I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let's be honest, I like
that they're ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don't you want to believe it?
Don't you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it's going to come in first.

From Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission from Milkweed Editions, milkweed.org.

                     Bolinao, Philippines
 
I am worried about tentacles.
How you can still get stung
even if the jelly arm disconnects
from the bell. My husband
swims without me—farther
out to sea than I would like,
buoyed by salt and rind of kelp.
I am worried if I step too far
into the China Sea, my baby
will slow the beautiful kicks
he has just begun since we landed.
The quickening, they call it, 
but all I am is slow, a moon jelly
floating like a bag in the sea.
Or a whale shark. Yes—I could be
a whale shark, newly spotted
with moles from the pregnancy—
my wide mouth always open
to eat and eat with a look that says
Surprise! Did I eat that much?
When I sleep, I am a flutefish,
just lying there, swaying back
and forth among the kelpy mess
of sheets. You can see the wet
of my dark eye awake, awake. 
My husband is a pale blur 
near the horizon, full of adobo
and not waiting thirty minutes 
before swimming. He is free
and waves at me as he backstrokes
past. This is how he prepares
for fatherhood. Such tenderness
still lingers in the air: the Roman
poet Virgil gave his pet fly
the most lavish funeral, complete
with meat feast and barrels 
of oaky wine. You can never know
where or why you hear
a humming on this soft earth.
 

From Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.m on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org. All rights reserved.

She says New England hoards college girls like cherries in its cheek,
tongue-tying legs to knots, making party tricks out of people.
Says it’s an old currency, wads of tangled stems tumored with
unfinished bows. Says the quick ones learn to curl like ribbon.
The brave ones learn to run with their hands. The pretty ones
knot and knot into rope and callus, none of their blood stays long.
But half butane, half lemon juice, all pit, no skin, us sad ones
are a new fruit. I tell her we should shower more. Eat something
besides black pepper and rum. I tell her darling, the teapot’s
melted to the stove, the mugs chipped in hazardous places,
dropped from scalded hands to blades, stealing lips from our guests.
She reminds me we have no guests here, just the half-dead boys
we’ve specialized in trapping, leggy never-giants too grateful
to run so now cups brimming with sliced mouths, kitchen table
littered with scabs, we pick over the charred parts: thirteen matchheads
sawed from stems with his sharpest key (ours now); half a collarbone,
still warm (ours now); the lightbulb he almost smashed into her throat
when he learned not all flightless soft-bodied girls are fireflies
(ours to shatter in the rooftop shadows just like one of us).
She tells me Paris is all glitter and ash this time of year,
red-velvet gloved and scowled. Tells me Cape Town paves its streets with wings
that shimmy for stray coins. Says she’s got a naked man waiting
in Havana and his neighbor owes her seven cigarettes.
She’s been studying plate tectonics. Whispering spells for Pangaea.
Lighting candles for the Great Rift Valley with bootleg magma
from Kilimanjaro. Branding Himalayas to her calves’
Appalachia. Speed testing smoke signals hitched to waves.
She asks me the difference between arson and wildfire.
I say arson is chain-smoking with her Tinder wax doll collection.
Wildfire misusing match blaze as daylight. Should have said
the difference depends on what’s burning. Should have said
we have such old bones for such new people, more cinder than marrow.
We feel safe in all the wrong places, most at home in flames.

Copyright © by Kemi Alabi. This poem originally appeared in The Rumpus, August 2019. Used with permission of the author.
 

Palm-sized and fledgling, a beak
protruding from the sleeve, I
have kept my birds muted
for so long, I fear they’ve grown
accustom to a grim quietude.
What chaos could ensue
should a wing get loose?
Come overdue burst, come
flock, swarm, talon, and claw.
Scatter the coop’s roost, free
the cygnet and its shadow. Crack
and scratch at the state’s cage,
cut through cloud and branch,
no matter the dumb hourglass’s
white sand yawning grain by grain.
What cannot be contained
cannot be contained.

