I choose Rhythm,
the beginning as motion,
black Funk shaping itself
in the time before time,
dark, glorious and nimble as a sperm
sparkling its way into the greatest of grooves,
conjuring worlds from dust and storm and primordial soup.

I accept the Funk as my holy savior,
Funk so high you can’t get over it,
so wide you can’t get around it,
ubiquitous Funk that envelopes all creatures great and small,
quickens nerve endings and the white-hot
hearts of stars.

I believe in Rhythm rippling each feather on a sparrow’s back
and glittering in every grain of sand,
I am faithful to Funk as irresistible twitch, heart skip
and backbone slip,
the whole Funk and nothing but the Funk
sliding electrically into exuberant noise.
I hear the cosmos swinging
in the startled whines of newborns,
the husky blare of tenor horns,
lambs bleating and lions roaring,
a fanfare of tambourines and glory.

This is what I know:
Rhythm resounds as a blessing of the body,
the wonder and hurt of being:
the wet delight of a tongue on a thigh
fear inching icily along a spine
the sudden surging urge to holler
the twinge that tells your knees it’s going to rain
the throb of centuries behind and before us

I embrace Rhythm as color and chorus,
the bright orange bloom of connection,
the mahogany lure of succulent loins
the black-and-tan rhapsody of our clasping hands.

I whirl to the beat of the omnipotent Hum;
diastole, systole, automatic,
borderless. Bigger and bigger still:
Bigger than love,
Bigger than desire or adoration.
Bigger than begging and contemplation.
Bigger than wailing and chanting and the slit throats of roosters.
For which praise is useless.
For which gratitude might as well be whispered.
For which motion is meaning enough.

Funk lives in us, begetting light as bright as music
unfolding into dear lovely day
and bushes ablaze in
Rhythm. Until it begins again.

Copyright © 2020 by Jabari Asim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 6, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I ask a student how I can help her. Nothing is on her paper.
It’s been that way for thirty-five minutes. She has a headache. 
She asks to leave early. Maybe I asked the wrong question. 
I’ve always been dumb with questions. When I hurt, 
I too have a hard time accepting advice or gentleness.
I owe for an education that hurt, and collectors call my mama’s house. 
I do nothing about my unpaid bills as if that will help. 
I do nothing about the mold on my ceiling, and it spreads. 
I do nothing about the cat’s litter box, and she pisses on my new bath mat. 
Nothing isn’t an absence. Silence isn’t nothing. I told a woman I loved her, 
and she never talked to me again. I told my mama a man hurt me,
and her hard silence told me to keep my story to myself. 
Nothing is full of something, a mass that grows where you cut at it. 
I’ve lost three aunts when white doctors told them the thing they felt 
was nothing. My aunt said nothing when it clawed at her breathing.
I sat in a room while it killed her. I am afraid when nothing keeps me 
in bed for days. I imagine what my beautiful aunts are becoming 
underground, and I cry for them in my sleep where no one can see. 
Nothing is in my bedroom, but I smell my aunt’s perfume 
and wake to my name called from nowhere. I never looked 
into a sky and said it was empty. Maybe that’s why I imagine a god 
up there to fill what seems unimaginable. Some days, I want to live 
inside the words more than my own black body. 
When the white man shoves me so that he can get on the bus first, 
when he says I am nothing but fits it inside a word, and no one stops him, 
I wear a bruise in the morning where he touched me before I was born. 
My mama’s shame spreads inside me. I’ve heard her say 
there was nothing in a grocery store she could afford. I’ve heard her tell 
the landlord she had nothing to her name. There was nothing I could do 
for the young black woman that disappeared on her way to campus. 
They found her purse and her phone, but nothing led them to her. 
Nobody was there to hold Renisha McBride’s hand 
when she was scared of dying. I worry poems are nothing against it. 
My mama said that if I became a poet or a teacher, I’d make nothing, but 
I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I aimed 
for a window. One student says when he writes, it feels 
like nothing can stop him, and his laughter unlocks a door. He invites me 
into his living.

Copyright © 2020 by Krysten Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I am hovering over this rug
with a hair dryer on high in my hand
I have finally, inevitably, spilled
red wine on this impractically white
housewarming hand-me-down from my cousin, who
clearly, and incorrectly, thought this was a good idea

With the help of a little panic,
sparkling water and a washcloth,
I am stunned by how quickly the wine washes out,
how I was sure this mistake would find me
every day with its gaping mouth, reminding me
of my own propensity for failure
and yet, here I am
with this clean slate

The rug is made of fur,
which means it died
to be here

It reminds me of my own survival
and everyone who has taught me
to shake loose the shadow of death

I think of inheritance, how this rug
was passed on to me through blood,
how this animal gave its blood
so that I may receive the gift of its death
and be grateful for it

I think of our inability
to control stories of origin
how history does not wash away
with water and a good scrub 

I think of evolution,
what it means to make it through
this world with your skin intact,
how flesh is fragile
but makes a needle and thread
of itself when necessary

I think of all that I have inherited,
all the bodies buried for me to be here
and stay here, how I was born with grief
and gratitude in my bones

And I think of legacy,
how I come from a long line of sorcerers
who make good work of building
joy from absolutely nothing

And what can I do with that
but pour another glass,
thank the stars
for this sorceress blood
and keep pressing forward

Copyright © 2020 by L. Ash Williams. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

It’s a long way the sea-winds blow
    Over the sea-plains blue,—
But longer far has my heart to go
    Before its dreams come true.

It’s work we must, and love we must,
    And do the best we may,
And take the hope of dreams in trust
    To keep us day by day.

