Broken crimson
Mercedes sedan.

Cotton-wood, milk-weed.
The taste of cold metal

and the repetition of three AM
sirening ambulance rides.

Yellow cream, three-tiered
birthday cake.

Cherry lip balm.

Pale blue satin shorts
and matching jacket

with my name embroidered
in hot pink, Cindy.

Poochie, my childhood
beagle, whimpering inside
the locked rooms

of night. A field of black and white
dappled ponies. Blinding,
the silence.

An orange plastic
lighter, and red
gas station

of kerosene.

Copyright © 2022 by Cynthia Cruz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 9, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

The old man cruises our neighborhood
in a 2-tone Chevy built like a fort;
he offers 25 cents to the girls
who’ll come close enough to let him pinch
a cheek—gaze hidden behind dark
glasses, one hand on the wheel,
one eye on the rearview mirror.

Across the street, we dare
each other: you do it; no,
you do it—pulled as much by the glory
of what a whole quarter buys,
by the yearning to be wanted
by someone—we’re just trailer court kids
on a Saturday morning made of asphalt,
shaggy pines and rain. Our mothers
chain smoke Pall Malls inside thin walls,
fathers or stepfathers or mothers’ boyfriends
out hunting work or already drinking.
We’ve all spent nights waiting outside The Mecca
in our parents’ old cars, peering over back seats
into dark windows as if wishing
could erase those light-years of distance.

I am a hungry heart on skinny legs,
standing on the edge of a journey—
no maps, no guides, instincts muddled
by neglect or abandonment or mistake;
naked, letting other people dress me
in trust, shame, lust. I want to say
I will learn how to hide my longing—
that invisible sign scrawled on my forehead
like an SOS revealing my location to the enemy—
but the truth is something more like this:

If there is a patron saint of trailer courts,
if Our Lady of the Single-Wide watches over
potholed streets, crew-cut bullies,
stolen bikes and wildflower ditches, if
children learn to brandish scabs and scars
like medals; if a prayer exists to banish predators—
well, no one taught me that magic.

So I step into that road, cross that street,
take that bribe—and keep walking, out
of that trailer park, away from that childhood.
I follow my hunger, my emptiness, the flame
on my forehead not betrayal but reminder:
it’s not wrong to want, to ask—not wrong—
I keep the beacon lit so love might see me.

Copyright © 2021 by Deborah A. Miranda. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 5, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Strange fall. Trees drop ballots into the yard
without fear of our tampering,
papers flipping along the curb as cars pass by. 
Commiserating with my neighbor about our lives’
missed opportunities, we recall that season 
decades ago when the ripest apples hung like half-punched chads. 
We were children, then. We didn’t even notice
how decorum ferried our parents across their many failures
when they ought to have drowned.
Yesterday, I buried another squirrel.
Every morning, he’d gnaw on my plastic lawn chairs,
shavings accumulating across his tiny organs.
Is his death political? Everything is.
Different, though, those two politics, dying for and dying of.

Copyright © 2023 by J. Estanislao Lopez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 20, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.