And on the first day
god made
something up.
Then everything came along:

seconds, sex and
beasts and breaths and rabies;
hunger, healing,
lust and lust’s rejections;
swarming things that swarm
inside the dirt;
girth and grind
and grit and shit and all shit’s functions;
rings inside the treetrunk
and branches broken by the snow;
pigs’ hearts and stars,
mystery, suspense and stingrays;
insects, blood
and interests and death;
eventually, us,
with all our viruses, laments and curiosities;
all our songs and made-up stories;
and our songs about the stories we’ve forgotten;
and all that we’ve forgotten we’ve forgotten;

and to hold it all together god made time
and those rhyming seasons
that display decay.

Copyright © 2019 by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

{for the D.A.C.A DREAMers and all our nation's immigrants}

. . . my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life . . .

. . . mis venas no terminan en mí
sino en la sange unánime
de los que luchan por la vida . . .

—Roque Dalton, Como tú

Como tú, I question history’s blur in my eyes
each time I face a mirror. Like a mirror, I gaze
into my palm a wrinkled map I still can’t read,
my lifeline an unnamed road I can’t find, can’t
trace back to the fork in my parents’ trek
that cradled me here. Como tú, I woke up to
this dream of a country I didn’t choose, that
didn’t choose me—trapped in the nightmare
of its hateful glares. Como tú, I’m also from
the lakes and farms, waterfalls and prairies
of another country I can’t fully claim either.
Como tú, I am either a mirage living among
these faces and streets that raised me here,
or I’m nothing, a memory forgotten by all
I was taken from and can’t return to again.

Like memory, at times I wish I could erase
the music of my name in Spanish, at times
I cherish it, and despise my other syllables
clashing in English. Como tú, I want to speak
of myself in two languages at once. Despite
my tongues, no word defines me. Like words,
I read my footprints like my past, erased by
waves of circumstance, my future uncertain
as wind. Like the wind, como tú, I carry songs,
howls, whispers, thunder’s growl. Like thunder,
I’m a foreign-borne cloud that’s drifted here,
I’m lightning, and the balm of rain. Como tú,
our blood rains for the dirty thirst of this land.
Like thirst, like hunger, we ache with the need
to save ourselves, and our country from itself.

Copyright © 2019 by Richard Blanco. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets, from How to Love a Country (Beacon Press, 2019).

After Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes (Uffizi, 1620)

Because I know what rough work it is to fight off
a man. And though, yes, I learned tenebroso from
Caravaggio, I found the dark on my own. Know too

well if Judith was alone, she’d never be able to claw
her way free. How she and Abra would have to muster
all their strength to keep him still long enough

to labor through muscle and bone. Look at the old
masters try their best to imagine a woman wielding
a sword. Plaited hair just so. She’s disinterested

or dainty, no heft or sweat. As if she were serving
tea—all model and pose. No, my Judith knows
to roll her sleeves up outside the tent. Clenches

a fistful of hair as anchor for what must be done.
Watch the blood arc its way to wrist and breast.
I have thought it all through, you see. The folds

of flesh gathered at each woman’s wrist, the shadows
on his left arm betraying the sword’s cold hilt.
To defeat a man, he must be removed from his body

by the candlelight he meant as seduction. She’s been
to his bed before and takes no pleasure in this.
Some say they know her thoughts by the meat of her

brow. Let them think what they want. I have but one job:
to keep you looking, though I’ve snatched the breath
from your throat. Even the lead white sheets want

to recoil. Forget the blood, forget poor dead Caravaggio.
He only signed one canvas. Lost himself in his own
carbon black backdrop. To call my work imperfect

would simply be a lie. So I drench my brush in
a palette of bone black—femur and horn transformed
by their own long burning—and make one last

insistence. Between this violence and the sleeping
enemies outside, my name rises. Some darknesses
refuse to fade. Ego Artemitia. I made this—I.

 

Copyright © 2020 by Danielle DeTiberus. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Your curls are soaked in gold but your fingers
cling to my back & could work
a filament & needle through
the gash that leads to the decayed
rafters of a barn
hush the pigeons who coo there
one by one by
breaking their necks
The river smells of September wending
through the dry fields
a blue vein
your thumb traces along a wrist
my wrist
careful never
to the source
I’ve slept with the image of your
arm on my chest
your breath collects in the tiniest
droplets on my neck
but touching myself
to your scalp’s human smell
tarnishes the mirror’s
silver backing
Another woman holds
your beloved’s hands
You hold me like the blue
of an egg you’ve found
bulging from the grass
Trade your house key for
a clutch of mums
we'll put in water on the sill
Fold your ring
in the chapped hand of a man
waiting by the exit ramp
though the jingle of coins or
a bitten chicken sandwich
would do
Turn to me & lift your hair
I’ll clasp on you a necklace
strung with the heads of snakes

Copyright © 2020 by Kyle Churney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Funny, isn’t it, how hard to describe
a good man? In the shower, I let
the water run hot as my blood filtering
a mirror of loss. The messenger arrived
flustered as feathers falling to the place
where feathers go to find each other. Who
is the man who makes you remark, “I have
been lucky”? How does the faucet instruct
forgiveness? Our voices spiral to meet
with too much space between. My cuticles
shine like chrome under the moment’s remains.
A demand for nakedness pools somewhere
down the drain. For what we’ve been able to
let go, and know it happens to us all. 

 

Copyright © 2020 by Cristina Correa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 6, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

For years had anyone needed me
to spell the word commiserate

I’d have disappointed them. I envy
people who are more excited

by etymology than I am, but not
the ones who can explain how

music works—I wonder whether
the critic who wrote

that the Cocteau Twins were the voice
of god still believes it. Why not,

what else would god sound like.
Even though I know better, when I see

the word misericordia I still think
suffering, not forgiveness;

when we commiserate we are united
not in mercy but in misery,

so let’s go ahead and call this abscess
of history the Great Commiseration.