It’s a long way the sea-winds blow—
    But somewhere lies a shore—
Thus down the tide of Time shall flow
    My dreams forevermore.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated from Vietnamese by the author

The dead don't let us go, I say to my friend Sirius, putting my father's letters in a drawer. It is the plight of Mezentius that I endure, attached to a dead man, hand in hand, mouth in mouth, in a sad embrace. The letters stopped arriving from the country of my childhood. The man who wrote them died a solitary death and was buried at the edge of a stream. But he is there, his skin touches my skin, my breath gives life to his lips. He is there, I say to Sirius, when I speak to you, when I eat, when I sleep, when I take a walk. It seems to me that I am dead, whereas my father, the dead man who refuses to leave me in peace, overflows with life. He possesses me, sucks my blood, gnaws my bones, feeds on my thoughts. 1

 

“Die fresh. Die withered.
Die sore. Die throbbing.
Die hard.  Die standing up.
Die lying down. Die
nightwise. Die more. Die
horrified. Die gradual. Die
corroding. Die squashed.
Die choking. Die fainting.
Die everything. Die all.
Die falling. Die swooning.
Die tense. Die loose. Die
now. Die spinning. Die
quashed. Die quelled. Die
rotting. Die crushed. Die
everyone. Die clean. Die
raw. Die bruised. Die
sitting. Die morningwise.
Die afternoonwise. Die
departing. Die undoing.”2
 

In the last letter, the dying man taught me a lesson of 36 deadly tricks. He called them the 36 documentations of secret agencies, 36 spells of horror, 36 faces of vanity, 36 tactics of being deadly, 36 stratagems of dying. All night long, I chant his weird song over and over like a crazy heart. Dripping drops of time, the tune flies far from the propaganda of a human life. When Sirius asks why I keep murmuring the lines, I say, It helps me learn my fathertongue, glide into my childhood siesta, melt into my red hot girdle of earth. The letters of the dead burn me, urge me to speak to them, speak them, have them speak me, even in my sleep. Every dream is a chamber where the language drills, like vital winds, hum me anew, blowing me closer to the waters where my father lies. Every night he still sleeptalks his fatal rhythm through my broken tongue.

1 Linda Lê, Thư Chết, trans. Bùi Thu Thuỷ (Hà Nội: NXB Văn Học, Nhã Nam, 2013), 7.
2 Trần Dần, Những Ngã Tư và Những Cột Đèn (Hà Nội: NXB Hội Nhà Văn, Nhã Nam, 2017), 259.

 

Chant Chữ Chết

Người chết không buông tha chúng ta, tôi vừa nói với anh bạn Sirius vừa xếp những lá thư của cha tôi vào ngăn kéo. Đó là nhục hình Mézence mà tôi phải chịu, tức là bị buộc vào một người chết, tay áp tay, miệng kề miệng, trong một nụ hôn buồn. Những lá thư đã ngừng đến từ đất nước của tuổi thơ tôi. Người viết thư đã chết, một cái chết cô đơn, và được chôn bên bờ nước. Nhưng người vẫn đây, da người chạm da tôi, hơi thở tôi thổi sống làn môi ấy. Tôi bảo Sirius, Người ở đây này, khi tôi đang nói chuyện với anh, khi tôi ăn, khi tôi ngủ, khi tôi dạo chơi. Dường như tôi mới chính là người chết, còn cha tôi, người chết không để tôi yên ấy, lại đang ngập tràn sự sống. Người ám tôi, hút máu tôi, gặm xương tôi, ngốn suy nghĩ tôi. 1

“Chết tươi. Chết
héo. Chết đau.
Chết điếng. Chết
cứng. Chêt đứng.
Chết nằm. Chết
đêm. Chết thêm.
Chết khiếp. Chết
dần. Chết mòn.
Chết toi. Chết
ngóp. Chết ngất.
Chết tất. Chết cả.
Chết lử. Chết lả.
Chết đứ. Chết đừ.
Chết ngay. Chết
quay. Chết ngỏm.
Chết ngoẻo. Chết
thối. Chết nát.
Chết hết. Chết
sạch. Chết tái.
Chết tím. Chết
ngồi. Chết sáng.
Chết chiều. Chết
bỏ. Chết dở.”2

 

Trong thư cuối, người dạy tôi tổng cộng 36 kế chết người. Người dặn đây là 36 tài liệu công tác nguỵ quân nguỵ quyền, 36 phép rùng rợn, 36 vẻ phù hoa, 36 món chết người, 36 món chết. Suốt đêm, tôi niệm bài ca quỷ ám của người, tụng đi tụng lại như một trái tim điên. Chảy ròng những giọt đồng hồ, giai điệu người bay xa kiếp giáo lý. Khi Sirius hỏi sao tôi cứ lẩm nhẩm lời người, tôi đáp, Để tôi học tiếng cha tôi, dạt vào giấc trưa tuổi thơ tôi, tan vào đất đỏ nhiệt đới tôi. Chữ người chết nung tôi, thúc tôi nói với họ, nói họ, rồi họ nói tôi, cả khi tôi ngủ. Mỗi giấc mơ là một căn phòng nơi những bài luyện chữ, như gió thổi, ngân tôi, tái thiết tôi, mang tôi cận kề con nước nơi cha tôi nằm. Hằng đêm người vẫn nói mớ một thứ phách nhịp chết người thấm xuyên lưỡi vỡ tôi.

1 Linda Lê, Thư Chết, Bùi Thu Thuỷ dịch (Hà Nội: NXB Văn Học, Nhã Nam, 2013), 7.
2 Trần Dần, Những Ngã Tư và Những Cột Đèn (Hà Nội: NXB Hội Nhà Văn, Nhã Nam, 2017), 259.

