(for my sisters)
I still don’t know how he knew
I was running. My mouth was open,
or those boys were barking that loud;
not that I hadn’t been chased
by dogs. There’s a moment when
you can’t tell from which angle
it’s coming, and the air is a red drum,
and the trees lean away from you,
and the ground is wet. Lonnie drove
truck nights, and grew strawberries
in our backyard, which were small,
but sweet. You could taste his hands
in the dirt, which the mouth learns
to read as green and sweet. My mother
made him liver and onions; we ate fish
Fridays and I wasn’t allowed milk. He’s why
I like my eggs runny. I still don’t understand
anything about engines. I can’t remember
why those boys were after me. Maybe
it makes sense why a Rottweiler
would break a fence. Lonnie stood
with his shotgun out front. Sometimes
he wouldn’t come home, or he’d walk
into the house with his shirt bloody.
When we left, my mother didn’t want
money. Not that we would have gone,
but that other woman didn’t even invite us
to the funeral. Man, I bet Yvette’s children
have children. Lord knows what’s happened
to Chrissy now that she’s too old to dance.
Copyright © 2020 by Amaud Jamaul Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 24, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
You and your friend stood
on the corner of the liquor store
as I left Champa Garden,
takeout in hand, on the phone
with Ashley who said,
That was your tough voice.
I never heard your tough voice before.
I gave you boys a quick nod,
walked E 21st past dark houses.
Before I could reach the lights
on Park, you criss-crossed
your hands around me,
like a friend and I’d hoped
that you were Seng,
the boy I’d kissed on First Friday
in October. He paid for my lunch
at that restaurant, split the leftovers.
But that was a long time ago
and we hadn’t spoken since,
so I dropped to my knees
to loosen myself from your grip,
my back to the ground, I kicked
and screamed but nobody
in the neighborhood heard me,
only Ashley on the other line,
in Birmingham, where they say
How are you? to strangers
not what I said in my tough voice
but what I last texted Seng,
no response. You didn’t get on top,
you hovered. My elbows banged
the sidewalk. I threw
the takeout at you and saw
your face. Young. More scared
of me than I was of you.
Hands on my ankles, I thought
you’d take me or rape me.
Instead you acted like a man
who slipped out of my bed
and promised to call:
You said nothing.
Not even what you wanted.
Copyright © 2020 by Monica Sok. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
I lie here thinking of you:—
the stain of love
is upon the world!
Yellow, yellow, yellow
it eats into the leaves,
smears with saffron
the horned branches that lean
against a smooth purple sky!
There is no light
only a honey-thick stain
that drips from leaf to leaf
and limb to limb
spoiling the colors
of the whole world—
you far off there under
the wine-red selvage of the west!
From A Books of Poems: Al Que Quiere! (The Four Seas Company, 1917).
Down in a green and shady bed A modest violet grew; Its stalk was bent, it hung its head, As if to hide from view. And yet it was a lovely flower, Its colors bright and fair; It might have graced a rosy bower, Instead of hiding there. Yet there it was content to bloom, In modest tints arrayed; And there diffused a sweet perfume, Within the silent shade. Then let me to the valley go, This pretty flower to see; That I may also learn to grow In sweet humility.
This poem is in the public domain.