The difference
between affliction and affection

is a flick, a lick—but check
again, what lurks in the letters

is “lie,” and what kind of luck
is that. As the years pile up

our friends become more vocal
about their various damages:

Won’t you let me monetize
your affliction, says my friend

the corporation. When I try to enter
the name of any city

it autocorrects to Forever:
I’m spending a week in Forever,

Forever was hotter than ever
this year, Forever’s expensive

but oh the museums,
and all of its misery’s ours.

Copyright © 2020 by Mark Bibbins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 5, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I always took it for granted, the right to vote
She said
And I knew what my mother meant
Her voice constricted tightly by the flu A virus
& a 30-year-relationship 
with Newport 100s
I ain’t no chain smoker
she attempts to silence my concern
only a pack a week. That’s good, you know?

My mother survived a husband she didn’t want 
and an addiction that loved her more 
than any human needs

I sit to write a poem about the 100 year Anniversary
of the 19th Amendment 
& my first thought returns to the womb
& those abortions I did not want at first
but alas

The thirst of an almost anything 
is a gorge always looking to be
until the body is filled with more fibroids 
than possibilities

On the 19th hour of the fourth day in a new decade
I will wake restless from some nightmare
about a bomb & a man with no backbone
on a golf course who clicks closed his Motorola phone
like an exclamation point against his misogynistic stance
He swings the golf club with each chant
Women let me grab
Women like me
Women vote until I say they don’t

In my nightmare he is an infective agent
In the clear of day
he is just the same

Every day he breathes is a threat to this country’s marrow
For Ida & Susan & Lucretia & Elizabeth Cady

& every day he tweets grief  
like a cynical cornball comic’s receipts 
like a red light signaling the end of times

The final night of 2019
& my New Year’s Eve plans involves
anything that will numb the pain
of a world breaking its own heart

My mother & I have already spoken
& her lungs are croaking wet
I just want you to know I don’t feel well
& I pause to pull up my stockings beneath my crumpled smile
On this day I sigh
I just wanted to dance & drink & forget about the 61.7% votes

My silk dress falls to my knees with the same swiftness
defiant as the white feminist who said “I’m your ally”
then voted for the demise of our nation’s most ignored
underpaid, imprisoned & impoverished citizens

Every day there is a telephone near 
I miss my mother
In the waiting room of the OB/GYN
Uptown bound on the dirt orange train seat of the subway
O! How my mother loves the places she can never go
Her bones swaddled with arthritis & smoke
So she relies on my daily bemoans

The train smells like yesterday, Ma
They raise the tolls & fix nothing for the people
My landlord refuses to fix my toilet, my bathroom sink, my refrigerator
The city is annoying like an old boyfriend, always buzzing about nothing 
& in the way of me making it on time to the polls
This woman didn’t say thank you when I held the door
& who does she think she is?

Each time I crack & cap on the everydayness of my day
My mother laughs as if she can see the flimsy MTA card
The yellow cabs that refuse to stop for her daughter
In these moments she can live again 
A whole bodied woman with a full mouth
to speak it plain

I ask my mother what hurts? 
What hurts? 
How can I help from here?

3000 miles away
Alone in a tower between the sea 
& the Mexico borders

My mother sighs a little sigh & says
Nothing
I just wanted to hear your voice

Copyright © 2020 by Mahogany L. Browne. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken?
No more princes for the poor. Loss whittling you thin.
Grief is the constant now, hope the last word spoken.

In a dance of two elegies, which circles the drain? A token
year with its daisies and carbines is where we begin.
Who comforts you now? That the wheel has broken

is Mechanics 101; to keep dreaming when the joke’s on
you? Well, crazier legends have been written.
Grief is the constant now; hope, the last word spoken

on a motel balcony, shouted in a hotel kitchen. No kin
can make this journey for you. The route’s locked in.
Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken

the bodies of its makers? Beyond the smoke and
ashes, what you hear rising is nothing but the wind.
Who comforts you? Now that the wheel has broken,

grief is the constant. Hope: the last word spoken.

Copyright © 2020 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

(for Ntozake Shange)

I used to be a roller coaster girl
7 times in a row
No vertigo in these skinny legs
My lipstick bubblegum pink 
                          As my panther 10 speed.

never kissed

Nappy pigtails, no-brand gym shoes 
White lined yellow short-shorts

Scratched up legs pedaling past borders of 
humus and baba ganoush 
Masjids and liquor stores 
City chicken, pepperoni bread 
and superman ice cream 
                                    Cones.

Yellow black blending with bits of Arabic
Islam and Catholicism. 

My daddy was Jesus 
My mother was quiet
Jayne Kennedy was worshipped 
by my brother Mark

I don’t remember having my own bed before 12. 
Me and my sister Lisa                                shared. 

Sometimes all three Moore girls slept in the Queen.

You grow up so close 
never close enough.

I used to be a roller coaster girl 
Wild child full of flowers and ideas
Useless crushes on        polish boys 
in a school full of         white girls. 

Future black swan singing 
Zeppelin, U2 and Rick Springfield

Hoping to be Jessie’s Girl 

I could outrun my brothers and 
Everybody else to that 

reoccurring line

I used to be a roller coaster girl
Till you told me I was moving too fast
Said my rush made your head spin 
My laughter hurt your ears

A scream of happiness 
A whisper of freedom 
Pouring out my armpits 
Sweating up my neck 

You were always the scared one
I kept my eyes open for the entire trip
Right before the drop I would brace myself
And let that force push my head back into 

That hard iron seat

My arms nearly fell off a few times
Still, I kept running back to the line  
When I was done
Same way I kept running back to you

I used to be a roller coaster girl
I wasn’t scared of mountains or falling  
Hell, I looked forward to flying and dropping
Off this earth and coming back to life 

every once in a while

I found some peace in being out of control 
allowing my blood to race
through my veins for 180 seconds 

I earned my sometime nicotine pull 
I buy my own damn drinks & the ocean
Still calls my name when it feels my toes 
Near its shore. 