© 2020 Quyên Nguyễn-Hoàng. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) on September 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Idra Novey

On a dirt road

On a drive to el campo

You found a batey

I cut the cane 

We sucked on a stalk

You gave me your arms 

I swam in the river

We locked the door 

Then the lights went out 

And the radio played 

You fingered the pesos 

I walked to the beach

We fried the fish 

You ate the mango  

I jumped in the water

We bought the flowers

Then the migrants came

And you bartered for more 

Then the sirens blared

And they were carried away

But we didn’t stop them 

Then the ocean swept

And the palm trees sagged

They were foreigners

We were foreigners  

And we lived there

Copyright © 2020 by Jasminne Mendez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 15, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

for Paul Otremba

Six in all, to be exact. I know it was a Tuesday 
     or Wednesday because the museum closes early
on those days. I almost wrote something 

     about the light being late—; the “late light”
is what I almost said, and you know how we 
     poets go on and on about the light and 

the wind and the dark, but that day the dark was still 
     far away swimming in the Pacific, and we had 
45 minutes to find Goya’s “Still Life with Bream” 

     before the doors closed. I’ve now forgotten 
three times the word Golden in the title of that painting
     —and I wish I could ask what you think 

that means. I see that color most often 
     these days when the cold, wet light of morning 
soaks my son’s curls and his already light 

     brown hair takes on the flash of fish fins
in moonlight. I read somewhere 
     that Goya never titled this painting, 

or the other eleven still lifes, so it’s just 
     as well because I like the Spanish title better.  
“Doradas” is simple, doesn’t point 

     out the obvious. Lately, I’ve been saying 
dorado so often in the song I sing 
     to my son, “O sol, sol, dorado sol 

no te escondes...” I felt lost 
     that day in the museum, but you knew 
where we were going having been there 

     so many times. The canvas was so small 
at 17 x 24 inches. I stood before it 
     lost in its beach of green sand and 

that silver surf cut with pink. 
     I stared while you circled the room 
like a curious cat. I took a step back, 

     and then with your hands in your pockets 
you said, No matter where we stand, 
     there’s always one fish staring at us.

As a new father, I am now that pyramid 
     of fish; my body is all eyes and eyes. 
Some of them watch for you in the west 

where the lion sun yawns and shakes off 
     its sleep before it purrs, and hungry, 
dives deep in the deep of the deep.

Copyright © 2020 by Tomás Q. Morín. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Wisława Szymborska

In my dreams,
I lasso a wild steer on the first try.

I chauffeur Picasso
To meet up with Dali—
None of us is happy about this summit.

After licking my fingertips,
I play guitar masterfully.

I use index cards to make sense
Of the universe.

I discover my childhood cat in the neighbor’s tree—
So that’s where you’ve been, you little rascal.

I beg the alligator, por favor,
To make a snap judgement,
Will it be my leg or my arm?

Picture me swimming with dolphins.
Picture me with these dolphins
Sitting in lawn chairs.

I’m full of gratitude—
The lightbulb comes on
When the refrigerator door is opened.

Yes, I’m the scientist who solved laryngitis—
Now all of us howl at our own pleasure.

I get to throw a trophy from a moving car.
When I park my car,
I’m awarded another trophy—
Someone above is giving me a second chance.

Copyright © 2020 by Gary Soto. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

It’s true that I’m im-
patient under affliction. So?
Most of what the dead can

do is difficult to carry. As for
gender I can’t explain it
any more than a poem: there

was an instinct, I followed
it. A song. A bell. I saw
deer tracks in the snow. Little

split hearts beckoned me
across the lawn. My body
bucked me, fond of me.

Here is how you bear this flourish.
Bud, I’m buckling to blossoms now.

Copyright © 2020 by Oliver Baez Bendorf. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The corpses weigh nothing, nearly nothing, even your breath
is breeze enough to scatter them

We steamed them in tupperware with a damp sponge
then we tweezed the stiff wings open

The wing colors would brush off if you touched them

3,000 butterflies raised and gassed
and shipped to Evolution, the store in New York
rented by an artist hired to design a restaurant

He wanted to paper the walls with butterflies

Each came folded in its own translucent envelope

We tweezed them open, pinned them into rows
on styrofoam flats we stacked in towers in the narrow
hallway leading to the bathroom

Evolution called itself a natural history store

It sold preserved birds, lizards, scorpions in lucite, bobcat
with the eyes dug out and glass ones fitted, head turned

Also more affordable bits like teeth
and peacock feathers, by the register
a dish of raccoon penis bones

This was on Spring

The sidewalks swarmed with bare-armed people
there to see the city

You could buy your own name in calligraphy
or written on a grain of rice
by someone at a folding table

Souvenir portraits of taxis and the Brooklyn Bridge
lined up on blankets laid over the pavement

The artist we were pinning for had gotten famous
being first to put a dead shark in a gallery

For several million dollars each he sold what he described 
as happy pictures which were rainbow dots assistants painted 
on white canvases

I remember actually thinking his art confronted death,
that’s how young I was

We were paid per butterfly

The way we sat, I saw the backs
of the other pinners’ heads more than their faces

One’s braids the color of wine, one’s puffy headphones, feather cut
and slim neck rising from a scissored collar, that one
bought a raccoon penis bone on lunch break

Mostly we didn’t speak

Another life glimpsed in a detail mentioned, leaving or arriving 

She lived with a carpenter who fixed her lunches

Come fall I’d be in college

I smelled the corpses on my fingers when I took my smoke break
leaning against a warm brick wall facing the smooth white headless
mannequins in thousand-dollar shift dresses

The deli next door advertised organic toast and raisins on the vine

Mornings, I tried to learn from eyeliner
and shimmer on faces near mine on the train

Warm fogged imprint on a metal pole
where someone’s grip evaporated

Everyone looking down when someone walked through 
asking for help

At Evolution, talk radio played all day

A cool voice giving hourly updates
on the bombing of another city which it called
the conflict

The pinner in headphones sometimes hummed
or started a breathy lyric

“Selfish girl—”

