Who was warned about these things:
the neverhush, the maddening chafe
sliding down a reddened bridge, print
Who was told how to brook it?
The houndstooth stench of olding.
That time just runs itself out. That
we Sisyphus ourselves to glasses,
hobble wreckage down stair
after bricky stair.
That once we leave home—its gaseous
oven—that once we walk the same slow
steps as our hide-and-seek sun that
once we face our anti-lovers’ anti-gaze:
bright, open, later, now eyes smoldered
coats swept open to flash our own
scarred bellies our own hot hands
ablaze with spent matches with burnt-out
How it loosed its jaw to our kisses?
How it unhinged us? How it tried us
like so many keys like so many rusted
locks? How it missed its target despite its
kicking? How maybe its force could kill us?
Without it what’s left day after day
to trundle our legs? What’s left to push
breath ragged and torn from our lungs?
Who was warned
how these solar winds would leave us
brown and bruised as apples over-
-ripe host and blowsy seed dis-
Copyright © 2017 by Samiya Bashir. Originally published in Field Theories (Nightboat Books, 2017). Used with the permission of the poet.
on Gustav Klimt’s painting, 1907-1908
Do you really think if you bend
me, I will love you? You
crack my chin up, your hands
brown pigeons scheming reunion
at my cheek and temple, your jaw
cragged at the end of your thick neck
of longing. I claw onto you
as the only tree here, your
swing. I’m mad for gravity though
I’m bound, diagonally, to
you. Let me. Push from your trunk towards
the edge and my freedom. Leave me
to wither while moss weeps
in the corners, our halo liquid
as yolk, waving from our bodies’ heat,
our divinity melting. My dress
blossoms loudly. You are still
wrestling me closer. If only I could
release to you my mouth just this
once and you would leave me,
but the shadows of your robe are
so haphazard. I know you will try
to smother me again. The poppies scratch. My feet
reach beyond spring.
From For Want of Water (Beacon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Sasha Pimentel. Used with the permission of the poet and Beacon Press.
Or else I said ash, as I do.
to it, all not lit at.
empty or otherwise
swore the pity more
empty or otherwise
Yes, threw time
swore try it (me).
Empty or otherwise
lie all evocative i.e., I’ll vacate love.
A timid I admit
I want out now, taut, I
added need, dead ended
Seems I’m sewn too tight.
Wept rust me.
Sometimes we step into something true.
Woke in the wake of he knew too.
Us, the sun’s
to set null, red into its unset still, rode into T-
minus us, us, in sum,
flingable alibi set:
all in a big life.
a page agape,
blink to ink blot
gives a visage
eyes I’d made. Seed my idea
in deed, indeed,
fit end to law:
pray and we flap.
I try to
fly as time.
and falls on us, and falls on us
I dove into the void)
I to pen:
From Stet by Dora Malech. Copyright © 2018 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.
Throw scissors at it. Fill it with straw and set it on fire, or set it off for the colonies with only some books and dinner- plates and a stuffed bear named Friend Bear for me to lose in New Jersey. Did I say me? Things have been getting less and less hypothetical since I unhitched myself from your bedpost. Everyone I love is too modern to be caught grieving. In order to be consumed first you need to be consumable, but there is not a single part of you I could fit in my mouth. In a dream I pull back your foreskin and reveal a fat vase stuffed with crow feathers. This seems a faithful translation of the real thing. Another way to harm something is to melt its fusebox, make it learn to live in the dark. I still want to suck the bones out from your hands, plant them like the seeds we found in an antique textbook, though those never sprouted and may not have even been seeds. When I was a sailor I found a sunken ziggurat, spent weeks diving through room after room discovering this or that sacred shroud. One way to bury something is to bury it forever. When I was water you poured me out over the dirt.
Copyright © 2017 by Kaveh Akbar. From Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James Books, 2017). Used with permission of the author.