Copyright © 2020 Ada Limón. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.

           [Elvira H. D., 1924–2019]

 

You love a red lip. The dimples are
extra currency, though you take care to keep
powder from caking those charmed valleys.
Mascara: check. Blush? Oh, yes.

And a hat is never wrong
except evenings in the clubs: there
a deeper ruby and smoldering eye

will do the trick, with tiny embellishments—
a ribbon or jewel, perhaps a flower—
if one is feeling especially flirty or sad.

 

Until Rosie fired up her rivets, flaunting
was a male prerogative; now, you and your girls
have lacquered up and pinned on your tailfeathers,
fit to sally forth and trample each plopped heart
quivering at the tips of your patent-leather

Mary Janes. This is the only power you hold onto,
ripped from the dreams none of you believe

are worth the telling. Instead of mumbling,
why not decorate? Even in dim light

how you glister, sloe-eyed, your smile in flames.

Copyright © 2020 Rita Dove. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative, and appeared in the Spring-Summer 2020 issue of American Poets

The universe breathed through my mouth
when I read the first chapter of patience.
I held the book away from my body
when the illustrations became life-like:

the kite flew over the grass, a child tumbled
down a hill and landed at the mouth of neon waters.
The fox curled into itself under the tree
and an eagle parted the sky like the last curtains.

I found myself wandering the forest, revising
the stories as I worked the heavens.
I lived inside the candied house
and hung the doors with sweetness.

I devoured the windows and I was greedy.
With all this sugar, I still felt trapped.
I sought to change the moral
so I filled my baskets daily with strawberry,

thorn, and vine, piled my home
with pastries and the charge of regret.
I placed those regrets inside the oven
and watched the pie rise. I wanted

everything in the pie and yearned
all the discarded ingredients.
I kept myself in the kitchen for years.
Everything up in smoke and yet my apron

was pristine, my hair done just right.
You can say it was perfection, a vision
from the past, waving a whisk through a bowl
as if it were a pitchfork. When I left the house

made of confection, that’s when I began to live,
for everything I gave up was in that house.
I remember you there. Your fingerprints vaguely
visible in the layer of flour on the table.

Copyright © 2020 Tina Chang. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.

Cord or twine used to bind 
or cover a rope, keep the ends
from fraying.
To begin, 

place a hand 
on your daughter’s shoulders.
Tell her fifth grade is 
a bloodletting.

Show her your own path
of hard turns taken
before you were hauled taut
and loosed into motherhood.

Say, this knot 
is a folded note. 
This knot is a map

back to me. Lay out a rope.
Tell her to gather each end.
Say stitch them tight
or burn them down.

Copyright © 2023 by K. D. Harryman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 12, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

Floating above the gynecologist’s hands,
Dolor looks down at me
with her many expressions.

Someone sketched the eyes, the mouths,
someone pinned them up,
arranged the faces

so they softly say, like this? like this?
The doctor says to choose one,
but I’m no fool, I close my eyes

and the speculum is blind and cool,
widened and distracting.
Like the Chikyū vessel drilling

downhole from the ocean floor
into the untouched mantle,
it shows we’re scarred inside

by what years and use and trespass do.
Every day the women open their eyes
and follow me into the streets,

the cities, like a wind murmur begins
a rumor of waves, the faces of earth
saying let this pain be error upon me writ.

From Human Hours. Copyright © 2018 by Catherine Barnett. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press.

chucking rocks at the wasps’ nest,
their gathered hum then sudden sting
at the nape of my neck. Oh, how I paid—
still pay—for the recklessness
of boys. Little Bretts. Little Jeffs.
Little knives to my breast. 
How lucky they were to never 
be held down, to never see
their voices crawl the air like fire!

How desperately I yearned to be them,
to storm the halls in macho gospel:
matching blue jackets, blood-filled
posture and made-you-flinch. 
How different would I be, 
how much bigger, if I had been
given room enough to be 
a country's golden terror? 