I watched my tweezers guide the poisonous exquisite
blue of morpho wings

Their legs like jointed eyelashes

False eyes on the grayling wingtips
to protect the true face

The monarch’s wings like fire
pouring through a lattice

Copyright © 2020 by Margaret Ross. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Like, the last thing I said to you was let’s buy a duplex,
like, you live on your side & I’ll live on my side &
you’ll rise when you rise & I’ll rise when I rise &
I said something like, let’s divide these hurts & regrets
& you get a stack & I get a stack & you walk a block
& I walk a block & you get a poodle & I get a pug
& you stub a toe & I twist an ankle & you get
a wheelbarrow & I get chickens glazed with rain
& you interrupt & I intercept & you call
the Congressman & I call the Mayor & you blow
a trumpet & I smash a tuba or maybe seal off all sound 

sheltering the shuddering of the heart compressed

the high-pitched operas of trolley wheels breaking
at the edge of midnight where magnolias
shelter the stoplights & left-footed lovers, drunk 
on beignets & champagne-kisses & maybe struck
by the distant drift of a giant
sea turtle floating toward a green wave
in a tacky, overpriced painting
& somehow they’re safe, the couple is safe
& there’s no parade stilts that will break, no stars
that will bend, there’s just an orchid
tucked behind an ear & hours blurred together

& I said something

like

& you said—

& I said—

Remember?

Copyright © 2020 by Yona Harvey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The shrieks of children
tumbling in the roaring body of the ocean
                 is glee.
But fill me with dread—glee? the ocean? children?
And the hysterical 
           wisteria. That frantic and purple
                      emissary of the encroaching jungle. 
I think the jungle will win, wind—in the end—its tensile vines
around the throats and raised swords of sun scorched monuments,
collapse the flag poles and balustrades, whatever stakes
           are planted there, will charge
the volition of its green abundance, wild against the wild
                     volition of the frothing ocean. Marry it. What children
will march in that conjugal procession with crowns of kelp
                                             and frantic purple flowers?

Copyright © 2020 by Genya Turovskaya. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

O Hope! into my darkened life
    Thou hast so oft’ descended;
My helpless head from failure’s blows,
    Thou also hast defended;
When circumstances hard, and mean,
    Which I could not control,
Did make me bow my head with shame,
    Thou comforted my soul. 

When stumbling blocks lay all around,
    And when my steps did falter,
Then did thy sacred fires burn
    Upon my soul’s high altar.
Oft’ was my very blackest night
    Scarce darker than my day,
But thou dispelled those clouds of doubt,
    And cheered my lonely way.

E’en when I saw my friends forsake, 
    And leave me for another,
Then thou, O Hope, didst cling to me
    Still closer than a brother;
Thus with thee near I groped my way
    Through that long, gloomy night
Till now; yes, as I speak, behold, 
    I see the light! the light!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 24, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

When your joys are of the sweetest
    And your heart is light and free; 
When your griefs are skimming fleetest, 
    Love, one moment think of me. 

I’d not ask you to remember 
    Me when life is dull and drear;
When your hopes are but an ember
    From a cold and vanished year; 

Sorrow’s far too bleak a burden
    To retain in mem’ry’s hall. 

Friendship has no greater guerdon
    Than to happiness recall. 

So, when roses scent the twilight
    Air with ling’ring dew damp breath, 

Please remember me as eye-bright
    Faith remembers until death.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 31, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

The internal organs were growling
According to them
They did all of the work while
Skin got all of the attention
He’s an organ just like us
They groused
Even the heart, which, a
Century ago, was the Queen
Of metaphors, but now
Was reduced to the greetings
Cards section of CVS,
Chimed in

They decided to call skin
On the carpet.
Skin arrived from Cannes
Where he’d been the subject
Of much fuss as actresses
Fed him luxurious skin
Food prepared by Max Factor
Estée Lauder, L’Oreal,
And Chanel
They
Caressed him daily
Sometimes for hours before
They made the red carpet
Shine

He was petted
And preened

Others
Pleaded with him
To erase wrinkles to
Make them look younger
To tighten their chins

Skin tried to appease the
Critics, greeting them with
His familiar “give me some skin”
But his gesture went unheeded

Brain did all the talking
Brain said, “Here’s the skinny
Why do you get
All of the press
Your color
Your texture discussed
Endlessly
Nicole Kidman never

Did an ad about us

Cole Porter never
Wrote a song about us
Nor were we mentioned
In a Thornton Wilder novel
You’ve given us no
Skin in the game”

“What about the nasty
Things they say about
Me,” skin replied
“What about skin deep
For superficiality
Or
Skin trade
To denote something
Unsavory

How would you
Like acne rashes
Eczema

Boils
Pellagra
Leprosy
And
Conditions
That astonish
Even dermatologists

I wear my blemishes
In public while you guys
Hide yours”

“Without me and heart
You’d be nothing,” the brain said
“That’s not true,” protested
The liver, “without me he’d
Be nothing”
“No,” the kidney said
“It’s me who keeps the
Body functioning”
The bladder and
The kidney began
To quarrel with
Gallbladder
The lung twins spoke
Up
“Without us
He couldn’t breathe”
Even the esophagus
And the thyroid
And the pancreas
Joined the outbreak
“What about us?”

The eyes said
“Without eyes you
Can’t see”

Their squabble distracted
Them
When they looked
Up from their dust up
Skin’s
Helicopter was up
He was scheduled to
Address a convention of
Plastic surgeons at
The Beverly Hills
Hotel
Escaping by the skin
Of his teeth
His opponents gave
Chase
But above the roar
Of the chopper
They heard him say
“Don’t worry fellas
I got you covered”

Copyright © 2021 by Ishmael Reed. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 26, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

found language from Brideshead Revisited

When I was seventeen,
ecstasy disguised itself as vice:
juicy, offensive, and easy—

pretty things want to get rough.
an impertinent affair of the heart & more than the heart,
when I was seventeen. 

Tipsy virgins viced their pimples
when I was seventeen,
and transformed pretty things to indecisive cornsilk. 

When I was seventeen I said
I give up, finding no keener pleasure than a dear
or unnatural boys in ecstasy.