I still love roller coasters 
& you grew up to be 
Afraid 
of all girls who cld  
                                          ride 

Fearlessly

like 
me. 

Copyright © 2019 by jessica Care moore. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

From The Collected Poems by Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton, 2000). Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 29, 2014.

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994) by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the author.

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

From Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well By Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1975 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted with permission of Random House, Inc. For online information about other Random House, Inc. books and authors, visit the website at www.randomhouse.com.

The windshield’s dirty, the squirter stuff’s all gone, so
we drive on together into a sun-gray pane of grime
and dust. My son

puts the passenger seat back as far as it will go, closes
his eyes. I crack my window open for a bit
of fresher air. It’s so

incredibly fresh out there.

Rain, over.
Puddles left
in ditches. Black mirrors with our passing 

reflected in them, I suppose, but I’d
have to pull over and kneel down at the side
of the road to know.

The day ahead—

for this, the radio
doesn’t need to be played.
The house we used to live in

still exists
in a snapshot, in which
it yellows in another family’s scrapbook.

And a man on a bicycle
rides beside us
for a long time, very swiftly, until finally

he can’t keep up—

but before he slips
behind us, he salutes us
with his left hand—

a reminder:

that every single second—
that every prisoner on death row—
that every name on every tombstone—

that everywhere we go—
that every day, like this one, will
be like every other, having never been, never

ending. So
thank you. And, oh—
I almost forgot to say it: amen.

Copyright © 2020 by Laura Kasischke. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

You made tomatoes laugh
& warned me
some words die in cages.                                          

I met you first in the desert.

You burned sage, greeted,
each of the four directions
with plumed syllables.

The ritual embarrassed me—
your stout body, your
mischievous smile did not.                

You were familial.                               

The first poem I wrote
that sounded like me
echoed your work.                 

Copal, popote, tocayo, cacahuate:
you taught me Spanish
is a colonial tongue.

Some Mesoamerican elders
believed there’s a fifth direction.

Not the sky or the ground
but the person right next to you.

I’m turning to face you, maestro.
I’m greeting you.
Tahui.

Copyright © 2020 by Eduardo C. Corral. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Assétou Xango performs at Cafe Cultura in Denver.


“Give your daughters difficult names.
Names that command the full use of the tongue.
My name makes you want to tell me the truth.
My name does not allow me to trust anyone
who cannot pronounce it right.”
      —Warsan Shire

Many of my contemporaries,
role models,
But especially,
Ancestors

Have a name that brings the tongue to worship.
Names that feel like ritual in your mouth.

I don’t want a name said without pause,
muttered without intention.

I am through with names that leave me unmoved.
Names that leave the speaker’s mouth unscathed.

I want a name like fire,
like rebellion,
like my hand gripping massa’s whip—

I want a name from before the ships
A name Donald Trump might choke on.

I want a name that catches you in the throat
if you say it wrong
and if you’re afraid to say it wrong,
then I guess you should be.

I want a name only the brave can say
a name that only fits right in the mouth of those who love me right,
because only the brave
can love me right

Assétou Xango is the name you take when you are tired
of burying your jewels under thick layers of
soot
and self-doubt.

Assétou the light
Xango the pickaxe
so that people must mine your soul
just to get your attention.

If you have to ask why I changed my name,
it is already too far beyond your comprehension.
Call me callous,
but with a name like Xango
I cannot afford to tread lightly.
You go hard
or you go home
and I am centuries
and ships away
from any semblance
of a homeland.

I am a thief’s poor bookkeeping skills way from any source of ancestry.
I am blindly collecting the shattered pieces of a continent
much larger than my comprehension.

I hate explaining my name to people:
their eyes peering over my journal
looking for a history they can rewrite

Ask me what my name means...
What the fuck does your name mean Linda?

Not every word needs an English equivalent in order to have significance.

I am done folding myself up to fit your stereotype.
Your black friend.
Your headline.
Your African Queen Meme.
Your hurt feelings.
Your desire to learn the rhetoric of solidarity
without the practice.

I do not have time to carry your allyship.

I am trying to build a continent,
A country,
A home.

My name is the only thing I have that is unassimilated
and I’m not even sure I can call it mine.

The body is a safeless place if you do not know its name.

Assétou is what it sounds like when you are trying to bend a syllable
into a home.
With shaky shudders
And wind whistling through your empty,

I feel empty.

There is no safety in a name.
No home in a body.

A name is honestly just a name
A name is honestly just a ritual

And it still sounds like reverence.

Copyright © 2017 Assétou Xango. Used with permission of the poet. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2020. 