Copyright © 2020 by Rachel McKibbens. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

1. 	It bejins in Berlin
	
	A Historical Case
	Study 
	In Disappearance + Cultural Theft:
	Exhibit YZ:

	Brinj back to me Nefertiti 
      Her 
	Bust

Take her
From behind 
	the vitrine 
	
	For I know where to find her missinj eye
	
	Then put a woman in charje of all antiquities. 
	She-law: just because somethinj is beautiful 
	doesnt mean it was meant to be consumed; just because there are
 	tourists doesnt make it an attraction. 

2. 	everywhere anytxme atm her
	vxolatxon: guaranteed.  sxlence bought             or your settlement
 	money back. objectxfactxon xn the mxrror xs closer than xt appears.
	please mxnd the wage gap. cautxon: not chxld resxstant to open hold 	
	down 	and turn away squee geez use daxly, mornxng, and nxght
 	supported by an aroma of certified organxc heavens:

	for every gxrl who grows 
	xnto a woman
	who knows
	the best threat’s: 
	one she never 
	has to make
	
	she sublxmates your sublxmxnal
	even your affectxon has been xnfected


3. this poem cant go on without hex i mean 
	hex 
	heeee x
	hex
hex and hex
		hex 		hej heq hez hex

she was stolen bought sold lost put undex buxied alive at bixth she was dxagged in blue bxa duxing a xevolution with vixginity tests she waits then she doesnt she sh sh sh shh she left you she the best thing that happened to you then she lilililililiiii she intifada she moves with two kinds of gxace she ups the ante aging by candid defiant elegance she foxgets but nevex foxgives 

She-language complex 
she complex she so complex she complex got complex complex

4. she spends her time anxious because she knows she is better than 
you rang to say she died from being tired of your everything she knows she is fiyne; gorgeous but she hates it when she infuriates and when she jigs and is kind she minds her own business except when she is new and nervous though she is origin previous and impervious she wont stay quiet she is razor sharp and super tired she undarks, vets, wanes, and xeroxes; yaks and zzzzs the day she dreams 

5. Me tooa B  Me toob Me tooc R  Me tood Me tooe I  Me toof N  Me toog G  

Me tooh                 them 

Me tooi B  Me tooj A  Me took C Me tool K  Mem too Men too Me tooo 

Meep 

too                 Meq too 

Mer too Me too Me too Meu too Mev too Mew too Mex too Mey too Mez too 

            Me     ((too)) Me                               ((((((((((((too))))))))))))

Copyright © 2018 by Marwa Helal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

if there is a river
more beautiful than this
bright as the blood
red edge of the moon          if
 
there is a river
more faithful than this
returning each month
to the same delta             if there
 
is a river
braver than this
coming and coming in a surge
of passion, of pain         if there is
 
a river
more ancient than this
daughter of eve
mother of cain and of abel          if there is in
 
the universe such a river          if
there is some where water
more powerful than this wild
water
pray that it flows also
through animals
beautiful and faithful and ancient
and female and brave

Lucille Clifton, "poem in praise of menstruation" from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

He will surely take it out when you’re alone

And let it dangle between you like a locket on a chain.

Like any world, it will flicker with lights that mean dwellings,

Traffic, a constellation of need. Tiny clouds will drag shadows

Across the plane. He’ll grin watching you squint, deciphering

Rivers, borders, bridges arcing up from rock. He’ll recite

Its history. How one empire swallowed another. How one

Civilization lasted 3,000 years with no word for eternity.

He’ll guide your hand through the layers of atmosphere,

Teach you to tamper with the weather. Swinging it

Gently back and forth, he’ll swear he’s never shown it

To anyone else before.

From Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.

          which do you love more
a feather or a rock

                                                     to be good is to be ‘natural’
                                                              I mean to appear

              you are not good
you are holding up though

                                                              you are holding up
                                                     you are getting a drink of water

                    you are eating
          you are concealing your identities

                                                     this is like a riotous wilderness
                                                              but more like a persistent dread

                              your ferocity, almost mycological

                                           mythological

                    I said mycological

                                                     oh god

	                    oh my god
                                         
                                                     your laughter has undertones
                                                                      of oak and berries
and martial law
            conceived, as it were, in a garden

Copyright © 2018 by Ellen Welcker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it—

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?—

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot—
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.

It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

'A miracle!'
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart—
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there--

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

23-29 October 1962

From The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Used with permission.

Before this day I loved
like an animal loves a human,
 
with no way to articulate
how my bones felt in bed
 
or how a telephone felt so strange
in my paw. O papa—
 
I called out to no one—
but no one understood. I didn’t
 
even. I wanted to be caught. Like
let me walk beside you on my favorite leash,
 
let my hair grow long and wild
so you can comb it in the off-hours,
 
be tender to me. Also let me eat
the meals you do not finish 	
 
so I can acclimate, climb into
the way you claim this world.
 
Once, I followed married men:
eager for shelter, my fur
 
curled, my lust
freshly showered.
 
I called out, Grief.
They heard, Beauty.                      	
 
I called out, Why?
They said, Because I can and will.
 
One smile could sustain me for a week.
I was that hungry. Lithe and giddy,        	
 
my skin carried the ether of a so-so
self-esteem. I felt fine. I was
 
fine, but I was also looking
for scraps; I wanted them all to pet me.
 
You think because I am a woman,
I cannot call myself a dog?
 
Look at my sweet canine mind,
my long, black tongue. I know
 
what I’m doing. When you’re with
the wrong person, you start barking.
 
But with you, I am looking out
this car window with a heightened sense
 
I’ve always owned. Oh every animal
knows when something is wrong.
 
Of this sweet, tender feeling, I was wrong,
and I was right, and I was wrong.

Copyright © 2018 by Analicia Sotelo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

As a girl I held the hind
legs of the small and terrified, wanted
the short-fur and the wet meat furrowing.

Wanted the soft cry of the quavering
boy at primary school, rockstone

mashed up against his tender head,
the sick milk of us poor ones sucked
clean from a Government-issued plastic bag.

At lunchtime children were lethal
and precise, a horde hurling “Ben-foot”
at she who was helpless and I

waking too-surprised to hear my own
cruel mouth taunting. Her smile some
handsome forgery of myself.

Grateful, even now,
they cannot see the bald-wire
patois of my shamdom—

Makeshift, dreaming the warmth
spent in the muscle of the living,
the girl I grew inside my head dreaming

of a real girl, dreaming.
I wanted a pearled purse so I stole it.
I wanted a real friend so I let him. Let her.

Let him. Let him. Let him.

This beauty I am eager to hoard
comes slippery on ordinary days,

comes not at all, comes never.

Yet I am a pure shelled-thing. Glistening
manmade against the wall where one
then two fingers entered

the first time,
terror dazzling the uncertainty
of pleasure. Its God as real as girlhood. 

Copyright © 2020 by Safiya Sinclair. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

If I were a woman. If I were a wanted woman. If I were a woman with soft fingers. If I were on a beach with a man—if he was a man, if a man can be a man before he acts like a man. If I were on a beach with a man and he held my hand. If I liked my hand being held, even if it was held at the wrong angle. If my wrist was wringing in pain but I kept it there. If my heart were held wrong, like my hand. If I kept it there. If I was kept. If I was kept in pain. If I were pain. If I were a woman—if I were a woman before I was a woman. If I were a woman who knew her body like a woman knows her body. If a woman knew. If I knew. If I were on a beach with that man—if, this time, that man dissolved into sand. If the sand became hot under my feet but my feet were gold. If a woman were made of sun. If I were made of sun. If I burned the world around me until it shone beautiful and brown. If this burning was called healing. If the healing made light.

Copyright © 2021 by Ashley M. Jones. From REPARATIONS NOW! (Hub City Press, 2021). Used with permission of the author.