My partner, the obscure other,
was very naughty and kind
insatiable as our affairs, 

so I gave up and let myself be offensive—
a juicy piece of impertinence 
when I was seventeen,

wearing coloured tails obscured
by poppies, hearts, and deers:
no thing could give me keener pleasure.

Come back! I’ll be keenly offensive!
whispered, when I was seventeen
and transformed the popping juice of pleasure.

With meaty boys, a juicy little piece 
of vice, when I was seventeen.
And with others? Pleasure. Hullabaloo. Ecstasy. 

The heart’s juicy poppy,
its rough pimples, its kindness—blasphemous.
I gave up more than my heart.

Copyright © 2021 by Cyrée Jarelle Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 3, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Sunshine and shadow play amid the trees
In bosky groves, while from the vivid sky
The sun’s gold arrows fleck the fields at noon,
      Where weary cattle to their slumber hie.
How sweet the music of the purling rill,
Trickling adown the grassy hill!
While dreamy fancies come to give repose
When the first star of evening glows.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 3, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

i always thought sound was meant to indicate a kinda genuine, authentic, absolute individuation, which struck me as A: undesirable—& B: damn near impossible. whereas sound was reality in the midst of this intense engagement with all the sound you ever heard. sound shaped within a climate inciting performance as black matter .or. anti matter, as in against. sound a central body of “sonic” whereas you struggle to make a difference, so to speak, within that sound—& that difference isn’t necessarily about you as an individual but more simply trying to augment & differentiate the sound around you getting closer & closer to a never-ending where you are the proletariat in somebody else’s melodrama as both spectacle and spectator—as the drama unfolds—hold—hold on.

Copyright © 2021 by Randall Horton. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 12, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I have made grief a gorgeous, queenly thing,
And worn my melancholy with an air.
My tears were big as stars to deck my hair,
My silence stunning as a sapphire ring.
Oh, more than any light the dark could fling
A glamour over me to make me rare,
Better than any color I could wear
The pearly grandeur that the shadows bring.
What is there left to joy for such as I?
What throne can dawn upraise for me who found
The dusk so royal and so rich a one?
Laughter will whirl and whistle on the sky—
Far from this riot I shall stand uncrowned,
Disrobed, bereft, an outcast in the sun.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

No servile little fear shall daunt my will
  This morning, I have courage steeled to say
I will be lazy, conqueringly still,
  I will not lose the hours in toil this day.

The roaring world without, careless of souls,
  Shall leave me to my placid dream of rest,
My four walls shield me from its shouting ghouls,
  And all its hates have fled my quiet breast.

And I will loll here resting, wide awake,
  Dead to the world of work, the world of love,
I laze contented just for dreaming’s sake,
  With not the slightest urge to think or move.

How tired unto death, how tired I was!
  Now for a day I put my burdens by,
And like a child amidst the meadow grass
  Under the southern sun, I languid lie,

And feel the bed about me kindly deep,
  My strength ooze gently from my hollow bones,
My worried brain drift aimlessly to sleep,
  Life soften to a song of tuneful tones.

 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I’m cool standing, we say to the studio chaise’s cooling board ambition. The photographer sets for a fruitless still life. Attempted portraits of us are inclined to landscape orientation. It isn’t that we’d fish-eye the lens, but that some eyes’ lenses insist something fishy. The shutterbug keeps on checking that the camera’s uncapped. We get it, we get it: though is it we be constricting light, or vacay it to rich space? Photog cocks a new angle, bent on composing what rubatos composure and composition. The kamera kalkulates us as low light; seems we might be a dim holt, in a damp hull, or a damned hole (in it or itself). Though is it we (who) be conscripting eyes, or melee them to sic race? And-a-one, two, three: say cheese! We say life, inclined to insist on checking that constricting, bent low might (damned in itself—sick, too). This very teeming skeeves some, its accommodation of objects into a body, its embodiment of objecthood, we are actor and scene—the frame only part of the production. We quit the sitting, since the work to our living’s an off-camera oeuvre. That surveillance produces the nothing it suspects we are. Please don’t throw me in that periphery, says the rabbit figment.

Copyright © 2021 by Douglas Kearney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 23, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I once saw Jazell Barbie Royale
Do Whitney Houston so well
I got upset with myself for sneaking 
Past the cashier 
After having been patted down. Security frisks you 
For nothing. They don’t believe in trouble. They don’t 
Imagine a gun or a blade, though
Sometimes they make you walk all the way back 
To the car with the weed you didn’t tuck well.
No one’s at fault. That’s how they say it
Where I’m from. Everyone’s got a job. 
I should have paid. Our women
Need to perform for the tips they couldn’t earn
After the state shut down for good reason 
And too late. We lost so many friends. 
My buddy Janir swears 
He still can’t smell his lip balm. Our women need us 
To call them beautiful 
Because they are. They’ve done what they must
To prove it, and how often does any woman get
To hear the truth? Jazell is so pretty.
Whitney Houston is dead. No one wore a mask.
It wasn’t safe, so it wasn’t really free.
If you don’t watch me, I’ll get by you. I’ll take
What I’ve been missing. My mother says 
That’s not how she raised me. I spent 
A year and a half sure she’d die.
The women who lip sync for us could die.
People like to murder them, 
And almost everyone else wonders
If they should be dead. Who got dressed looking 
For safety today? Who got patted down?  My mother 
Says what we do is sin. But all we do 
Is party. Even when I’m broke, I can 
Entertain. You’re going to miss me some day. 
You’re going to forget the words to your favorite song. 
You’re going to miss me when I’m gone.

Copyright © 2021 by Jericho Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 27, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Oye! This is an apartment building ode.
But not just any ode, an ode about breathing,
walking, jumping, running, skipping people.
An ode to a time where we’d remember what
odes felt like to read outside. An ode about
oding so hard it boxes itself into a sonnet.
Harder than bus stop benches and light rail
seats, taxes, and systemic poverty. The oding
of this poem is an apartment building sonnet
about people stacked up like bricks like words
in a sonnet. People that will tap your shoulder
to make sure you’re listening to the fact that this
poem is a token, a favor, a shirt off their back.
Oye! This is The Apartment Building Ode.
 