28. It Is Not As If

It is not as if I have not been thinking this,
and it is not as if we have not been thinking this.
For what I mean when I will say whiteness, when I will say white
people, when I say the whites with such seeming assurance,
with such total confidence in the clarity of this locution,
as if we all know the etymology of this word’s genealogy,
the lie of a cluster of marauding nations, building kingdoms
by destroying kingdoms, we have heard this all before, O Babylon.
So, yes, when I say this, what I mean is Babylon, as the Rastas
have constructed the notion, in the way of generosity,
in the way of judgement, in the way of naming the enemy
of history for who he is, in the inadequate way of symbols,
in the way of the bible’s total disregard for history, and the prophet’s
dance in the fulcrum of history, leaping over time and place,
returning to the place where we began having learned
nothing and yet having learned everything language offers us.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this.
And I want to rehearse Thomas Jefferson and the pragmatism
of cost, the wisdom of his loyalty to his family’s wealth,
the seat of the landed aristocrats reinvented on the plains
of the New World, the coat of arms, the courtly ambitions,
the inventions, the art, the bottles of wine, the French tongue,
the legacy, the faux Roman, faux Greek pretension, the envy
of the nobility of native confederacies, their tongues of fire;
the land, the land, the land, and the property of black bodies,
so much to give up, and who bears the sacrifice, who pays
the cost for the preservation of a nation’s ambitions?
How he said no to freeing the bodies he said were indebted
to him for their every breath—the calculus of property;
oh, the rituals of flesh-mongering, the protection of white freedom.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this,
And Bartholomew de las Casas, Bishop of Chiapas,
and his Memorial de Remedios para Las Indias,
the pragmatic use of Africans, the ones to carry the burden
of saving the Indians, to save the white man’s soul—
this little bishop of pragmatic calculation, correcting sins
with more sins. And the bodies of black slave women,
their wombs, studied, tested, reshaped, probed, pierced, tortured,
with the whispered promise: “It will help you, too, it really
will and you will be praised for teaching us how to save
the wombs of white women, for the cause, all for the cause.”
And Roosevelt and his unfinished revolution, O “dream deferred”,
O Langston, you tried to sing, how long, not long, how long,
so long! And Churchill’s rising rhetoric, saying that though cousin
Nazis may ritualize the ancient blood feuds by invading Britain,
her world-wide empire will rise up and pay the price for protecting
the kingdom, the realm, liberty, and so on and so forth. Everyone
so merciful, everyone so wounded with guilt and gratitude,
everyone so pragmatic. It is what I am saying, that I am saying
nothing new, and what I am singing is, Babylon yuh throne gone
down, gone down, / Babylon yuh throne gone down.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this.
For no one is blessed with blindness here,
No one is blessed with deafness here.
And this thing we see is lurking inside the soft
alarm of white people who know that they are watching
a slow magical act of erasure, and they know that this is how
terror manifests itself, quietly, reasonably, and with deadly
intent.  They are letting black people die.  They are letting
black people die in America. Hidden inside the maw
of these hearts, is the sharp pragmatism of the desperate,
the writers of the myth of survival of the fittest,
or the order of the universe, of Platonic logic, the caste system,
the war of the worlds.  They are letting black people die.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
No, it is not as if we have not been thinking this.
And someone is saying, in that soft voice of calm,
“Well, there will be costs, and those are the costs
of our liberty.”  Remember when the century turned,
and the pontiff and pontificators declared that in fifty years,
the nation would be brown, and for a decade, the rogue people
sought to halt this with guns, with terror, with the shutting of borders?
Now this has arrived, a kind of gift.  Let them die.  The blacks,
the poor, the ones who multiply like flies, let them die, and soon
we will be lily white again.  Do you think I am paranoid?  I am.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this.
And paranoia is how we’ve survived.  So, we must march in the streets,
force the black people who are immigrant nurses, who are meat packers,
who are street cleaners, who are short-order cooks, who are
the dregs of society, who are black, who are black, who are black.
Let them die.  Here in Nebraska, our governor would not release
the racial numbers. He says there is no need to cause strife,
this is not our problem, he says. We are better than this, he says.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this.
And so in the silence, we do not know what the purgation is,
and here in this stumbling prose of mine, this blunt prose of mine,
is the thing I have not yet said, “They are trying to kill us,
they are trying to kill us, they are trying to kill us off.”
I sip my comfort.  The dead prophet, his voice broken by cancer,
his psalm rises over the darkening plains, “Oh yeah, natty Congo”,
and then the sweetest act of pure resistance, “Spread out! Spread out!
Spread out!”  We are more than sand on the seashore, so we will not
get jumpy, we won’t get bumpy, and we won’t walk away, “Spread out!”,
they sing in four-part harmony, spears out, Spread out! Spread out!
It is not as if I have not been thinking this,
and it is not as if we have not been thinking this.
It is how we survived and how we will continue to survive.
But don’t be fooled. These are the betrayals that are gathering
over the hills.  Help me, I say, help me to see this as something else.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
See? It is not as if we have not all been thinking this.

KD

29.

It needs to be blunt and said as you say it.
I can see and agree and am trying to act, too,
but am embroiled in the whiteness I detest.
Yes, as a pacifist, I detest that whiteness
and see it as the bleaching of shrouds.
It makes me ashamed and angry and I fall
into nowhere and have no feet and can’t find
my way out of it. My hands are the wrong
shape to hide behind. I see the murderers
and stand in front of them, refusing
everything they are. I am weaponless.
I know guns from my childhood
and know their sick laugh, their
self-certainty, their imitations of ‘sound’—
their chatter. Yes, of course it’s death
they make, even when the target
is a symbol or a bull’s eye—names
say it all, underneath—target shooting,
but it’s not selective at the end of the breathing,
the last bottle of O negative blood, it takes all
in its recoil as much as its impact, it kills
life and it kills death and it is given
an ‘out’ through Keats’s white as death
half in love with easeful death’—
a poem I have recited since I was
sixteen, have recited on the verge of death,
as if it was a way through when it wasn’t.
The poem separated from the hand
that wrote it makes a travesty
of reality—the corpses piling
up in the feint light of whiteness.
The poem was part of the problem
born in the eye of empire, the smell
of hospitals and anatomies, and yet
I lament his terrible tragic passing.
I have stood in his deathroom
and only thought of a young person
and their overwhelming death,
the steps flowing with people
as now they are empty of both
Rome and world. I think the same
in the acts of medicine the acts
of insurance and discrimination,
and those who take the brunt of economies,
especially in Western economies
that live off the labour of re-arranged
and redecorated class alienation.
What you say is true and needs
to be said in such a way, Kwame.
I am saying as an aside to all tyranny,
that using the methods of the tyrannical
will lead to ongoing tyranny. Refusal
to do anything for them, to stop using their goods,
to stop giving them anything at all, will soon     bring their collapse.
Total and utter refusal. But then, they are
even prepared for that—bringing
it all down makes the suffering
suffer more via the pain ‘brought
on themselves.’ That’s tyranny’s propaganda.
     White bigots and the bigotry
implicit in any notion of ‘whiteness’
search for validation even where
it is bluntly refused—they enforce
their validation, legitimise themselves
in every conversation. I guess
that might be what Spike Lee
and Chuck D. have been saying
forever—the very notion 
‘white folk’ have any rights
of control or even say in other
people’s (and peoples’) lives needs
undoing. Your poem helps protect
the vulnerable and thwart the murderous—confront
them with its declarations of blackness,
and that’s as it must be, and you must say,
given the traumatic reality, Kwame.
So I listen to Sly Dunbar
not to absorb into what I have
been made from, but to reflect
against and learn from—to learn
is to respect and not just
be awed and entertained, those
shrouds across creativity,
those thefts as deadly
as going armed
with intent. I have literally
placed flowers in the barrels of guns.
I will stand between the gun
and its victim, I will
bury the arms
deeper than rust,
the corrosion,
beyond even air
of the grave, beyond
anything organic, living.
People are meant
to live! I march with you,
I am with you, I stand by you.
     I am not you. I know.

