The moon will shine for God
knows how long.
As if it still matters. As if someone
is trying to recall a dream.
Believe the brain is a cage of light
& rage. When it shuts off,
something else switches on.
There’s no better reason than now
to lock the doors, the windows.
Turn off the sprinklers
& porch light. Save the books
for fire. In darkness,
we learn to read
what moves along the horizon,
across the periphery of a gun scope—
the flicker of shadows,
the rustling of trash in the body
of cities long emptied.
Not a soul lives
in this house &
this house & this
house. Go on, stiffen
the heart, quicken
the blood. To live
in a world of flesh
& teeth, you must
learn to kill
what you love,
& love what can die.
Copyright © 2016 by Burlee Vang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.
Copyright © 2006 The Czeslaw Milosz Estate.
Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape
and the little churchyard with its lamenting names
and the terrible reticent gorge in which the others
end: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lay ourselves down again and again
among the flowers, and look up into the sky.
“Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape” from Uncollected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow. Translation copyright © 1996 by Edward Snow.
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.
If I had one more day
I would write a love poem
composed of one word
repeated like binary code.
I’ll multiply it by the number
of days that passed
without saying it to you
and I’ll add the days
when I said it with no words
because I want to say it
more. And like a bee
gathering pollen, I’ll collect
everything ever said
in one word like a square root
multiplied by the power of ten.
I’ll count even that day
when my anger at you
or for you turned me into
a stone, and also the days
when I was away
sending my songs like
postcards to the lonely,
feeling you in every touch
of love I gave to the world.
I’ll count all my days,
even the nine months of days
before I was born, to say
this exponential, growing “I love you.”
Copyright © 2021 by Dunya Mikhail. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
You ask me for a poem about love
in place of a wedding present, trying to save me
money. For three nights I’ve lain
under glow-in-the-dark stars I’ve stuck to the ceiling
over my bed. I’ve listened to the songs
of the galaxy. Well, Carmen, I would rather
give you your third set of steak knives
than tell you what I know. Let me find you
some other, store-bought present. Don’t
make me warn you of stars, how they see us
from that distance as miniature and breakable
from the bride who tops the wedding cake
to the Mary on Pinto dashboards
holding her ripe, red heart in her hands.
Copyright © Beth Ann Fennelly. Used with permission of the author.
I lied a little. There are things I don’t want to tell you. How lonely I am today and sick at heart. How the rain falls steadily and cold on a garden grown greener, more lush and even less tame. I haven’t done much, I confess, to contain it. The grapevine, as usual, threatens everything in its path, while the raspberry canes, aggressive and abundant, are clearly out of control. I’m afraid the wildflowers have taken over, being after all the most hardy and tolerant of shade and neglect. This year the violets and lilies of the valley are rampant, while the phlox are about to emit their shocking pink perfume. Oh, my dear, had you been here this spring, you would have seen how the bleeding hearts are thriving.
Copyright © 2006 by Madelon Sprengnether. From Angel of Duluth. Reprinted with permission of White Pine Press.
You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now
told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted
cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds
in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s
son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.
Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling
by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned
from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—
motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth
spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,
darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag
with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts
above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us
the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love
but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog
-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing
& still breathing. Believe me.
Copyright © 2015 by Ocean Vuong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it
From The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara by Frank O’Hara, copyright © 1971 by Maureen Granville-Smith, Administratrix of the Estate of Frank O’Hara, copyright renewed 1999 by Maureen O’Hara Granville-Smith and Donald Allen. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.