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Brionne Janae
Brionne Janae

Child's Pose

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, August 22, 2018.
About this Poem 

“I wrote the last line of this poem the day after the 2016 election. And while those lines, for me, are a direct response to the devastation many of us felt after that event, I was, at the time, uninterested in writing a political poem and more interested in looking at how we survive and cope with all the little intimate devastations in our life. In its most basic sense, this poem is an exploration of what it means to acknowledge how little control you have over everything and everyone in the world and how you can only try to control your own body and responses to trauma instead, as a means to cope and hopefully survive.”
—Brionne Janae

Child's Pose

imagine your heart is just a ball you learned to dribbled up
and down the length of your driveway back home. slow down

control it. plant your feet in the soft blue of your mat and release
it is hard but slowly you are unlearning the shallow pant

of your childhood. extend your body—do not reach
for someone but something fixed and fleshless and certain—

fold flatten then lift your head like a cobra sure of the sun
waiting and ready to caress the chill

from its scales. inhale—try not to remember how desperate
you’ve been for touch—yes ignore it—that hitch of your heart

you got from mornings you woke to find momma hysterical
or gone. try to give up the certainty she’d never return

recall only the return and not its coldness. imagine her arms
wide to receive you imagine you are not a thing that needs

escaping. it is hard and though at times you are sure
you will always be the abandoned girl trying to abandon herself

push up arch deep into your back exhale and remember—
when it is too late to pray the end of the flood

we pray instead to survive it.

Copyright © 2018 by Brionne Janae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Brionne Janae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 22, 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

Windy Nights

Whenever the moon and stars are set,   
  Whenever the wind is high,   
All night long in the dark and wet,   
  A man goes riding by.   
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?   
   
Whenever the trees are crying aloud,   
  And ships are tossed at sea,   
By, on the highway, low and loud,   
  By at the gallop goes he.
By at the gallop he goes, and then   
By he comes back at the gallop again.  
Robert Louis Stevenson
1913
poem

Pilgrimage

Vicksburg, Mississippi


Here, the Mississippi carved
            its mud-dark path, a graveyard

for skeletons of sunken riverboats.
            Here, the river changed its course,

turning away from the city
            as one turns, forgetting, from the past—

the abandoned bluffs, land sloping up
            above the river's bend—where now

the Yazoo fills the Mississippi's empty bed.
            Here, the dead stand up in stone, white

marble, on Confederate Avenue. I stand
            on ground once hollowed by a web of caves;

they must have seemed like catacombs,
            in 1863, to the woman sitting in her parlor,

candlelit, underground. I can see her
            listening to shells explode, writing herself

into history, asking what is to become
            of all the living things in this place?

This whole city is a grave. Every spring—
            Pilgrimage—the living come to mingle

with the dead, brush against their cold shoulders
            in the long hallways, listen all night

to their silence and indifference, relive
            their dying on the green battlefield.

At the museum, we marvel at their clothes—
            preserved under glass—so much smaller

than our own, as if those who wore them
            were only children. We sleep in their beds,

the old mansions hunkered on the bluffs, draped
            in flowers—funereal—a blur

of petals against the river's gray.
            The brochure in my room calls this

living history. The brass plate on the door reads
            Prissy's Room. A window frames

the river's crawl toward the Gulf. In my dream,
            the ghost of history lies down beside me,

rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.
Natasha Trethewey
2006
Steamtown National Historic Site. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
poem

Return to Florence

How do I convey the shoring gold
at the core of the Florentine bells’
commingled chimes?

Vast as a suddenly revealed
field of wheat,
that up-and-away gold
is equivalent to the match-burst
morning I returned,
intent as doubting Thomas,
to my old classroom terrace,
open to the showy, blue yes
of the bustling Arno,
to my timeless, sun-laved
Basilica of Santo Spirito,
and discovered
ebullient citizens reciting,
at a hundred different posts,
the same unbetraying passage
of Dante’s Paradise.
 

Cyrus Cassells
2014
poem

Greetings

I counted the water towers, I counted the active smokestacks.
These were the breadcrumbs I thought would lead me back. Now
I know it’s possible to drive so far we forget why we left, that the
journey continues even after the car breaks down. I used to think
I had no message, but the message is me—bloodshot and hungry,
spilled coffee down the front of my shirt. People of the future,
gather round. I have traveled through ink to greet you.

Charles Rafferty
2018
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

Compass

I let him do what he will to me—
we are traveling into the waves
and the ocean is torn by swells.

I am cautious. The moon,
it can barely be sensed,
it cannot be helped.

I learned something, I am learning.
I am untangling a rope.
I am caught by a breaking wave.

The boat is rolling from side to side
I tell of my going to town—
What he threw broke through,

it has broken away.

 

Translated into English from Inupiaq by the poet.

 

Taktugziun

Manimaiga—
maliŋniagratugut
mallatuq.

Nuyaqtuŋa. Taqqiq,
ikpiŋanailaq,
iluilaq.

Ilisiruŋa, ilita.tuŋa.
Ilaiyairuŋa akłunaamiik.
Qaaġaaŋa.

Uaałukitaaqtuq umiaq.
Quliaqtuŋa aptauqtuaŋa—
Iitaaga pularuq.

ilaŋa.tuq.

 

Joan Naviyuk Kane
2015
collection

Poetry and Place

In this collection, we examine the significance of place in contemporary American poetry. Here you'll find a range of poems, commentary, and essays that revolve around what we mean by the idea of "home" or of "homelessness" resulting from travel or displacement. Some works deal with a specific time and location, while others focus on a more socially-constructed view of place through the lenses of pop culture and identity. In the end, we hope this collection both confirms and challenges your notion of place in American poetry.

For a more thorough exploration of our theme, check out W. T. Pfefferle's anthology Poets on Place: Essays & Tales from the Road.