JK

Copyright © 2020 by Kwame Dawes and John Kinsella. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 11, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Today I will praise.

I will praise the sun

For showering its light

On this darkened vessel.

I will praise its shine.

Praise the way it wraps

My skin in ultraviolet ultimatums

Demanding to be seen.

I will lift my hands in adoration

Of how something so bright

Could be so heavy.

I will praise the ground

That did not make feast of these bones.

Praise the casket

That did not become a shelter for flesh.

Praise the bullets

That called in sick to work.

Praise the trigger

That went on vacation.

Praise the chalk

That did not outline a body today.

Praise the body

For still being a body

And not a headstone.

Praise the body,

For being a body and not a police report

Praise the body

For being a body and not a memory

No one wants to forget.

Praise the memories.

Praise the laughs and smiles

You thought had been evicted from your jawline

Praise the eyes

For seeing and still believing.

For being blinded from faith

But never losing their vision

Praise the visions.

Praise the prophets

Who don’t profit off of those visions.

Praise the heart

For housing this living room of emotions

Praise the trophy that is my name

Praise the gift that is my name.

Praise the name that is my name

Which no one can plagiarize or gentrify

Praise the praise.

How the throat sounds like a choir.

The harmony in your tongue lifts

Into a song of adoration.

Praise yourself

For being able to praise.

For waking up,

When you had every reason not to.

Copyright © 2020 by Angelo Geter. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 15, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

with a line from Gwendolyn Brooks

Months into the plague now,
I am disallowed
entry even into the waiting
room with Mom, escorted outside
instead by men armed
with guns & bottles
of hand sanitizer, their entire
countenance its own American
metaphor. So the first time
I see you in full force,
I am pacing maniacally
up & down the block outside,
Facetiming the radiologist
& your mother too,
her arm angled like a cellist’s
to help me see.
We are dazzled by the sight
of each bone in your feet,
the pulsing black archipelago
of your heart, your fists in front
of your face like mine when I
was only just born, ten times as big
as you are now. Your great-grandmother
calls me Tyson the moment she sees
this pose. Prefigures a boy
built for conflict, her barbarous
and metal little man. She leaves
the world only months after we learn
you are entering into it. And her mind
the year before that. In the dementia’s final
days, she envisions herself as a girl
of seventeen, running through fields
of strawberries, unfettered as a king
-fisher. I watch your stance and imagine
her laughter echoing back across the ages,
you, her youngest descendant born into
freedom, our littlest burden-lifter, world
-beater, avant-garde percussionist
swinging darkness into song.

Copyright © 2020 by Joshua Bennett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 24, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

after Marie Howe

              in the wordless beginning

iguana & myrrh

magma & reef          ghost moth

& the cordyceps tickling its nerves

& cedar & archipelago & anemone

dodo bird & cardinal waiting for its red

ocean salt & crude oil         now black

muck now most naïve fumbling plankton

every egg clutched in the copycat soft

of me unwomaned unraced

unsexed          as the ecstatic prokaryote

that would rage my uncle’s blood

or the bacterium that will widow

your eldest daughter’s eldest son

my uncle, her son           our mammoth sun

& her uncountable siblings         & dust mite & peat

apatosaurus & nile river

& maple green & nude & chill-blushed &

yeasty keratined bug-gutted i & you

spleen & femur seven-year refreshed

seven-year shedding & taking & being this dust

& my children & your children

& their children & the children

of the black bears & gladiolus & pink florida grapefruit

here not allied but the same        perpetual breath

held fast to each other as each other’s own skin

cold-dormant & rotting & birthing & being born

in the olympus           of the smallest

possible once before once

Copyright © 2020 by Marissa Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 1, 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.

on the days the dark is vanta vicious
enough to swallow whole every holy
thing like my mother and the stigmata
she bleeds from a totem of raising black

on the days the cold is cold as all get out but
there’s no place to get in when even breath is
blade and hurts to think of thinking of breathing
let alone laughing

on the days I feel frayed and ‘fraid ripped
and torn from the lot plucked from family
and ‘nem and even myself sometimes my
name is the name of a stranger

my face still the face in the hole of a
hoodie just snatched out my own world
never mine and dragged and scraped
across the rough textured parts of this
being alive thing

i’m reminded of what it feels
like to have my head alight to
have it catch fire and blaze-lick
high above me and all this

i’m reminded to return to the truth that oh
yeah me my little self a match my little
self a cardboard cutout might could burn
this whole so-called kingdom down

Copyright © 2020 by Jason Reynolds. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 28, 2020 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.

She said, I wish I prayed, I would pray for you. And,

we all wanted a shape of prayer in our brains, taking over

instead of it chomping on itself. Stupid little elf. God has

never come to me. We surrender in the teeming utterance

of materials soaked with sentences already made in air

and by machines. The country says Freedom, crushed under

its own dream weight. I did not make up this song. Design

Within Reach is having a “Work from home sale.” The coming

apart, the giant laceration across the sky, we all feel it. Look

at the fire, look at it, like all the rage of all the smallest beings.