There’s Freestyle, Hip Hop, and Bachata on the steps
depending on the time of day we pick up groceries.
There are bikes by the curb and notebooks on those steps,
soda bottles, 2 quarter juices, and candy wrappers in bags.
There is a 10pm curfew for noise and the music plays
until 9:59, because the stoop DJ wakes up early too.
There are “No loitering on the stairs” signs in every hall-
way though it is understood that what we do isn’t aimless.
There is the smell of food, home-cooked or homemade,
plantains in C5, Hot Pockets in A3 and Chinese in the lobby.
There are lovers, soothsayers, tall-tale tellers, doers, hustlers,
potatoes, flowers, lighters, and so many hand gestures.
 
This is a concrete box that we call home.
There is a life we’ve learned to love and live.

Copyright © 2022 by Dimitri Reyes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 18, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Hard to watch somebody lose their mind
Maybe everybody    should just go get stoned
My father said it happens all the time

I knew a woman    lost her to soul to wine
But who doesn’t live with their life on loan?
Shame to watch somebody lose their mind

Don’tchu gotta wonder when people say they’re fine?
Given what we’re given, I guess they actin grown
I think I used to say that      all the time

When my parents died, I coined a little shrine
And thought about all the stuff they used to own
Felt like I was gonna lose my mind

Used to have a friend    who smiled all the time
Then he started sayin he could hear the devil moan
Hate to see a brotha lose his gotdam mind

Doesn’t matter how you pull, the hours break the line
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, how come nobody’s home?
Broke my soul for real, when my mother lost her mind

Tried to keep my head right, but sanity’s a climb
Been workin on the straight face—I guess my cover’s blown
My father tried to tell me     all the time

Had one last question, baby, but maybe never mind
After’while, even springtime starts to drone

Hard to see somebody lose their mind
My pop said, “Boy, it happens all the time”

Copyright © 2022 by Tim Seibles. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 21, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Outside, I have never been lonesome,
Always a fence, a plank, an eyebrow in the ocean,
A baby received in a house, anything tall is a tree.
The sky rearranges itself in the desert;
The sky rearranges itself in the water;
The sky rearranges itself while I am in the sky.
How lucky I thought I was to see the street lights turn on,
Clouds like rows of planting, mistakes we make and agree to continue,
A view of the river, my rock in the glade,
Bigger, relatively, and still, until,
I pull my lover open like a zipper,
I drag a trowel through them,
I lick the paint off my own stick,
I have a cold back and wet ankles.
Later, a slow moon laboring over the hillside;
Later, the fog reflects the moon;
Later, my blood is sucked and I itch.
Will we will we ever find home? 
The car calls us in the distance,
To walk the stairs, to take off my shoes, to stand 
Wringing hands, scratching grass blades on toenails. 
You are starting to see things we could never see before like:
You have been born,
Or how I waited a whole year for September,
A piece of fruit,
A source of fire,
An edge, an excuse on a small scrap of paper,
The woods in my mouth.
It is so hot today like yesterday and the day before.

Copyright © 2022 by Rindon Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 10, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

1

An unexpected storm puts out smoldering forest roots, ending fire season early.

Water persists through unseeable spaces between glass and window frames. Water’s tears displace dust, leaving streaks down the walls of the subdivided apartment.

I have little time to feel.

The pants I wear to work and work alone drape perpetually over the yellow chair.

The hills turn a generous green.

Weekends are for my new love. Twice we trailed the periphery of the zoo to lunch beside the wolves for free.

Once we followed a deer trail to an abandoned barn. We used the corners of the corrugated wall as steps to dangle inward at the square opening.

We hardly breathed at two owls above the meeting of wood beams. I only saw their silent backs as they fled—our presences forcing them into midday light. 

 

2

A neighbor through the wall plays classical piano less and less over the months.

Another learns guitar through a merciless repetition of top fifty alternative hits.

I can admit I’m unwell. I wouldn’t call a web colorless, shifting from invisible to everything. 

The yellow mullein bloom corkscrews, searching for sun.

I turn from the sense that I know myself to the sense that I had some friends who knew me well, though I didn’t know myself to them. 

An unhatched chick turns its right eye to its outer shell. The right eye develops to find food up close. The left eye, wing-tucked, develops to see distant threat.

My uncle in grief hasn’t slept for days. When he finally does, he wakes eager to tell my aunt about his dream. A feral cat leads him to his truck where a mother screech owl and her babies nest.

Copyright © 2022 by Claire Meuschke. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 3, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

I want to write poems for construction workers and dreamers
For revolutionaries
For deadbeats and those on the low
I never want to ask please fix us all
I want for us to want
to patch every heart
and pave every road
and destroy every system
that has ever left us
broken. I want to sing
like frank ocean, like wonder
like sonder, like mereba, like the sea
I want to recite the line
Took the wretched out the earth
Called it baby fanon,
I want to call someone baby.
I want to stop smoking because I want to live,
I can only love my comrades if I live,
and I want to clean my room,
I want to clean my room every week
and make my bed and put peppermint in my hair
to stop needing my inhalers
and to inhale solidarity, and to eat the rich,
I want to eat the rich, to cancel the rents,
to know my neighbors
and to know my neighbors
are safe. I want to move like water, to move
from unity to struggle to unity,
to have no perfect world we haven’t fought for.

