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Catie Rosemurgy
Catie Rosemurgy

America Talks to Me Like a Mother

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, July 27, 2016.
About this Poem 

“‘America Talks to Me Like a Mother’ is from a series of poems about American hometowns in general and more specifically about a fictional version of the town that I think of as my home. Here I imagine myself being directly involved in local history and living through the 1871 forest fire that devastated a large swath of the upper Midwest. Of course I imagine myself living. For those of us who are descendants of colonizers, what a broken and dangerous relationship we have to place, landscape, history, home, sleep, and waking.”
—Catie Rosemurgy

America Talks to Me Like a Mother

Don’t worry. One kills in dreams
but wakes having not killed.

Having not killed is part of waking. Some mornings, though,
you lay there pinned under layers of light, fear,

and woolen blankets.
You know what’s right and what’s wrong,
what you don’t know is what happened
and if you were actually there.

That’s why dreams of digging a deep hole with a stolen shovel
are so confusing. That’s why you expect to jerk awake
when you stand in a pile of dry brush
holding a lit match in your hand.

The best thing to do, always,
is get up and walk down the stairs.
Don’t leave.
Not yet.

Wait awhile in the kitchen, it doesn’t matter whose kitchen,
and let the house absorb the blame.
That’s what a house is for.

You aren’t screaming,
you’re insisting
because you’re always wrong,
even while you sit on the ground before daybreak waiting
for enough light to gather sticks.
You don’t know yet what a stick is.
You can’t be expected to remember anything
once you’ve seen the sun rise.

All day long, you walk back and forth through the field,
standing guard over what didn’t happen
to keep it from mixing with what did.
You didn’t shoot the gun, you just listened well
when people talked about how to do it.
You didn’t walk unscathed through the fire,
you walked unscathed over it.
You happened to find a narrow bridge.

You wouldn’t purposely hurt anyone,
but keep describing all the ways that you would.
List all the things that never happened,
and see if you can suck clean the edges of what did.

Copyright © 2016 by Catie Rosemurgy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Catie Rosemurgy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

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.

American Poets
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From the Archive: May Swenson at Joshua Tree National Park.
poem

Like Any Good American

I bathe my television    in total attention    I give it my corneas
I give it my eardrums    I give it my longing
In return I get pictures      of girls fighting    and men flying
and women in big houses    with tight faces    blotting down tears
with tiny knuckles    Sometimes my mother calls
and I don't answer      Sometimes a siren     sings past the window
and summer air     pushes in     dripping with the scent
of human sweat       But what do I care      I've given my skin
to the TV     I've given it my tastes     In return    it gives me so many
different sounds     to fill the silence   where the secrets
of my life     flash by like ad space     for the coming season

Brynn Saito
2013
poem

One Today

A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration
January 21, 2013

 

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello / shalom,
buon giorno / howdy / namaste / or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together

Richard Blanco
2016
June Jordan Postcard from 1978
poem

A Small Needful Fact

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Ross Gay
2016