Copyright © 2020 by Dawn Lundy Martin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 6, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

MEET KIRSTEN. Wears milkmaid braids to conserve her swedish past. Relinquished herself to assimilation at 8 after saying bye to her bff Singing Bird, whose tribe was forced off their land. “1854 was a wild year for me, guys. Cancel culture is real, but how could I disown my family for the racist things they say? How could I even point out that the things they say are racist? Like, how could I even say ‘Can you consider the words coming out of your mouth & never say them again?’” 

MEET MOLLY. Buys baguettes on mondays and wears a beret literally everywhere. Obsessed with hollywood films and harsh realities. Surprisingly patriotic despite her love of all things british, especially plaid. An expert on taking up space. When the trainer asks if anyone can define discrimination, she pulls out a legal pad “I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been discriminated against because I’m a woman. I write literally every instance down as proof. Exactly how many hours do we have?”

MEET SAMANTHA. 25-year-old well-meaning rule lover who enjoys progress and satin. Would like to be a painter or possibly the president of the united states of america. Out of the two AMA questions received before the training, both came from her. One for each black person she’s ever talked to in her life. “1) This is more of a comment than anything, but I don’t understand why I can’t be curious about Addy’s hair 2) Remind me again, what’s the difference between equality and equity?”

MEET FELICITY. Wears wide brim hats for horse races and can stitch the shit out of anything. Makes a mean southern sweet tea just like her mommy used to in the old virginia colony. When the diversity trainer asks if anyone can recall a time in their lives when they’ve been racist, she has a hard time pinning down just one time. “Sure I could, but I’d rather focus on rescuing horses from alopecia than spend a few hours at this dumb-ass training. Honestly, who has the time for any of this?”

MEET ADDY. Just look at all these dolls crying, complaining and getting paid for it all. Meanwhile hot girl summer came and left and I’m still stuck here performing history. Imma just slap the next bitch who tries to buy me. The scholars who brought me to life built the best american story but forgot two key facts. 1) I’m tired of being sold  2) less than half the people who buy me actually listen. But if I raised my hand right now & asked “Do I really need to be here?” you think my boss would just let me leave? 

Copyright © 2020 by Kortney Morrow. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Here, poem meets prayer.
We are exceedingly comfortable
with posturing and self-defense
that masquerade as apology.
But what’s needed in this moment
is unmixed confession
of our nation’s sin,
deep and indefensible.
“Now I lay me down to sleep”
must make way for
something more muscular:
sack cloth and ashes,
prayer and fasting,
naked prostration.
Daniel understood
radical repentance begins
with this unvarnished profession:
You are righteous,
and we are not.
Please heal our nation.
Cleanse our stubborn hearts.
Show each of us what part to play.
Broken as Judah and Jerusalem,
we cry and come bending our will
toward the good
you dream for us still,
no matter our sin,
no matter what skin
we’re in.

Copyright © 2020 by Nikki Grimes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Mayagüez, Puerto Rico 1856

I. The First Horse
Cholera swarmed unseen through the water, lurking in wells and fountains,
squirming in garbage and excrement, infinitesimal worms drilling the intestines,
till all the water and salt would pour from the body, till the body became a worm,
shriveling and writhing, a slug in salt, till the skin burned blue as flame, the skin
of the peasant and the skin of the slave gone blue, the skin in the slave barracks blue,
the skin of ten thousand slaves blue. The Blue Death, face hidden in a bandanna,
dug graves with the gravediggers, who fell into holes they shoveled for the dead.
The doctors died too, seeing the signs in the mirror, the hand with the razor shaking.

II. The Second Horse
Doctor Betances stepped off the boat, back from Paris, the humidity of the plague
glistening in his beard. He saw the stepmother who fed him sink into a mound
of dirt, her body empty as the husk of a locust in drought.He toweled off his hands.
In the quarantine tents there was laudanum by the bitter spoonful, the lemonade
and broth; in the dim of the kerosene lamps there was the compress cool against
the forehead, the elixir of the bark from the cinchona tree. For peasants and slaves
moaning to their gods, the doctor prescribed chilled champagne to soothe the belly.
For the commander of the Spanish garrison, there was silence bitter as the spoon.

III. The Third Horse
At every hacienda, at every plantation, as the bodies of slaves rolled one by one
into ditches all hipbones and ribs, drained of water and salt, stripped of names,
Doctor Betances commanded the torch for the barracks where the bodies would
tangle together, stacked up as if they never left the ship that sailed from Africa,
kept awake by the ravenous worms of the plague feasting upon them. Watching
the blue flames blacken the wood, the doctor and the slaves saw another plague
burning away, the plague of manacles scraping the skin from hands that cut
the cane, the plague of the collar with four spikes for the runaways brought back.

IV. The Fourth Horse
The pestilence of the masters, stirred by spoons into the coffee of the world,
spread first at the marketplace, at auction, the coins passing from hand to hand.
So Doctor Betances began, at church, with twenty-five pesos in pieces of eight,
pirate coins dropped into the hands of slaves to drop into the hands of masters,
buying their own infants at the baptismal font. The secret society of abolitionists
shoved rowboats full of runaways off the docks in the bluest hour of the blue night,
off to islands without masters. Even the doctor would strangle in the executioner’s
garrote, spittle in his beard, if the soldiers on watch woke up from the opiate of empire.

V. The Fifth Horse
The governor circled his name in the name of empire, so Doctor Betances
sailed away to exile, the island drowning in his sight, but a vision stung
his eyes like salt in the wind: in the world after the plague, no more
plague of manacles; after the pestilence, no more pestilence of masters;
after the cemeteries of cholera, no more collar of spikes or executioners.
In his eye burned the blue of the rebel flag and the rising of his island.
The legend calls him the doctor who exhausted five horses, sleepless
as he chased invisible armies into the night. Listen for the horses.

 

*To read this poem in its intended format, please click here from your laptop or desktop.

