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Erika Meitner
Erika Meitner

A Brief Ontological Investigation

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, July 19, 2018.
About this Poem 

“There’s something about summer that unfolds and unlooses everything. I wrote this poem while in residence at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts—an artists’ colony I’ve been going to for fifteen years. A friend there was in a rut, and I wanted to make them feel better, but after writing it, I think I made everyone feel worse—including myself. If this poem is anything, it is maybe an anti-ode: a poem against gratitude. Because what creeps in when we truly open ourselves is the potential for joy and connection but also for grief and restlessness and confusion.”
—Erika Meitner

A Brief Ontological Investigation

What can I say to cheer you up? This afternoon the sky is like five portholes between the clouds. The unidentifiable weeds are tall and still unidentifiable and I miss the cows in the field, where have they gone? Sometimes one would wander then stand in the middle of the road and I’d have to stop my car and wait for it to decide to finish crossing. I am drinking seltzer through a straw because of my injury and I have inexplicable bruises on the side of my thigh and I just spent the last five minutes watching a bird through my window sitting in the small crotch where two phone lines x together though it flew off before I could take a picture of it. In the urgent care waiting room this morning there was a magazine with a proven neuroscience article on rituals that will make us happy and the first was practicing gratitude but when I tried to think of something right there next to the guy with the walker and the woman with gauze held to her cheek I came up blank. Because I am a terrible person I will tell you that my neighbor does this thing I hate with her kids called heart-bread, where they’re forced each night before bed to go around one by one and come up with a moment of gratitude and I want to tell her that we can thank anything—the crushed cans in recycling, my wristwatch for keeping time, the rainstorm yesterday that had water pouring from the gutters. I mean, we all overflow; we all feel an abundance of something but sometimes it’s just emptiness: vacant page, busy signal, radio static, implacable repeat rut where the tone arm reaches across a spinning vinyl record to play it again, rest its delicate needle in a groove and caress forever the same sound from the same body. Which is to say that the opposite of ennui is excitement and I’m not feeling it either today even a little. Not in the CVS while browsing the shiny electric rainbow nail-polish display indefinitely while waiting for my prescription. And probably not on my run later no matter how bucolic the mountains seem in the 5pm heat. The second ritual in that article was to touch people, which is easy if you’re with people you can touch but I’m in too loud a solitude and can only touch myself which reminds me of that old Divinyls’ song and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the article meant. Buber says you has no borders but he’s talking about god I think since this is not true of us because we all have bodies which make us small countries or maybe islands. If summer means our bodies are more porous perhaps we’re also more open to this inexplicable sadness that hangs here from the cinderblocks, drags itself across the barbed wire fence. What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m not cheered up either. That bird, before it flew off, I like to think of the crossed wires, the impenetrable conversations rushing under its feet. 

Copyright © 2018 by Erika Meitner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Erika Meitner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 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