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William Archila
William Archila

Spirits

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, July 18, 2018.
About this Poem 

“Back in the days of my MFA in Oregon, I wrote a couple of lines about picturing Felix the Cat totally drunk when I'd hear Perez Prado’s version of ‘Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White.’ I didn’t know what to do with that image, so I shelved it away. I brought it back because I found myself thinking about my grandfather, and the fact that he was a drunk, all those drunks from my childhood asleep on the ground, on the grass or sidewalk, under a tree, in the gutter, some related to me, some not. They were not dangerous, but sad clowns. In retrospect, I’m thinking that they were symbolic of my native country of El Salvador, ridiculously somber, deteriorating while the ugliness of the civil war raged around them.”
—William Archila

Spirits

At daylight, he surrendered to the gutters’ 
thick cirrhosis, his trajectory 

half awake, half anvil from the glass to the killing floor
I was raised in, each thin thread tethered 

from the root of a nicotined tooth 
to the rusted bars of the slammer.  I couldn't tell you why 

Felix the Cat came to mind, totally inebriated, 
two Xs, bubbles popping, his gait 

a saint carried in a procession—Cherry Pink 
& Apple Blossom White, 1955—

except that my grandfather died 
with a bottle in his pocket, his Robert Mitchum

chin & pompadour distilled
from a banana republic in fire, a slow, steady 

drinker, perfect fulfillment to drown out 
his manhood. There's a certain kind of fix 

that falters precariously, 
a benediction when they allege 

one more drunk for the hood. He didn't matter 
to the dispenser nor the riffraff crowd. 

Nothing about him capsized, except his compound 
of cologne & corrosion.  All those rotguts. 

All those bums. They didn't matter 
to the nation, though they were the nation.

Copyright © 2018 by William Archila. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by William Archila. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

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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.

poem

Ghazal: America the Beautiful

Do you remember our earnestness our sincerity
in first grade when we learned to sing America

The Beautiful along with the Star-Spangled Banner
and say the Pledge of Allegiance to America

We put our hands over our first grade hearts
we felt proud to be citizens of America

I said One Nation Invisible until corrected
maybe I was right about America

School days school days dear old Golden Rule Days
when we learned how to behave in America

What to wear, how to smoke, how to despise our parents
who didn’t understand us or America

Only later learning the Banner and the Beautiful
live on opposite sides of the street in America

Only later discovering the Nation is divisible
by money by power by color by gender by sex America

We comprehend it now this land is two lands
one triumphant bully one still hopeful America

Imagining amber waves of grain blowing in the wind
purple mountains and no homeless in America

Sometimes I still put my hand tenderly on my heart
somehow or other still carried away by America

Alicia Ostriker
2016
poem

The House at Long Lake

How a house is a self
     & else, a seeping into
of light deciding the day.
     A house so close

it breathes as the lake
     breathes. How a lake
is a shelf, an eye,
     a species of seeing,

burbling of tongues
     completing the shore.
How a loon is a probing,
     a genus of dreams,

encyclopedia of summer.
     Unsummable house
by the lake, generous hinge
     opening us. I loved,

in folds of sleep, to hear
     the back door’s yawn
& click. You gliding
     down toward shore

& dawn, beyond all frames,
     reconciling yourself to
bracing Long Lake.
     Into its ever-opening, you—

Philip Metres
2018
Homestead National Monument. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
poem

Summer Silence

Eruptive lightnings flutter to and fro
Above the heights of immemorial hills;
Thirst-stricken air, dumb-throated, in its woe
Limply down-sagging, its limp body spills
Upon the earth. A panting silence fills
The empty vault of Night with shimmering bars
Of sullen silver, where the lake distils
Its misered bounty.—Hark! No whisper mars
The utter silence of the untranslated stars.

E. E. Cummings
2017
poem

I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides, 
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.
Langston Hughes
1994
collection

Teach This Poem: The Classics

Teach This Poem is a weekly series featuring a poem from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help K-12 teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. The following lesson plans from this series feature poems by classic poets, including Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and more.

 

collection

A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

Spring–Summer 2018 issue of American Poets
poem

America, I Sing Back

for Phil Young, my father, Robert Hedge Coke, Whitman, and Hughes

America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.
Sing back the moment you cherished breath.
Sing you home into yourself and back to reason.

Oh, before America began to sing, I sung her to sleep,
held her cradleboard, wept her into day.
My song gave her creation, prepared her delivery,
held her severed cord beautifully beaded.

My song helped her stand, held her hand for first steps,

nourished her very being, fed her, placed her three sisters strong.
My song comforted her as she battled my reason

broke my long held footing sure, as any child might do.

Lo, as she pushed herself away, forced me to remove myself,
as I cried this country, my song grew roses in each tear’s fall.

My blood veined rivers, painted pipestone quarries
circled canyons, while she made herself maiden fine.

Oh, but here I am, here I am, here, I remain high on each and every peak,
carefully rumbling her great underbelly, prepared to pour forth singing—

and sing again I will, as I have always done.

Never silenced unless in the company of strangers, singing

the stoic face, polite repose, polite, while dancing deep inside, polite
Mother of her world. Sister of myself.

When my song sings aloud again. When I call her back to cradle.
Call her to peer into waters, to behold herself in dark and light,

day and night, call her to sing along, call her to mature, to envision—

Then, she will make herself over. My song will make it so

When she grows far past her self-considered purpose,
I will sing her back, sing her back. I will sing. Oh, I will—I do.

America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
2016