|Please speak to me||only of the present|
|or if you must||bring up the past|
|bring up only that||which you and I|
|don't share. I know||this is a selfish|
|thing to ask. Yes, as I||have often|
|remarked, shore lunch||at hanging rock|
|was lovely. Your||hair and mine|
|stayed put. Later on||we didn't, as we|
|do now, pull it from||each other's clothes|
|as if for final proof||that we've been|
|sleeping with||each other. In the glorious|
|picnics of the past||we simply knew|
|such things. The rock||upon which|
|we sat, ran beneath||the lake, and was|
|the same rock we||were both looking|
|over to the other||side at. I almost|
|felt, believe me,||as if we were|
|two people. Person,||I nearly could|
|have said, hold on.||Instead, I used|
|the name we had||agreed upon. Not|
|your fault. A name||is useful, it helps|
|with the blankness||I am sometimes|
|feeling in regards||to you. I apologize|
|for saying this||out loud. You are not|
|the blankness||I am speaking|
|of. Plug your thought||or daydream|
|into me, and they||or I will often|
|fail to light. You are||beginning to see|
|what I mean about||the past, how I,|
|despite my facility||with pliers, and eye|
|for detail, may not||be suitable. What was|
|your name? I am||not kidding. What comes|
|will run us through||from the front, we|
|pull our way||down its length|
|if only to see, at last||what has ahold|
|of the spear-grip.||Therefore, the future,|
|as a topic, is sadly||also out. Instead, let's|
|cast the deep side||of the weedbed|
|together. The lake||is black, like slate|
|we scrape across||with paddles toward|
|the weedtops,||sticking up, like alien|
|flags, above||the invisible|
|settlements, the castle||you've dropped|
|your hooks||inside of. I love|
|how destructive||you are with the fishes,|
|so go ahead||and bring your war|
|against them, Ramona,||against the duck,|
|against time,||against any things|
|that swim. Our fiber-||glass canoe is of|
|burnt orange;||our shapely hooks|
|of shining gold;||our giant rock, also|
|somewhere in the lake||beneath us, is|
|the bottom, toward||which the minnow,|
|lip-hooked, dives||after the lead,|
|its weight a thing||the minnow seems|
|to follow, as if||we sent it dropping|
|both for what we had||to give away and still|
|we didn't want||the lake to have.|
Copyright © 2010 by Joshua Bell. Used with permission of the author.
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
From Homage to Clio by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1960 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
They’d only done what all along they’d come
intending to do. So they lay untouched by regret,
after. The combined light and shadow of passing
cars stutter-shifted across the walls the way,
the night moths used to, softly
sandbagging the river of dream against dream’s
return…Listen, it’s not like I don’t get it about
suffering being relative—I get it. Not so much
the traces of ice on the surface of four days’
worth of rainwater in a stone urn, for example,
but how, past the ice,
through the water beneath it,
you can see the leaves—sycamore—where they fell
unnoticed. Now they look suspended, like heroes
inside the myth heroes seem bent on making
from the myth of themselves; or like sunlight, in fog.
Copyright © 2017 by Carl Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
(for a.g., you & yours)
the night is silver in its silence
moon-pop echoes of the day
raked up rubble of the hours spent
my, the children slumber
a thousand tomorrows bubbling at their lips
the dream projections lighting up
the clouds’ ample cotton relish the silence
as you’ll relish tomorrow
and the honesty of such raucous noise, thick
child feet of our unfeathered breasts, beasts we cherish
hallway run, sprints to smash the mash of food
tumbling, rolling right into these arms
charmed in their amnesia regarding where one
begins or ends
reminding us of the joy
of first step and the storm after the holler:
mama see, mama watch
thunder on a hardwood, heartbeat
this sole and counted rhythm
every generation a temporal fugitive
running from the death grip
every death ship’s watch, yesterdays
we weren’t meant to make it through
relish the memory ingrained in the sound
how these tiny, tiny feet
grip the floor, say
I make you
Copyright © 2019 by heidi andrea restrepo rhodes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 21, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Accurate like an arrow without a target
and no target in mind.
Silence has its own roar or, not-roar,
just as Rothko wrote “I don’t express myself
in my paintings. I express my not-self.”
A poem that expresses the not-self.
Everything but the self.
The meadow’s veil of fog, but is veil self-referential?
Already, dawn, the not-birds alert to what silence has to offer.
The fog, one of Rothko’s shapes,
hanging there in the not-self, humming.
Mikel, before he died, loved Rothko most.
When he could still think, he put his mind
to those sorts of judgments.
If I pull the fog away like theater curtains, what then?
Sadness shapes the landscape.
The arrow of myself thwacks the nearest tree.
Fog steps closer like a perpetrator or a god.
Oh. I’m weeping.
Tears feed the silence like a mother drops
into her baby not-bird’s open beak
some sweet but dangerous morsel.
From Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Diane Seuss. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.
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.
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
From Wounded in the House of a Friend. Copyright © 1995 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.