Copyright © 2020 by Martín Espada. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 23, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I used to dream of living here. I hike
a trail I know that at the end opens

to glorious views of the city I did
live in once, when men my age kept dying

while I learned how to diagnose AIDS.
Some dreams don’t come true, and some dreams become

nightmares. Across a field that smells of sage,
a few horses loiter. I want to think

that they forgive me, since they’re noble creatures.
They stamp and snort, reminding me they know

nothing of forgiveness. I used to dream
that someday I’d escape to San Francisco,

when I was still in high school and I knew.
Tall and muscled, the horses are like the jocks

on the football team who beat me once, as if pain
teaches truth and they knew I had to learn.

I used to dream I was as white as them,
that I could slam my locker closed and not

think of jail. Some nightmares come true,
like when my uncle got arrested for

cocaine. My family never talked about it,
which made me realize they could also feel shame.

That’s when I started dreaming I could be
a doctor someday, that I could get away,

prescribe myself a new life. Right now, as
the city comes into view, I think of those

animals and hope they got what they deserved.
The city stretches out its arms, its two bridges

to Oakland, to Stockton, to San Rafael,
to Vallejo; places I could have been from

but wasn’t. It looks just as it did
all those years ago. Yet I know it’s changed

because so many of us died, like Rico,
who took me up here for the first time.

We kicked a soccer ball around and smoked
a joint. I think we talked about our dreams,

but who can remember dreams. I look out
and the sun like your hand on my face

is warm, and for a moment I think this is
glorious, this is what forgiveness feels like.

Copyright © 2020 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

This is not a small voice
you hear               this is a large
voice coming out of these cities.
This is the voice of LaTanya.
Kadesha. Shaniqua. This
is the voice of Antoine.
Darryl. Shaquille.
Running over waters
navigating the hallways
of our schools spilling out
on the corners of our cities and
no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.

This is not a small love
you hear               this is a large
love, a passion for kissing learning
on its face.
This is a love that crowns the feet with hands
that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails
mends the children,
folds them inside our history where they
toast more than the flesh
where they suck the bones of the alphabet
and spit out closed vowels.
This is a love colored with iron and lace.
This is a love initialed Black Genius.

This is not a small voice
you hear.

From Wounded in the House of a Friend. Copyright © 1995 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.

To call oneself African (here) means, simply, the rejection of a view of self as mired in double consciousness. It is to imagine (or know—or avow, finally) one’s consciousness as that of the African’s untainted by the European encounter.
                                                             *  *  *

Think back, say 180 years: The slip, slippage…of thinking as someone free (thinking one’s self free to think, to be) and the cruel knock of the master or mistress insisting that you are object, abject…that what has slipped from your unguarded thoughts is aberration and must be nullified swiftly, permanently

                    You have been made to know at all costs—short of a kind of useless dysfunction—that yours is not to think, muse, contemplate. Your mind must be tabula rasa…your will nonexistent—except what is given you by others to be or do. The sharp eye or blunt iron or cutting whip has told you so.
                               
                          And you must take pains to never forget it.

                                                              *  *  *

Anyone who comes back to this human realm could be considered to have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. A liminal space, it offers possibility yet is fraught with tension. It is a “chafed” position, a chastened position, perhaps—as it does not provide stability or spiritual haven, but is, rather, a way station.
                                                              *  *  *  

It matters most to not just recognize the features of place or to come to know the feel of a place, but rather to have a particular sense of being in a place. 
(To sense one’s feeling of being in place.)

                                                              *  *  *  

                                  Anger has shaped its own place in you.
                                                              *  *  * 

Those who come to this human realm are struck between a rock and a hard place. Its liminal space offers possibility that is fraught with possibility. And you, with great pain, can never forget what others have so carefully forgotten.
                                                              *  *  *

          Think back: Tongue loosened from a bitter muteness…but the body moving among terrors…alight with everything you’ve guarded, even unremembered dreams…
          
       Thronging headlong bodies, buffering or buffeting or….

                    
                The cities and machines set against you, desperate to render you ragged and amorphous as clouds in rain.

                                                              *  *  * 

                    It matters most to not just recognize the features of place or to come to know the feel of a place, but rather to sense one’s being in that place. (To have a particular sense of being in that place.) 
                                                              *  *  * 

                                Where has anger not made a place for you?

Copyright © 2020 by Sharan Strange. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The night air is filled
with the scent of apples,
and the moon is nearly full.

In the next room, Jim
is reading; a small cat sleeps
in the crook of his arm.

The night singers are loud,
proclaiming themselves
every evening until they run

out of nights and die in
the cold, or burrow down into
the mud to dream away the winter.

My office is awash in books
and photographs, and the sepia/pink
sunset stains all its light touches.

I’ve never been a good traveler,
but there are days, like this one,
when I’d pay anything to be in

another country, or standing on
the cold, grey moon, staring back
at the disaster we call our world.

We crave change, but
turn away from it.
We drown in contradictions.

Tonight, I’ll sleep
blanketed in moonlight.
In my dreams, I’ll have

nothing to say about anything
important. I’ll simply live my life,
and let the night singers live theirs,

until all of us are gone.
I won’t say a word, and let
silence speak in my stead.

Copyright © 2020 by William Reichard. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 19, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

We felt nostalgic for libraries, even though we were sitting in a library. We looked around the library lined with books and thought of other libraries we had sat in lined with books and then of all the libraries we would never sit in lined with books, some of which contained scenes set in libraries.   *   We felt nostalgic for post offices, even though we were standing in a post office. We studied the rows of stamps under glass and thought about how their tiny castles, poets, cars, and flowers would soon be sent off to all cardinal points. We rarely got paper letters anymore, so our visits to the post office were formal, pro forma.   *   We felt nostalgic for city parks, even though we were walking through a city park, in a city full of city parks in a country full of cities full of city parks, with their green benches, bedraggled bushes, and shabby pansies, cut into the city. (Were the city parks bits of nature showing through cutouts in the concrete, or was the concrete showing through cutouts in nature?)   *   We sat in a café drinking too much coffee and checking our feeds, wondering why we were more anxious about the future than anxiously awaiting it. Was the future showing through cutouts in the present, or were bits of the present showing through cutouts in a future we already found ourselves in, arrived in our café chairs like fizzled jetpacks? The café was in a former apothecary lined with dark wood shelves and glowing white porcelain jars labeled in gilded Latin, which for many years had sat empty. Had a person with an illness coming to fetch her weekly dose of meds from one of the jars once said to the city surrounding the shop, which was no longer this city, Stay, thou art so fair? Weren’t these the words that had sealed the bargainer’s doom? Sitting in our presumptive futures, must we let everything run through our hands—which were engineered to grab—into the past? In the library, in the post office, in the city park, in the café, in the apothecary... o give us the medicine, even if it is a pharmakon—which, as the pharmacist knows, either poisons or heals—just like nostalgia. Just like the ruins of nostalgia.

