everything i do comes down to the fact that i’ve been here before.
in some arrangement of my atoms i was allowed to be free
so don’t ask me when freedom is coming
when a certain eye of mine has seen it,
a cornea in a convoluted future recalls my freedom.
when asked about the absence of freedom, the lack of it
i laugh at the word absence, which always suggests
a presence that has left. but absence is the arena
of death, and we call the dead free (went on to glory), what
is the absence of freedom but an assumption of it?
i have never longed for something
which was not once mine. even fiction is my possession,
and flight is an act of fleeing as much as an act of flying.
Copyright © 2020 by Kara Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 3, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
I’m docked at a lake that
the people don’t attend.
Machete on my hip to
make a devil cough up
blood dust and light.
Hungry for ruins of
an afternoon of anything
wild and willing to stick
its neck through the roof
of the leftover lake. I’m
docked at a lake that ain’t
got no river in a field that
ain’t got no fence under a
sun that ain’t never heard
of mercy. I’m docked at the
edge of an unfortunate dinner
next to a wet knot of Cotton-
mouths too big to see.
Copyright © 2019 by A. H. Jerriod Avant. This poem originally appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2019. Used with permission of the author.
A prison is the only place that’s a prison.
Maybe your brain is a beehive—or, better:
an ants nest? A spin class?
The sand stuck in an hourglass? Your brain is like
stop it. So you practice driving with your knees,
you get all the way out to the complex of Little League fields,
you get chicken fingers with four kinds of mustard—
spicy, whole grain, Dijon, yellow—
you walk from field to field, you watch yourself
play every position, you circle each identical game,
each predictable outcome. On one field you catch.
On one field you pitch. You are center field. You are left.
Sometimes you have steady hands and French braids.
Sometimes you slide too hard into second on purpose.
It feels as good to get the bloody knee as it does to kick yourself in the shin.
You wait for the bottom of the ninth to lay your blanket out in the sun.
Admit it, Sasha, the sun helps. Today,
the red team hits the home run. Red floods every field.
A wasp lands on your thigh. You know this feeling.
Copyright © 2020 by Sasha Debevec-McKenney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 26, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
We knew that things were deteriorating.
Gothic houses collapsing, sharks patrolling the lagoons,
the born-again ministers warning of an immediate conflagration.
All the flights to paradise had been cancelled and even
pinhole cameras weren’t letting light in.
It got to be so bad we didn’t want to listen to the news anymore,
where all we were doing was gawking at someone else’s trouble.
It wasn’t worth the effort. Where was the satisfaction we longed for?
We couldn’t sleep so would spend all night watching the full moon’s
beams cement themselves to the silky water and travel for miles
on the waves. Someone was rowing along the shore,
and in the silver light the evergreens were shaking slightly.
At the edge of the forest the thistles
were attaching themselves to the fur of animals.
What serendipity to hitch a ride to your future.
From How to Start Over (Deerbrook Editions, 2019). Copyright © 2019 by Stuart Kestenbaum. Used with permission of the author.
I’ve lost something and I can’t describe
what it is
and what if that’s my job
to say how empty an absence is
like rolling 2 gears together
and maybe teeth are missing in one
or maybe trying to grind
two stones that are
polished and smoothed
I’ve always liked
a little grit
but sand in my shoes
or in my hair
is like shattering
a glass in carpet
and using a broom to
get it out
I can’t describe
what it’s like to
sit on opposite ends
of a park bench and
not know how
to get any closer
I miss so many things
and I’ve looked through my piggy
bank and only found pennies
a pile of things that are
almost completely worthless
a shoebox full of sporks
a well with a bucket and a rope
that’s too short
sometimes in my room
it’s so dark that if I wake
up I won’t know if it’s morning or night
imagine being someplace you know
so well but are lost and don’t have any idea
how to get out
the rule is, put your right hand out
lay it on the wall, and follow
sometimes the rules don’t apply to all of us
I don’t want to sleep here again tonight
Copyright © 2020 by Kenyatta Rogers . Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 26, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I didn’t want to break my own heart
oh no you didn’t exist as a point on a plane
in a modern philosophy of time my new thing
nope not today in a world where transcendent
incompetence is easy to spot if that’s what you want to see
and efficiency is still the enemy of poetry and of love
oh no you didn’t write poems on forgetting fearsome leave-taking
or crypto-amnesia that act of forgetting to cite fierce attachment
nope today is a day to be free to transcend pedestrian realities
O ethical imperative dire as plagiarism nope
O emotional appropriation not today
one form of redress is if you write me a letter
I will write you back give and take means
no hearts broken if we concede to exist
as a sudden broken thing not fearful enemies of love
we grow fierce as yes transcendence yes
on a plane in the sky or in my mind
no you didn’t forget nor did I nope not today
Copyright © 2019 by Tina Cane. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
When we slid out of the lane.
When my sleeve caught fire.
While we fought in the snow.
While the oncologist spoke.
Before the oil spilled.
Before your retina bled.
Beyond the kids at the curb.
Beyond the turn to the forest.
After the forest turned to ashes.
After you escorted my mother out.
As I led your father in.
As the dolphin swam the derelict canal.
While the cameras filmed it dying.
While the blackout continued.
When the plane dipped.
When the bank closed.
While the water.
While the water.
And we drank it.
Copyright © 2019 by Idra Novey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
What whispers suckle, tugs
spines upright, name god.
a wet breeze, blouse milksoaked
at an infant's cry,
universe ever expanding.
Oh cosmic through line,
teach the weaker sex your
bruising grip. May we find
statements heavy as stones
in throats, stay hands that
push away plates, backs
arched only to provoke
a conclusion. Instead, let
what's clenched uncoil,
pulse under the tongue.
At dawn, we'll rise to tuck
ribs into the smoker's belly.
Copyright © 2018 Luiza Flynn-Goodlett. “Prayer for Appetite” originally appeared in Colorado Review. Used with permission of the author.
rooftopping myself into the arms of the hottest June
Seattle can give I remind myself that I’m a seed
of desert drought my first language other landscaped
languages may thrill but will remain
foreign wearing my body bold I try to stop
myself from giving it
the side-eye when there is no one to witness my slip of a dress and
where my arms stretch into marks lines mapping where
I’m coming from and going I study
my scarred topography roughed bumped skin and fat each line
a curve manifesting me visible I’m reminded
of my adolescent ache for dissipation no whiteness—
I slathered my grainy arms with doctor prescribed chemicals
stayed out of the sun and waited for my skin to peel
an unspooling of
thread into momentary ocean
but between burning and
gathered compliments for my new delicate dermis
this here is always uneasy terrain
a whipped up regret the family nose too thick for desirability
that teenage mirror would not reveal the good side of bone
or fat or the brown of this expanse I call body
each day since is worked reflection a tending to my own geography—
a sharp bloom of prickly spine.
Copyright © 2019 by Casandra López. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
This poem is in the public domain.