1. I ate eggs from a chafing dish while the baker reminded us: the only thing that will hurt you out here are your own bad decisions
2. I felt fettered then un-
3. I listened to the rain
4. I listened to the rain hitting the Carrier compressor, the gravel walk
5. I listened to the rain flattening the clover, I listened to the rain letting up and then it was ozone and drip
6. On the bench under the overhang in the rain I let myself pretend I was younger and childless, like the first time I arrived here
7. The first time I arrived here, I never thought I am small and luminous
8. The body, burdened and miraculous
9. The body as thin-nest boundary
10. I climbed into your body like a cave
11. I was frightened to walk in the dark
12. Late at night even my own movements became unknowable, magnified and rustling
13. The night cut by the moon, punctured by the whistle of the cargo train
14. There was only a hole, there was only forward and more forward
15. The inevitability of a scarred life, your pulse, stitches, this palace of breath
16. go on, go on / again, again / return, return
Copyright © 2019 by Erika Meitner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 18, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
what was it you
wanted us to
say after you died
it’s awful without you making sound exist
you said ponder this
but none of us can remember
what now dear please speak up
when quaking became zeal to open
nothing now but a
medieval barking gargoyle
whoever gave you the tambourine shall
be sheriff of my tender zoo
I am not here
I am in the future
where I have always been
please hurry back and forth to
kiss me my ghost
Copyright © 2014 by CAConrad. Used with permission of the author.
August First: it was a year ago
we drove down from St.-Guilhem-le-Désert
to open the house in St. Guiraud
rented unseen. I'd stay; you'd go; that's where
our paths diverged. I'd settle down to work,
you'd start the next month of your Wanderjahr.
I turned the iron key in the rusted lock
(it came, like a detective-story clue,
in a manila envelope, postmarked
elsewhere, unmarked otherwise) while you
stood behind me in the midday heat.
Somnolent shudders marked our progress. Two
horses grazed on a roof across the street.
You didn't believe me until you turned around.
They were both old, one mottled gray, one white.
Past the kitchen's russet dark, we found
bookshelves on both sides of the fireplace:
Verlaine, L'Étranger, Notes from the Underground.
Through an archway, a fresh-plastered staircase
led steeply upward. In a white room stood
a white-clad brass bed. Sunlight in your face
came from the tree-filled window. "You did good."
We laid crisp sheets we would inaugurate
that night, rescued from the grenier a wood-
en table we put under the window. Date
our homes from that one, to which you returned
the last week of August, on a late
bus, in shorts, like a crew-cut, sunburned
bidasse. Sunburned, in shorts, a new haircut,
with Auden and a racing pulse I'd earned
by "not being sentimental about
you," I sprinted to "La Populaire."
You walked into my arms when you got out.
At a two minute bus stop, who would care?
"La Populaire" puffed onward to Millau
while we hiked up to the hiatus where
we'd left ourselves when you left St. Guiraud
after an unambiguous decade
of friendship, and some months of something new.
A long week before either of us said
a compromising word acknowledging
what happened every night in the brass bed
and every bird-heralded blue morning
was something we could claim and keep and use;
was, like the house, a place where we could bring
our road-worn, weary selves.
Now, we've a pause
in a year we wouldn't have wagered on.
Dusk climbs the tiled roof opposite; the blue's
still sun-soaked; it's a week now since you've gone
to be a daughter in the capital.
(I came north with you as far as Beaune.)
I cook things you don't like. Sometimes I fall
asleep, book open, one A.M., sometimes
I long for you all night in Provencal
or langue d'oc, or wish I could, when I'm
too much awake. My early walk, my late
walk mark the day's measures like rhyme.
(There's nothing I hate---perhaps I hate
the adipose deposits on my thighs
---as much as having to stay put and wait!)
Although a day alone cuts tight or lies
too limp sometimes, I know what I didn't know
a year ago, that makes it the right size:
owned certainty; perpetual surprise.
From Selected Poems 1965-1990 by Marilyn Hacker, published by W. W. Norton, Inc. Copyright © 1994 Marilyn Hacker. Used with permission.
but love does not, Menelle Sebastien.
Of all the afflictions
all the sums & paradoxes,
& gravitons that add up
to more minus
I promise that love
is often as inconsiderate as it is just
because actual love,
is a wave function
that isn’t restricted
in any one place
at one time.
No, love must
be a superposition
with a measurement problem,
but don’t worry,
I won’t get into alternative
realities & how a single judgement
from one can so easily
she’s sizing up— & yet,
when experts speak of capturing
vastness at such a small scale,
I can only see the passenger
flitting into living
& every blue whale
sinking into the great
& all the threats each are facing,
all these gigantic things
within the size
of a subatomic being
that is the proton,
which is not fundamental
ought to be—
& maybe it does all
to a single hush.
Like how we try to escape
what makes us human by trying
to make sense of what made us
when I think on the proton,
I only observe love
in which we bias & sway & touch
But like I said,
I won’t get into it
like the quark’s fate
& all the possible quantum trickery
lying in wait.
I don’t believe hope dies
just because old measurements got it
wrong & there are no secret lives
between protons & muons
that cause the former to change
silencing all the music
that drives us
rather than discovery.