Copyright © 2020 by Donna Stonecipher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994) by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the author.

acrostic golden shovel

America is loving me to death, loving me to death slowly, and I
Mainly try not to be disappeared here, knowing she won’t pledge
Even tolerance in return. Dear God, I can’t offer allegiance.
Right now, 400 years ago, far into the future―it’s difficult to
Ignore or forgive how despised I am and have been in the
Centuries I’ve been here—despised in the design of the flag
And in the fealty it demands (lest I be made an example of).
In America there’s one winning story—no adaptations. The
Story imagines a noble, grand progress where we’re all united.
Like truths are as self-evident as the Declaration states.
Or like they would be if not for detractors like me, the ranks of
Vagabonds existing to point out what’s rotten in America,
Insisting her gains come at a cost, reminding her who pays, and
Negating wild notions of exceptionalism—adding ugly facts to
God’s-favorite-nation mythology. Look, victors get spoils; I know the
Memories of the vanquished fade away. I hear the enduring republic,
Erect and proud, asking through ravenous teeth Who do you riot for?
Tamir? Sandra? Medgar? George? Breonna? Elijah? Philando? Eric? Which
One? Like it can’t be all of them. Like it can’t be the entirety of it:
Destroyed brown bodies, dismantled homes, so demolition stands
Even as my fidelity falls, as it must. She erases my reason too, allows one
Answer to her only loyalty test: yes or no, Michael, do you love this nation?
Then hates me for saying I can’t, for not burying myself under
Her fables where we’re one, indivisible, free, just, under God, her God.

 

Copyright © 2020 by Michael Kleber-Diggs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

“It isn’t right to despise one’s country
I don’t deserve to be loved and left.”
—Faysal Cumar Mushteeg

Say you are reading Barthes, or rereading Barthes, 
two acts which are hardly independent of each other.  
Say it’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, and you are all aflush,  
your finger tracing the outline of flight, Either woe or well-being, he writes,  
Sometimes I have a craving to be engulfed.  
And even though this could mean anything, you think you know what it means 
to shiver with well-practiced yearning.   
Not for provincial beginnings, nor Moroccan boys,  
but for lip-shaped crescent moons left on teacups. 
An oil splash of a man with scarred hands.  
In this poem, he doesn’t have a name.  
Your own dumb luck pools around your ankles. We skirt around it, a kindness.  
It disgusts you, the depth of this need,  
like the slick walls of a well.   
Your bones ache most when held. 
Eventually, you’ll have to stop impersonating a skimmed stone.  
There are other ways of parting. 
You annotate Barthes annotating Keats, half in love with easeful death. 
Over-identify until you are light-headed, until you remember a hot, loud classroom.  
Breathless bluetooth blues, a free school meal in your belly, 
the easy cruelty of teachers at under-performing schools,  
so unlike their counterparts in the movies,  
those loose-tied English teachers who promise you 
a world so much bigger than this. So much easier than this. 
Chipped neon nail polish competing against your prized set of highlighters,  
you mistake a poem for a blueprint. First the odes, then the Jane Campion film.  
That night, you dreamt of lavender fields, bruised eyelids,  
the shape of Rome’s dying sunlight on a poet’s grave.  

                    Here lies one whose name was writ in water 

No name. No date. This was all Keats wanted. Convinced they knew better,  
his friends contextualised their grief, added the rest.  
This Grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET,  
who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his heart,  
at the Malicious Power of his enemies,  
desired these words to be Engraven on his Tomb Stone.  

You think of how casually our bodies are overruled by kin, by blood,  
by heartaches disguised as homelands.  
How you can count the years you have lived for yourself on one hand.  
History is the hammer. You are the nail. 
In another dream, your mother is barefoot and young,  
wearing a scarf the colour of a wound. By Fontana del Moro, a Moor adrift  
on a conch shell leans over her shoulder,  
as she unpeels her wet dress from her legs.  
Unmoored, she laughs at this new country calling itself an old one.  
These fictions she tosses like loose coins.  
We don’t dare dip our hands further than they can reach.  
Her gold bracelets slide down the silk flags of her wrists.  
Nightly, you strive to write a loose translation of this. 
Arterial blood is theatrical, like the desire for a time before your time.  
The world will not stop when you do, or even before.  
Yes, being the one who survived, the one who made it to this side,  
is a full-time job.  
But no-one asked you to take it.  
Diaspora is witnessing a murder without getting blood on your shirt.  
Your body is the evidence of its absence.  
Of course, there are other definitions.  
Namely, a freshly scraped scalp, dome of your rock,  
the inevitability of fajr and late-night texts,  
each lie about how good the exchange rate was.  
That time he cried telling you the story of why his family had left Sweden,  
the image of a younger brother held underwater by wild-eyed classmates.  
Definitions, like flags, lay claim to what has always existed.  
For now, these will do. You can’t speak for the future.  
It barely speaks for you.  
Pick a mask and ask me to wear it. You only know love like this,  
an interpretation you can’t outrun.  
A footnote to haunt the page.  

Copyright © 2021 by Momtaza Mehri. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 22, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.