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Katrina Roberts
Katrina Roberts

Want

About this Poem 

“The growing list of human-caused extinctions weighs heavily in my thinking. Also, the span of any one of our lives–eyelash thin, a cosmic parenthesis, really…and yet, such insistence on divisiveness, on wall-making. Attentiveness might let us move from fact into narrative; of course, enacted desires have consequences. What are our consolations?”
Katrina Roberts

Want

Katrina Roberts

A man walks into a 
museum in Paris, the Museum
of Natural History, to saw
 
a tusk off an elephant-
skeleton centuries-older than  
he’ll ever be, becoming

in those early morning hours  
part of a derelict and
inglorious human history,
 
while swallows darn the air
in loops, their glinting wings  
an origami of hushed folds

only glimpsed by one vigilant 
girl, framed as she is within
a pane of glass, the door of her

heart opening onto a filigreed
balcony that keeps her  
suspended, an unlikely wish

about someone not coming
back. A man walks. A man
walks in to a bar. “Whaddya

want?” Dusty continent
of desire. Majesty left as ragged
meat in heaps for hyenas

“laughing” in heat. Who can look
away? A man sets rough
elbows heavy on the lip

of zinc, thumbs each cheekbone
so his pointers steeple to catch
his brow, shuts eyes, heaves a sigh

then slumps to rest an unshaven cheek
against the cool, unquestioning
bar, as though to sink

into what’s most elemental. What’s
“natural” about any man
making his way alone

through empty Left Bank streets
carrying not a lovely burnished box
of watercolor paints in uniform

lozenge-cakes but a chainsaw? 
The wheeling sky sees all
while sleepers sleep, still

dreaming in languages long lost
when day breaks. The pinking sky
sees all, but rarely speaks

though someone more Romantic
might say it weeps. And the sleepless
girl, orphaned by light, the bright

tusk of her hopes. The joke
no joke, no punch-
line, but a gut-punch in plain sight.
 

Copyright © 2015 by Katrina Roberts. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2015 by Katrina Roberts. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

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Sam Beam of Iron & Wine at Poetry & the Creative Mind, New York City, 2015. Photo credit: Jennifer Trahan.
poem

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
Maya Angelou
1978
Alberto Ríos at the Southwestern Poetry Festival, New York Historical Society, 1991
collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

collection

A Poet's Glossary

Each week we feature a new term from Academy Chancellor Edward Hirsch's April 2014 book A Poet's Glossary. Ten years in the making, Hirsch's book is an international, inclusive collection of the poetic terms that define the art form.