Grandfather
   advised me:
      Learn a trade

I learned
   to sit at desk
      and condense

No layoffs
   from this
      condensery

From Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works by Lorine Niedecker, © 2002 The Regents of the University of California, University of California Press.

The pine branches reach—the rain! the sun! the edge of the
        moving air! three goats!
Girls on razor scooters turn the corner and scoot
Autonomy actually shows, it shines amidst the stars of decision
I sacrifice hearing to writing, I return to the back of the train
Surrounded by nothing but tattered island nasturtia, the
        shoveler is prepared to exclaim, “Grief exterior, grief
        prison”
Beastly pine cones are falling from the sky
Down in the middle, and a soft wall, the midnight breeze
        billows
Check the role, the rock, the rule!
From cardboard pressed to ginger, water spilled on a list, salt
        sprinkled over …
Why so many references to dogs, purple, and bananas?
Then the carnival—it came up afterwards like a vermillion
        buttress to say of itself “it appears”
Wren in a ragged bee line, flora sleeping live
Yuki, Felicia, and Maxwell have between them $13.75, and they
        are hungry as they enter the small café, where they see a
        display of pies and decide to spend all their money on pie
        there and then—how much pie will each get to eat if
        each pie costs $5.25?
Invincible is my myopia, great is my waist, choral are my ideas,
        wingéd are my eyebrows, deep is my obscurity—who am I?

© 2015 Lyn Hejinian. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 31, 2015 by the Academy of American Poets.

Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.

From The Book of Fables by W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 2007 by W.S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

The round, hanging lanterns,
lit faces in a window of the Marble Palace
Catherine the Great built for a lover,
with the Field of Mars below,
snow falling inside two minds.
One translated Babylonian folktales
so the other could stand in line early morning
for bread at the House of Scholars.
A touch of dawn was again nightfall,
their room furnished with scattered papers,
rare books, a couch with springs poking out,
a bookcase, a floral pitcher, a china cabinet,
a naked light bulb dangling over a table.
Did the two poets learn it took more
to sing & reflect the burning icy stars 
of poetry where privilege & squalor
lived beneath the same ornate ceiling?
Did they tiptoe from the wintery dusk
of the servants’ wing, follow the pseudo-
Gothic stairs up to the forbidden aromas
of Turkish tobacco, sugar, & exotic teas?
Sometimes, they kept themselves warm
with talk of the empress’s love of horses
as they galloped another century. Then, 
sketches  of their time at the Stray Dog
lit the air around those neoclassic nights,
& maybe they also spoke about “Venice
rotting with gold” near the Arctic Circle,
& anger almost kept them warm on days
they bent over pages of snow-blindness
where tears brought them to laughter.

Copyright © 2014 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 1, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Through what precinct of life’s forest are you hiking at this                 moment?
Are you kicking up leaf litter or stabbed by brambles?
Of what stuff are you made? Gossamer or chain mail?
Are you, as reputed, marvelously empty? Or invisibly ever-                   present,
even as this missive is typed? Have you been to Easter Island?             Yes?
Then I’m jealous. Do you use a tongue depressor as bookmark?
Are you reading this at an indecent hour by flashlight?
Plenty of scholarly ink has been spilt praising readers like                     yourself,
who risk radical dismantling, or being unmasked, by rappelling
deep into sentences. Your trigger warnings could be triggered             every
second, yet you forge on, mystic syllables detonating in your               head,
the metal-edged smell of monsoon-downpour on hot asphalt
raising steam in your imagination. You hold out for the phrase
with which the soul resonates, am I right? Reading, you’re                   seized
by tingly feelings, a rustling in the brain, winds that tickle your           scalp,
bubbles erupting from a blow hole at the back of your neck.
You forget the breathy woman talking softly on TV across the           lobby
(via TiVo you’ve saved her for later.) Birds outside are cracking           jokes
and cackling. Reader, smile to yourself, rock the cradle, kiss
everyone you wish to kiss, and please keep reading. It beats
fielding threatening phone calls for $15 an hour which is what
yours truly is meant to be doing right now, instead of                            speculating
on the strange and happy manifestations of, you, dear reader,            you.

Copyright © 2016 by Amy Gerstler. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Because speaking to the dead is not something you want to do
When you have other things to do in your day
Like take out the trash or use the vacuum
In the edge between the stove and cupboard
Because the rat is everywhere
Crawling around
Or more so walking
And it doesn’t even notice you
It has its own intentions
And is searching for that perfect bag of potato chips like you once were
Because life is no more important than eating
Or fucking
Or talking someone into fucking
Or talking someone into something
Or sleeping calmly and soundly
And all you can hope for are the people who put that calm in you
Or let you go into it with dignity
Because poetry reminds you
That there is no dignity
In living
You just muddle through and for what
Jack Jack you wrote to him
You wrote to all of us
I wasn’t even born
You wrote to me
A ball of red and green shifting sparks
In my parents’ eye
You wrote to me and I just listened
I listened I listened I tell you
And I came back
No
Poetry is hard for most people
Because of sound

Copyright © 2013 by Dorothea Lasky. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 12, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.


