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Vickie  Vértiz
Vickie Vértiz

Only we make beautiful things just to destroy them

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, January 15, 2019.
About this Poem 

“The video installation that inspired this poem shows engineers from Russia and artists from Mexico floating in the belly of a plane in zero gravity (of course someone brought a piñata). My poem tries to remind us that as our countries are built on shameful acts of violence against the most vulnerable—the unarmed, the queer, children, refugees fleeing violence we fueled—we need to find and activate our allies. People have endured broken voting systems, survived being sprayed with DDT to enter the country, and much more, yet we must celebrate and keep surviving. The poem instructs us to get up, to do our work, and get between speech and harm.”
Vickie Vértiz

Only we make beautiful things just to destroy them

          After the exhibition “La Gravedad de Los Asuntos 
                 (Matters of Gravity)”
 
The Mexicans and the Russians were always in on it 
This is collaboration in zero gravity democracy 
—blurry violet lights and no clear answer 
This is a nuclear glow in the dark so we can start over 
We board planes to Mars and six engines fire
 
You spin away. It’s candy guts out here—all our voting machines are breaking 
You tumble and can’t stop, but 
Grab a harness—an adult pigtail
 
Six plane engines click on and your homie has to 
Push you so you can swing at the exploding star 
A way of thinking, una estructura doblada
 
Alguien cortó oropel azul en cuadritos 
And stuffed it into the piñata. A yellow paleta 
Big as a chicken, floats to the right hand corner and balances 
Tipping into the comrade’s hands
 
What’s a layer of confetti and candy compared to DDT 
The kind you sprayed over all our naked bodies 

We’re diamonds: hard, shiny, and we 
Get processed to go through 
We don’t infest, pendejo. We invest 
There goes your friend again, diving toward 
The paleta, which has to be pineapple flavor
 
We were always in on it together 
Me and my honey watch a video on loop 
We gently hold each other like the beach balls we are 
The light dims and that constellation swings 

Only one Russian cosmonaut will smile at a time 
They watch a compa swim away 

Reach out 
Don’t make someone else do your work for you 
Some of us were grounded 
The whole time 

Copyright © 2018 by Vickie Vértiz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Vickie Vértiz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

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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

The Year

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of the year.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox
1917
poem

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Naomi Shihab Nye
1995
Mississippi National River & Recreation Area. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
In Memoriam
poem

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
Wallace Stevens
1954
poem

A House Called Tomorrow

You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
You are a hundred wild centuries

And fifteen, bringing with you
In every breath and in every step

Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,

The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.

If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:

The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.

We simply would not be here
If that were so.

You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.

You are the breaking news of the century.
You are the good who has come forward

Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise.  But think:

When you as a child learned to speak,
It’s not that you didn’t know words—

It’s that, from the centuries, you knew so many,
And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.

From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,

The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:

That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,

Is ourselves.  And that’s all we need
To start.  That’s everything we require to keep going. 

Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.

Be good, then better.  Write books.  Cure disease.
Make us proud.  Make yourself proud.

And those who came before you?  When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.

Alberto Ríos
2018
collection

Lesson Plans for Winter and the Holidays

Celebrate winter and the holiday season in the classroom with this selection of lesson plans featuring poems by Richard Blanco, Emily Dickinson, Naomi Shihab Nye, 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.  

Fall-Winter 2018 issue of American Poets