Maybe just thank
since, for now, there’s an answer,
even if it feels like a dead end—
because I’d bet everything,
that at least something began
over this: jounce,
butterfly & cower ::
over & oeuvre,
each other’s spoils,
Copyright © 2020 by Rosebud Ben-Oni. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
what we do not dream we cannot manufacture
Art follows ear and echo
eyesight searches the dust
and is surprised by love’s
what love sees in daily light
holds open color—ink, roar, melody and quiet
is its own steady gaze
to better endure bumps
“always more song to be sung” between the words
jars memory and its subatomic
moving at the speed of thought
in random thirsts rise
name the sensations,
to fish for breath,
combing through hair as tangled as nets, as
thick as the beat of blossoms’
a fine line between mind and senses spinning
in which her/my/their body becomes expert
without waiting for unified theory,
loving the body of one’s choice and
to live so surrounded
with fewer asterisks and
more verbs and
fewer security alerts
there eloquence before
*For Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor
Copyright © 2020 by Erica Hunt. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 1, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
no one speaks of how tendrils feed on the fruits
of my demise these dead hands for instance that alight phlox
wild strawberry and pine this is my body out of context rotting in the wrong hemisphere
I died so all my enemies would tremble at my murmur how it populates their homes
so I could say to the nearest fellow dead person I know more than
all my living foes I’ve derived sun-fed design for once from
closing my oak eyes now they’ll never snare the civilian
pullulating my throat
Copyright © 2019 by Xan Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 26, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Stopped in cars, we are waiting to accelerate
along different trajectories. I catch the rising
pitch of a train—today one hundred nine people
died in a stampede converging at a bridge;
radioactive water trickles underground
toward the Pacific Ocean; nickel and copper
particulates contaminate the Brocade River.
Will this planet sustain ten billion people?
Ah, switch it: a spider plant leans toward
a glass door, and six offshoots dangle from it;
the more I fingered the clay slab into a bowl,
the more misshapen it became; though I have
botched this, bungled that, the errancies
reveal it would not be better if things happened
just as I wished; a puffer fish inflates on deck;
a burst of burnt rubber rises from pavement.
From Sight Lines. Copyright © 2019 by Arthur Sze. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.
As a girl I held the hind
legs of the small and terrified, wanted
the short-fur and the wet meat furrowing.
Wanted the soft cry of the quavering
boy at primary school, rockstone
mashed up against his tender head,
the sick milk of us poor ones sucked
clean from a Government-issued plastic bag.
At lunchtime children were lethal
and precise, a horde hurling “Ben-foot”
at she who was helpless and I
waking too-surprised to hear my own
cruel mouth taunting. Her smile some
handsome forgery of myself.
Grateful, even now,
they cannot see the bald-wire
patois of my shamdom—
Makeshift, dreaming the warmth
spent in the muscle of the living,
the girl I grew inside my head dreaming
of a real girl, dreaming.
I wanted a pearled purse so I stole it.
I wanted a real friend so I let him. Let her.
Let him. Let him. Let him.
This beauty I am eager to hoard
comes slippery on ordinary days,
comes not at all, comes never.
Yet I am a pure shelled-thing. Glistening
manmade against the wall where one
then two fingers entered
the first time,
terror dazzling the uncertainty
of pleasure. Its God as real as girlhood.
Copyright © 2020 by Safiya Sinclair. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Begin to understand
the nature of the leavening process
The letter H
catches in the throat then she steps
backwards and flings
a handful of earth beyond the edges
Of a page you hear a hollow sound
The dry external covering
of an ear of corn then stepping forwards
she scatters letters cut out from
the skull spine bones
The form of a human body
When I in my youth
in a blue wool dress I strolled
in a circle of blue
sings the poet Maudite
The cerebral cortex a sliver of brain
barely thicker than a credit card
The letter I vertical
under an occult sky once upon
a time I sat cross-legged
in the crotch of a tree
Grape wine grain bread
From roots of plants
that bear the grain in darkness
light heat cold focus on
a common scene
Chasms in the fissured earth
The story of the baker
a set of skills in sequential order
the finished loaf A to Z
in place and space
Recognize in some dozens of milliseconds
a written word
The letter J the shape
of a hook and on the hook
the butcher’s coat
wind heat cold drought
Blood and mud flows out
of the right sleeve
gut head and tail measure
body length jaws claws
diameters of holes
The zones of inclusion exclusion
Salt for the stew salt for the bread
once upon a time my mother
was sold from me when I
could but crawl
Dispatches from the frontiers
The letter K stands apart
like a barley plant
in three dimensional space
the dry external covering
A snarl of fibrous hairs
Drifting in circles
wind heat cold drought
and dead white the barley plant
Deboned and buried
Then the reading brain
follows one letter after another
beyond the edges
of a page
One millionth one millionth of a second
Copyright © 2017 by Rochelle Owens. This poem originally appeared in Jacket 2. Used with permission of the author.