Copyright © 2022 by Jordan Jace. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

I long to hear the history of ordinary people who populate and recreate all over the NYC subway lines, strung together like beans on a charmbracelet drumming on their worldly advice and late-night distractions,
I smoked an ashtray’s worth of cigarettes, cold and tired and snuffing out the little fire on yellow brick walls baring my bones to the whims of demolition,
I jumped over to Manhattan from Staten Island wishing to be Superman but also making music, yes music, from stretched out lizard skins suspended in animation,
I wiped the hair off my scalp dancing around a hollow pumpkin, swore to the forehead of my German moms that I would be unmarried at 50 or otherwise relocate to a harsher life in Uzbekistan,
I hid behind cardamom, cumin, and Halal-style chicken with my eyes darted thinking about Egypt, and the ABCs of Atlantic Barclays Center, Brooklyn, and a biweekly regular named Catherine,
I drank in a tent in the Q train station at Beverly, never showered but always made time to guide clueless New Yorkers to alternative train service like an MTA angel,
I in a rush to get to a Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown dozed off daydreaming about mushrooms, catfish, silkworms and missed my destination by just one stop; went back the other way and still couldn’t stop dreaming,
I asked for baby formula, bow-legged and inarticulate, full of luck and lice on my silver hair, dashed from one street to the other, filling the night with whispers and threats of self-immolation,
I broke a mirror three years before, and now, feeling the effect of medications, yearned to go back to a more violent time in quiet white rooms praying to another religion mistaken for glued together plastic flowers,
I drank my Vietnamese sweat, turned around when spoken to in God’s language, offered fresh fish, pears, and dried plums on a makeshift altar afraid to blink under oath

Copyright © 2022 by Lam Lai. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 11, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

I was on a walk when I was struck by the precarity of the gender that wore me,
which moved my matter, wrote books, and fell in love. as a child, I scoured 

the forest for brittle cicada skins abandoned on trees. husks present differently now
a pair of nylons caught in the thicket, a beak surviving its decomposing bird, 

a mural of George Floyd with a purple cock spray-painted on his beryl cheek.
among these discreet mutilations, I pull a line of thought through flesh 

where a misled margin slept. I was uninhabitable before I snared a man
for his hide. I was not unlike the skin of a drum thriving under a stamina 

that made music of me before I split. you wouldn’t recognize me now
if you saw me in the trees, played out, scattered to the undergrowth. I took a life 

and returned it to scale and membrane. I foraged a life coated in plastic
and mud from the highway overpass. it reeked of wheatpiss and it was mine.

Copyright © 2022 by Xan Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 14, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it—it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."

From Modern Poets of France: A Bilingual Anthology, translated and edited by Louis Simpson, published by Story Line Press, Inc. Copyright © 1997 by Louis Simpson. Reprinted by permission of the author and Story Line Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

Where we’re from, we know ballet as Dale Earnhardt
gliding through the traffic of Daytona; we know dance

as our hands moving across a table of drunk Miller Lites.
This is universal because I say it is. When my mother called

me Kayleb for the first time, I remembered the haunted house
on Clifton Hill, how she was tugged away by a hired actor.

I screamed until they took us out the fire escape. To care
is to call a name. To care is to call your mother’s name,

as your father pulls at her ankles. Dear Ma, you know your
hands were always too blue in the winter, strapping snow

chains onto the Ford Expedition. This is a happy memory
because it’s a memory. It is warmer now. Blame global

warming, blame the divorce. It doesn’t matter. All that
matters is the heat of the sun, and both being here to feel it.

Copyright © 2022 by Kayleb Rae Candrilli. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 4, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated by Viscount Strangford

Mondego! thou, whose waters cold and clear 
Gird those green banks, where fancy fain would stay, 
Fondly to muse on that departed day 
When Hope was kind and Friendship seem’d sincere; 
—Ere I had purchas’d knowledge with a tear.
—Mondego! though I bend my pilgrim way 
To other shores, where other fountains stray,
And other rivers roll their proud career, 
Still—nor shall time, nor grief, nor stars severe, 
Nor widening distance e’er prevail in aught 
To make thee less to this sad bosom dear; 
And Memory oft, by old Affection taught, 
Shall lightly speed upon the plumes of thought, 
To bathe amongst thy waters cold and clear!

 


 

[Doces e claras aguas do Mondego,] 

 

Doces e claras aguas do Mondego, 
Doce repouso de minha lembrança, 
Onde a comprida e pérfida esperança 
Longo tempo apoz si me trouxe cego.
De vós me aparto, si; porém não nego, 
Que inda a longa memoria, que me alcança. 
Me não deixa de vós fazer mudança. 
Mas quanto mais me alongo, mais me achego.
Bem poderá a Fortuna este instrumento 
Da alma levar por terra nova e extranha, 
Oíferecido ao mar remoto, ao vento.
Mas a alma, que de cá vos acompanha. 
Nas azas do ligeiro pensamento 
Para vós, aguas, vôa, e em vós se banha.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Gwendolyn Brooks

My wild grief didn’t know where to end.
Everywhere I looked: a field alive and unburied.
Whole swaths of green swallowed the light.
All around me, the field was growing. I grew out
My hair in every direction. Let the sun freckle my face.
Even in the greenest depths, I crouched
Towards the light. That summer, everything grew
So alive and so alone. A world hushed in green.
Wildest grief grew inside out.

I crawled to the field’s edge, bruises blooming
In every crevice of my palms.
I didn’t know I’d reached a shoreline till I felt it
There: A salt wind lifted
The hair from my neck.
At the edge of every green lies an ocean.
When I saw that blue, I knew then:
This world will end.

Grief is not the only geography I know.
Every wound closes. Repair comes with sweetness,
Come spring. Every empire will fall:
I must believe this. I felt it
Somewhere in the field: my ancestors
Murmuring Go home, go home—soon, soon.
No country wants me back anymore and I’m okay.

If grief is love with nowhere to go, then
Oh, I’ve loved so immensely.
That summer, everything I touched
Was green. All bruises will fade
From green and blue to skin.
Let me grow through this green
And not drown in it.
Let me be lawless and beloved,
Ungovernable and unafraid.
Let me be brave enough to live here.
Let me be precise in my actions.
Let me feel hurt.
I know I can heal.
Let me try again—again and again.

