face,

a word born out of your deepest rest, a word
which only my own deepest breathing
and happiest rest beside you,
face to face, free of thinking, can sustain.

Maybe you had to be asleep
to say what you knew to be true.
Or what you had to say
you might not could bear to hear,
and so you must say so softly
I must close my eyes, I must turn
inward, to where you’ve made a room
and a bed inside me, to receive it. 

You say:
We cannot look upon Love’s face without dying.
So we face each other to see Love’s look.
And thus third-person souls
suddenly stand at gaze
and the lover and the beloved,
second- and first-persons,
You and I, eye
to eye, are born. 
But such refraction, multiplying gazes, strews
Love’s eye upon the objects of the world,
as upon the objects of our room. 

My brush, hairpin, mirror, book,
your loving look finds each of these things
lovable, I can see. Things
by any other measure poor, your look crowns
to make them your heart’s royalty.
Face, blush, breath, eyes, evanescent,
pledged to death, nowhere stored,
Love’s look gathers within its fondling
to adore.

This strewing and gathering
of Love’s face, of Love’s gaze, and only this,
begun in death’s audience, is the founding
action, call it the fundamental
paradise…did I say paradise?
I meant paradox…the fundamental paradox
of the breaths we breathe,
the thoughts we witness,
the kisses we exchange,
and every poem you write.

From The Undressing: Poems by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 by Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

that’s it
that I walked into the cafe
and in the noise and crowd
we met

and that I saw
what it was I’d been
in what it was
I saw

that in our skin
in the decade of our skin
is what began
before we knew

and that time before
with this time now
is nothing
waiting to start again

Copyright © 2007 by Edwin Torres. “In Each Look Our Years” was originally published in In the Function of External Circumstances (Nightboat Books, 2007). Reprinted with permission of the author.

I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs

and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead

on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow

feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.

I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot

feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls

skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.

To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white

petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am

in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.

Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

At the coffee shop you love,
white mugs heavy on the table
between us, young baristas—
spiky haired and impatient—
cannot imagine how two people
so old to them can feel so wanton,
coffee growing cold between us,
middle-aged bodies growing hot
under the other’s gaze. Even now,
apart, you send me songs so I may
listen to love from the golden throat
of a saxophone, piano keys playing
jazz across my soft belly.
How is it the tide of terror
has quit rising in me, or rises
and recedes as tides do, bringing
sea glass worked smooth
and lovely by the sheer fact
of time, bringing trash—
plastic mesh and old sneakers—
useless things now we might
bag up and remove, bringing
a lapping tongue of water up
over our toes as we hold hands
and walk along its edge—
carefully, gleefully, both.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Browning. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 22, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

When I see you after so long not 
seeing you it is like picking up in
side a fist the flopped red petals of 
a drooped red rose, and when you
speak in the voice that could only be
yours it is like staring into my fist 
top's opening and seeing the rose 
as the rose once was. This is not just 
to say that the swirl and sweetness 
soon flops back open to what now is, 
though it does, but that when I see 
you after so long not seeing you 
I make sense of my feeling in terms
of the rose, and carry it past goodbye.  
 

Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Yeager. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 18, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

It flares up at sunrise, a blush in a bramble
Tumbling out of its bed by the city pavement—a single
Rose, coral heat, at the end of the season.			
And you are drawn to it, to its scent, its silky
Layers, to its core. It gathers you into its 
Body until you lose your balance, all you can see	
Is a petaled grid, an endless repetition
Of roses. You sink swirling into the rose,
Deep into the rose, into the rose.
I hold you to me. Love, I am forty-four, 
And you, love, you, my love,
You have planted me.

Copyright © 2005 Michele Wolf. This poem originally appeared in Poetry East, Spring 2005, and also appeared in Immersion (The Word Works, 2011) by Michele Wolf. Used with permission of the author. 

When she plays the piano and I’m half listening
as I read in the newspaper the terrible history
of some person doing something,
I’ll look over at her, and she’s
turning a sheet, reading,
 
each finger effortlessly finding the next key,
and then moving on to the next, finding
her proper place, which is part memory,
part paying attention to a thing.
When she plays the piano,
 
I like to think she’s somehow included me,
but it’s the missed note that brings
her back to Earth, a wrong key
when she plays.

Copyright © 2017 Stephen Gibson. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

When we could no longer walk or explore, we decided to wear

the maps and would sit talking, pointing to places, sometimes

touching mountains, canyons, deserts on each other’s body,

and that was how we fell in love again, sitting next to

each other in the home that was not our home, writing letters

with crooked words, crooked lines we handed back and forth,

the huge hours and spaces between us growing smaller and smaller.

