The Academy of American Poets is the largest membership-based nonprofit organization fostering an appreciation for contemporary poetry and supporting American poets. For over three generations, the Academy has connected millions of people to great poetry through programs such as National Poetry Month, the largest literary celebration in the world; Poets.org, the Academy’s popular website; American Poets, a biannual literary journal; and an annual series of poetry readings and special events. Since its founding, the Academy has awarded more money to poets than any other organization.
You promised to send me some violets. Did you forget?
White ones and blue ones from under the orchard hedge?
Sweet dark purple, and white ones mixed for a pledge
Of our early love that hardly has opened yet.
Here there’s an almond tree—you have never seen
Such a one in the north—it flowers on the street, and I stand
Every day by the fence to look up for the flowers that expand
At rest in the blue, and wonder at what they mean.
Under the almond tree, the happy lands
Provence, Japan, and Italy repose,
And passing feet are chatter and clapping of those
Who play around us, country girls clapping their hands.
You, my love, the foremost, in a flowered gown,
All your unbearable tenderness, you with the laughter
Startled upon your eyes now so wide with hereafter,
You with loose hands of abandonment hanging down.
I'm writing to you from the loneliest, most
secluded island in the world. I mean,
the farthest away place from anything else.
There are so many fruits here growing on trees
or on vines that wrap and wrap. Fruits
like I've never seen except the bananas.
All night the abandoned dogs howled.
I wonder if one dog gives the first howl, and if
they take turns who's first like carrying
the flag in school. Carrying the flag
way out in front and the others
following along behind in two long lines,
pairs holding hands. Also the roosters here crow
from 4am onward. They're still crowing right now
and it's almost noon here on the island.
Noon stares back no matter where you are.
Today I'm going to hike to the extinct volcano
and balance on the rim of the crater. Yesterday
a gust almost blew me inside. I heard
that the black widows live inside the volcano
far down below in the high grasses that you can't
see from the rim. Well, I was going to tell you
that this morning the bells rang and I
followed them and at the source of the bells,
there I found so many animals
all gathered together in a room
with carved wooden statues
and wooden benches and low wooden slats
for kneeling. And the animals were there
singing together, all their voices singing,
with big strong voices rising from even
the filthiest animals. I mean, I've seen animals
come together and sing before, except in
high fancy vaults where bits of colored glass
are pieced together into stories. Some days
I want to sing with them.
I wish more animals sang together all the time.
But then I can't sing sometimes
because I think of the news that happens
when the animals stop singing.
And then I think of all the medications
and their side effects that are advertised
between the pieces of news. And then I think
of all the money the drug companies spent
to videotape their photogenic, well-groomed animals,
and all the money they spent to buy
a prime-time spot, and I think, what money
buys the news, and what news
creates the drugs, and what
drugs control the animals, and I get so
choked I can't sing anymore, Lonely Animal.
I can't sing with the other animals. Because it's
hard to know what an animal will do when it
stops singing. It's complicated, you know, it's just
--New Orleans, November 1910
Four weeks have passed since I left, and still
I must write to you of no work. I've worn down
the soles and walked through the tightness
of my new shoes calling upon the merchants,
their offices bustling. All the while I kept thinking
my plain English and good writing would secure
for me some modest position Though I dress each day
in my best, hands covered with the lace gloves
you crocheted--no one needs a girl. How flat
the word sounds, and heavy. My purse thins.
I spend foolishly to make an appearance of quiet
industry, to mask the desperation that tightens
my throat. I sit watching--
though I pretend not to notice--the dark maids
ambling by with their white charges. Do I deceive
anyone? Were they to see my hands, brown
as your dear face, they'd know I'm not quite
what I pretend to be. I walk these streets
a white woman, or so I think, until I catch the eyes
of some stranger upon me, and I must lower mine,
a negress again. There are enough things here
to remind me who I am. Mules lumbering through
the crowded streets send me into reverie, their footfall
the sound of a pointer and chalk hitting the blackboard
at school, only louder. Then there are women, clicking
their tongues in conversation, carrying their loads
on their heads. Their husky voices, the wash pots
and irons of the laundresses call to me.
I thought not to do the work I once did, back bending
and domestic; my schooling a gift--even those half days
at picking time, listening to Miss J--. How
I'd come to know words, the recitations I practiced
to sound like her, lilting, my sentences curling up
or trailing off at the ends. I read my books until
I nearly broke their spines, and in the cotton field,
I repeated whole sections I'd learned by heart,
spelling each word in my head to make a picture
I could see, as well as a weight I could feel
in my mouth. So now, even as I write this
and think of you at home, Goodbye
is the waving map of your palm, is
a stone on my tongue.