Copyright © 2022 by Laurel Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 21, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Sometimes I just sit like this at the window and watch
the darkness come. If I’m smart, I’ll put on Bach.

I’m thinking now of how far it always seems there is to go.
Maybe it is too easy that I speak so often

of late last light on a December day,
of that stubborn grass that somehow still remains green

behind the broken chain link fence on the corner.
But the need is so great for the way light looks

as it takes its leave of us. We say
what we can to each other of these things,

we who are such thieves, stealing first
one breath and then the next. Bach, keep going

just this slowly, show me the way to believe
that what matters in this world has already happened

and will go on happening forever.
The way light falls on the last

of the stricken leaves of the copper beech
at the end of the block is something to behold.

Copyright © 2022 by Jim Moore. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 30, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Looking out over the cliff, we’re overwhelmed
by a sky that seems to heap danger upon us. We
end up staring at a single white fluff in the air—
feather, fur, dandelion puff—we don’t care
to define it. The relief of having something
to focus our attention. At home, our patio furniture
unscrews itself under the usual sun. On this trip—
well, I’m not any sadder, I just have more space
for my sadness to fill. I don’t want to give
particulars. A woman huffing up the trail behind
us says to her hiking partner, It wasn’t my size,
but it was only 9 dollars. And now all I want
is to see what it is. The future refuses
to happen, so where else should I turn?

Copyright © 2023 by Paige Lewis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 9, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

I have long wanted to be starlight in spring
and the late snow that lingers there, coming down
at Harpers Ferry over the river or gathered 
on a windowsill on third street in Brooklyn 
when I was twenty-two—the potpourri 
of sky the wind carries after a storm. 
The gray darkening on a far ridge. If you are reading this
there is still a way. I can take your smooth palm in mine
and lead you toward a distant city and a night
when you were on the mountain and dreaming of the other world
and we can walk together past the pre-war homes 
converted now to low-rent apartments for college students
or workers come in from long days on a road crew,
coveralls draped over the backs of kitchen chairs
and the light swaying just so. We can go on—
along the cracked sidewalks above the train tracks
that can’t exist again even as the grasses come up between them
and look through a fog and a single pair of headlights
making definite beams in the material cold. 
No moonlight to get netted up in on the surface of the water
no traffic at this hour just the scraps of paper blown
into gutters and the electric hum of streetlights,
a few voices, which almost walk like footfall down alleys
overgrown with briars and creeping vines, their crude
latticework against the brick and the exhale
of a bartender on a smoke break and the smoke
which still drifts. Now it must be all worn through
but then it was barely remarkable though I stop
to look back at the homes and at snow melt on roads
the flat glitter on the black road, the moiré pattern 
yet to be captured by language—and for a minute believe
in something as my stepfather believed in the smell of fire
whenever he left in the middle of the night
and returned before dawn and spoke to no one, didn’t
wake anyone up. Sometimes I feel that alone, 
that pure, as if looking back at myself
through the scrim of time and you are there 
standing in our kitchen at this hour and I can almost 
hear you and the first singing caught-up there in the back 
of your throat. Lately I’ve stopped worrying about the end. 
Each day my hand is smaller on your shoulders. New birds
still return and the hillsides green all around, the stars 
have traveled over the horizon and in the blink 
of an eye you are here—grape-vine charcoal in your hand;
little hyphen I have become.

Copyright © 2022 by Matthew Wimberley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 10, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

The man has chosen
that he wants his ashes scattered
from the end of the pier

where he used to fish with his buddies.
They’d sit on overturned paint buckets.
Sometimes the waves gusted up

and the hems of his pants got wet and salty.
He liked the gulls that stood on the railing,
all puffed up with sky.

Having made the decision,
he walks at dusk to the end of the pier
and looks out at the sea.

As he turns away, he sometimes gives
a small, happy nod, like a man
thinking yes, I will buy this house.

Copyright © 2023 by Chloe Honum. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 26, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets

Violence thrives like violet on the vine, but I’m rare
today, with you. I came to Napa nappy-headed,
impressively unconcerned, with heft to me. Air
kisses the wine we bring to lip: I’m not wedded

to folks, I say, the way I was. Parts of me have died
with more to expire; troubled times have changed
us both. Left to silence, a question rises—if you lied
to spare me wrath turned inward. You’ve arranged

any moment of peace I’ve ever lived in: Love, it’s hard
to trust a good thing these days, harder still to be one.
Crimson colors in our stemmed glasses. Sorry-ass bard,
feeling no ounce of romance toward the world. No gun

could woo me, though. I want to be here. Need to be—
me, the half-full fool of us. I can’t imagine what you see.

Copyright © 2023 by Cortney Lamar Charleston. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 2, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to 
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a 
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have 
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman 
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night, 
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological 
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old 
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it 
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the 
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you 
were born at a good time. Because you were able 
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And 
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland, 
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel, 
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

From Our Post Soviet History Unfolds by Eleanor Lerman, published by Sarabande Books. Copyright © 2005 by Eleanor Lerman. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

From a coffee cup’s sweet bitterness into cold wind swept knowing that the place you search and yearn for is nowhere, no street names, no city gate. No degrees nor longitudinal measures to speak of. A compass can be useless when you are lost. Nowhere multiplies in your chest ravenous, like yeast. It hurts. The exact second, your shadow on the pavement. Sometimes your life is a minute ahead and a few days behind the place you want to be. Sometimes things align and you want to tear a piece of the shadow as you would a piece from a loaf of bread. But this place you search has no replicable terrain, no map. It moves as you move. A shapeshifter with a tropic of memory, a tropic of fear, a meridian to decide you can and an equator to know you choose.

From This City (Floating Bridge Press, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Claudia Castro Luna. Used with the permission of the poet.