This is the way water 
thinks about the desert.
The way the thought of water 
gives you something 
to stumble on. A ghost river.
A sentence trailing off
toward lower ground.
A finger pointing
at the rest of the show.

I wanted to read it. 
I wanted to write a poem 
and call it "Ephemeral Stream"
because you made of this 
imaginary creek
a hole so deep 
it looked like a green eye 
taking in the storm, 
a poem interrupted 
by forgiveness.

It's not over yet.
A dream can spend 
all night fighting off 
the morning. Let me
start again. A stream 
may be a branch or a beck, 
a crick or kill or lick,
a syke, a runnel. It pours 
through a corridor. The door 
is open. The keys
are on the dashboard. 

Copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth Willis. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on January 2, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Science explains nothing
but holds all together as
many things as it can count

science is a basket
not a religion he said
a cat as big as a cat

the moon the size of the moon
science is the same as poetry
only it uses the wrong words.

From May Day, published by Parsifal Press, Canada. Copyright © 2006 by Robert Kelly. Used by permission of the author.

I am rejecting your request for a letter of rejection. One must reject everything in order to live. That may be true, but the rejected know another knowledge—that if they were not rejected, heaven would descend upon the earth in earthly dreams and an infinite flowering of all living forms would form a silveresque film over our sordid history, which has adventitiously progressed through violent upheavals in reaction to rejection; without rejection there would be no as-we-know-it Earth. What is our ball but a rejected stone flung from the mother lode? The rejected know that if they were nonrejected a clear cerulean blue would be the result, an endless love ever dissolving in more endless love. This is their secret, and none share it save them. They remain, therefore, the unbelieved, they remain the embodiment of heaven herself. Let others perpetuate life as we know it—that admixture, that amalgam, the happy, the sad, the profusion of all things under the sunny moon existing in a delicate balance, such as it is. Alone, the rejected walk a straight path, they enter a straight gate, they see in their dreams what no one else can see—an end to all confusion, an end to all suffering, an elysian mist of eternally good vapor. Forgive me if I have put your thoughts into words. It was the least I could do for such a comrade, whose orphaned sighs reach me in my squat hut.

From My Private Property. Copyright © 2016 by Mary Ruefle. Reprinted with permission of the author and Wave Books.

We sat together at one summer's end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, "A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world." 
                                              And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There's many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, "To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful."
I said, "It's certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough."

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.
I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

This poem is in the public domain.

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don't know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can't find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

By Denise Levertov, from Poems 1960-1967. Copyrightt © 1966, 1964 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

The library is dangerous—
Don’t go in. If you do

You know what will happen.
It’s like a pet store or a bakery—

Every single time you’ll come out of there
Holding something in your arms.

Those novels with their big eyes.
And those no-nonsense, all muscle

Greyhounds and Dobermans,
All non-fiction and business,

Cuddly when they’re young,
But then the first page is turned.

The doughnut scent of it all, knowledge,
The aroma of coffee being made

In all those books, something for everyone,
The deli offerings of civilization itself.

The library is the book of books,
Its concrete and wood and glass covers

Keeping within them the very big,
Very long story of everything.

The library is dangerous, full
Of answers. If you go inside,

You may not come out
The same person who went in.

Copyright © 2017 by Alberto Ríos. Used with the permission of the author.

Who does a job well, and very well—
These are the artists, those curious
Lights.

We are cobblers of the song
And barkers of the carnival word,
We are tailors of the light
And framers of the earth.
We fish among the elements
And hunt the elusive green in gray and blue.
We drink forbidden waters
And eat an invisible food.

In this time of electronic-mail and facsimile
Conversation, we send as our voice
The poem, the bridge, the circuit, the cure
Whose electricity is made from dreams,
Whose song is sung in the colors yet unnamed
Drawn from the solitary études of the soul
And given up in tender to the world.

How easy to spend a day writing a poem,
How hard to spend a life writing a thousand.
A poem, a bridge, a story, a circuit,
Cures, laws, bowls—
The warp and weave and waft of iron
And paper and light and salt:
We labor for a lifetime
But take every day off.
Who knows what to make of us?
We are not the ribcage, but the legs;
We are not the steering wheel, but the headlamps.
We gather happily, if not often. We can’t
Sit still. We hurry off. Good-bye to us,
Hello to us, a tip of the hat
To us, as we go about
The drumming of our stars.

From A Small Story about the Sky, published by Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 2015 by Alberto Ríos.