Copyright © 2017 Mark Irwin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.

for DMK

When I thought it was right to name my desires,
what I wanted of life, they seemed to turn
like bleating sheep, not to me, who could have been
a caring, if unskilled, shepherd, but to the boxed-in hills
beyond which the blue mountains sloped down
with poppies orange as crayfish all the way to the Pacific seas
in which the hulls of whales steered them
in search of a mate for whom they bellowed
in a new, highly particular song
we might call the most ardent articulation of love,
the pin at the tip of evolution,
modestly shining.
                                    In the middle of my life
it was right to say my desires
but they went away. I couldn’t even make them out,
not even as dots
now in the distance.  
                                         Yet I see the small lights
of winter campfires in the hills—
teenagers in love often go there
for their first nights—and each yellow-white glow
tells me what I can know and admit to knowing,
that all I ever wanted
was to sit by a fire with someone
who wanted me in measure the same to my wanting.
To want to make a fire with someone,
with you,
was all.

Copyright © 2017 by Katie Ford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Because you like to sleep with curtains drawn,
        at dawn I rose and pulled the velvet tight.

You stirred, then set your hand back on my hip,
       the bed a ship in sleep’s doubled plunging 

wave on wave, until as though a lighthouse
      beam had crossed the room: the vase between

the windows suddenly ablaze, a spirit,
        seized, inside its amethyst blue gaze.  

What’s that? you said. A slip of light, untamed,
       had turned the vase into a crystal ball,

whose blue eye looked back at us, amazed, two
       sleepers startled in each other’s arms,
     
while day lapped at night’s extinguished edge,
            adrift between the past and future tense,
   
        a blue moon for an instant caught in its chipped
                 sapphire—love enduring, give or take.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Cynthia Zarin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 13, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

The boy beside me
is not you but he
is familiar in all

the important ways.
I pass through life
finding you over

and over again—
oppress you
with love. And every

surrogate?
Afflicted by my
kindness, they leave

me with my music.
I loved you before
I ever loved you.

Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Franklin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

          —Is where space ends called death or infinity?
                         Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions


A mere eyelid’s distance between you and me.

It took us a long time to discover the number zero.

John’s brother is afraid to go outside.
He claims he knows
the meaning of zero.

I want to kiss you.

A mathematician once told me you can add infinity 
to infinity.

There is a zero vector, which starts and ends
at the same place, its force
and movement impossible
to record with
rays or maps or words.
It intersects yet runs parallel
with all others.

A young man I know 
wants me to prove
the zero vector exists.
I tell him I can't,
but nothing in my world
makes sense without it.

Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

I believe there is something else

entirely going on but no single
person can ever know it,
so we fall in love.

It could also be true that what we use
everyday to open cans was something
much nobler, that we'll never recognize.

I believe the woman sleeping beside me
doesn't care about what's going on
outside, and her body is warm
with trust
which is a great beginning.

Copyright © 2001 by Matthew Rohrer. From Satellite. Reprinted with permission of Verse Press.

I believe that witness is a magnitude of vulnerability.
That when I say love what I mean is not a feeling
nor promise of a feeling. I believe in attention.
My love for you is a monolith of try.

The woman I love pays an inordinate amount
of attention to large and small objects. She is not
described by anything. Because I could not mean anything else,
she knows exactly what I mean.

Once upon a time a line saw itself
clear to its end. I have seen the shape
of happiness. (y=mx+b)
I am holding it. It is your hand.

Originally published in Gephyromania. Copyright © 2014 by TC Tolbert. Used with the permission of the poet.

Four less one is three.

Three less two is one.

One less three
is what, is who,
remains.

The first cell that learned to divide
learned to subtract.

Recipe:
add salt to hunger.

Recipe:
add time to trees.

Zero plus anything
is a world.

This one
and no other,
unhidden,
by each breath changed.

Recipe:
add death to life.

Recipe:
love without swerve what this will bring.

Sister, father, mother, husband, daughter.

Like a cello
forgiving one note as it goes,
then another.

—2010

Originally published in The Beauty (Knopf, 2015); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.

anything over zero is zero
anything over one is itself

a bed over zero
is a funhouse mirror aimed

at a cloudy sky
a sky and its clouds over zero

a storm over one
is an infinite storm

a night over one
is a kiss over zero

and the minute hand eating its tail
is a red ear on a wet pillow

the memory of laughter
is a lamp over one

one inhales before one sighs
a lamp over zero is zero

the hole in a satin sheet
slowly ate up the yellow

till splitting the hem
the hole was unleashed

like a kiss
a long kiss over zero

Copyright © 2015 by George David Clark. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 6, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

To Mary Jo Salter

Beyond the ice-bound stones and bucking trees, 
past bewildered Mary, the Meer in snow, 
two skating rinks and two black crooked paths

are a battered pair of reading glasses 
scratched by the skater's multiplying math. 
Beset, I play this game of tic-tac-toe.

Divide, subtract. Who can tell if love surpasses? 
Two naughts we've learned make one astonished 0— 
a hectic night of goats and compasses.

Folly tells the truth by what it's not— 
one X equals a fall I'd not forgo. 
Are ice and fire the integers we've got?

Skating backwards tells another story— 
the risky star above the freezing town, 
a way to walk on water and not drown.

Excerpted from The Watercourse by Cynthia Zarin. Copyright © 2002 by Cynthia Zarin. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without permission in writing from the publisher.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

This poem is in the public domain.