poem index

Attention Grabbers

Attention Grabbers
next
Sarah Kay
After Hanif Abdurraqib & Frank O’Hara
 
It is the last class of the day & I am teaching a classroom of sixth graders about poetry & across town a man has walked into a Starbucks & blown himself up while some other men throw grenades in the street & shoot into the crowd of civilians & I am 27 years old which means I am the only person in this room who was alive when this happened in New York City & I was in eighth grade & sitting in my classroom for the first class of the day & I made a joke about how mad everyone was going to be at the pilot who messed up & later added, how stupid do you have to be for it to happen twice? & the sixth graders are practicing listing sensory details & somebody calls out blue skies as a sight they love & nobody in this classroom knows what has happened yet & they do not know that the school is in lockdown which is a word we did not have when I was in sixth grade & the whole class is laughing because a boy has called out dog poop as a smell he does not like & what is a boy if not a glowing thing learning what he can get away with & I was once a girl in a classroom on the lucky side of town who did not know what had happened yet & electrical fire is a smell I did not know I did not like until my neighborhood smelled that way for weeks & blue skies is a sight I have never trusted again & poetry is what I reached for in the days when the ash would not stop falling & there is a sixth grade girl in this classroom whose father is in that Starbucks & she does not know what has happened yet & what is a girl if not a pulsing thing learning what the world will take from her & what if I am still a girl sitting in my classroom on the lucky side of town making a careless joke looking at the teacher for some kind of answer & what if I am also the teacher without any answers looking back at myself & what is an adult if not a terrified thing desperate to protect something you cannot save? & how lucky do you have to be for it to miss you twice? & tomorrow a sixth grade girl will come to class while her father has the shrapnel pulled from his body & maybe she will reach for poetry & the sky outside the classroom is so terribly blue & the students are quiet & looking at me & waiting for a grown-up or a poem or an answer or a bell to ring & the bell rings & they float up from their seats like tiny ghosts & are gone

Copyright © 2019 by Sarah Kay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February , 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Attention Grabbers
next
Hanif Abdurraqib
dear reader, with our heels digging into the good 
mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something 
about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself 
but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown 
& lord knows I have been called by what I look like 
more than I have been called by what I actually am & 
I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this 
exercise. which, too, is an attempt at fashioning 
something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anything 
worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics arrive 
to the tongue first. say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out grandfather 
clock. he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent 
heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning, 
you could scatter his whole mind across a field.

Copyright © 2018 by Hanif Abdurraqib. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Attention Grabbers
next
Angel Nafis
Onliest man who lay hands on me. Pointer finger pad between my eyes.
Pinky knuckle cool on cheekbone. God of precision, blade at my throat,

for a half hour, you love me this way. Together we discover what I got
from my folks—widows peak, dandruff, hair growing fast in concentric O’s.
 
Claude, so damn beautiful, I can count on one hand the times I’ve looked
directly in your face, for fear I might never come back. You knower of me.
 
To get right I come to you. When I’m finna interview. When I’m finna banquet  
or party. When I must stunt, I come to you—
 
It is mostly you, but, not always. After all you gotta eat too.
So sometimes it’s Percival, face like stones, except when he’s smiling.
Sometimes it’s Junior who sings the whole time he lines up the crown.
 
No matter how soft my body	 or how many eyes find it and peel
               when I walk in the shop		 in the chair, I am of them. 
                              Not brother. Not sister. 		When he wields the razor and takes me 
                                             low it’s like when a woman gets close to the mirror to slide the lipstick 
                                                            on slow. Draws a line so perfect she cuts her own self from the clay. 

Copyright © 2018 by Angel Nafis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Attention Grabbers
next
Donika Kelly
I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs
 
and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead
 
on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow
 
feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.
 
I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot
 
feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls
 
skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.
 
To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white
 
petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am
 
in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Attention Grabbers
next
Jericho Brown
We stand together on our block, me and my son,
Neighbors saying our face is the same, but I know
He’s better than me: when other children move

Toward my daughter, he lurches like a brother
Meant to put them down. He is a bodyguard
On the playground. He won’t turn apart from her,

Empties any enemy, leaves them flimsy, me
Confounded. I never fought for so much—
I calmed my daughter when I could cradle

My daughter; my son swaggers about her. 
He won’t have to heal a girl he won’t let free. 
They are so small. And I, still, am a young man.

In him lives my black anger made red.
They play. He is not yet incarcerated.

Copyright © 2018 by Jericho Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Attention Grabbers
next
Jericho Brown

They said to say goodnight
And not goodbye, unplugged
The TV when it rained. They hid
Money in mattresses
So to sleep on decisions.
Some of their children
Were not their children. Some
Of their parents had no birthdates.
They could sweat a cold out
Of you. They'd wake without
An alarm telling them to.
Even the short ones reached
Certain shelves. Even the skinny
Cooked animals too quick
To get caught. And I don't care
How ugly one of them arrived,
That one got married
To somebody fine. They fed
Families with change and wiped
Their kitchens clean.
Then another century came.
People like me forgot their names.

Copyright © 2014 by Jericho Brown. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Attention Grabbers
next
Afaa Michael Weaver, 1951

Can we just stay here in the space where our loud laughing
won’t disturb the mausoleum of St. Peter, three times denying
the purple iris, can we hobble the horses to the hitching post
in front of the post office and let everything fall out of where
we put it to be delivered, can we call the night choir of crickets
down here to make the road home sing while the lightning bugs
show us the way to a happy wages of sin so then we will not dare
cry when the trumpet hits the high note of getting up in the                       morning,
going back to be counted by the straw bosses, and to count them,
making note of how sure this Earth is, this world of work we                       define
ourselves, as long as we know it will need us, as long as guarantees
paint themselves against the invisible ley lines pulling mountains
together, summoning snow caps in California over the broad                       brown
hills laying up to hear God’s whims like fallen but contented                       angels.

Copyright © 2016 by Afaa Michael Weaver. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 26, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Attention Grabbers
next
Tsitsi Ella Jaji
after Willie Cole
 
Through the artist’s eyes,
we catch this breath of fire,
lifting water up to flight.
This dead weight sinks our histories
back into deep sleep, hidden away
to dream of repair.
 
Waking, we clutch at the real
weight of a movable flood, catching
streams that pour through metal
still cold to the touch. Time
takes little care over us. Current
flowing, its song sighs across weft,
warp, wrinkle, fold. It collars us
in its minutae.
 
Iron, pierced for steam’s escape!
 
Ease across what was once shift,
now skirt, scarf, shirt sleeve, sheet.
Warm what will soon cool.
Stiffen what will turn soft.
Smoothe our way, and drape us
in the dignity
of this new day.

Copyright © 2018 by Tsitsi Ella Jaji. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Attention Grabbers
next
Afaa Michael Weaver, 1951

If he hits the curve before you do, all is lost
is all I remember when the coach yelled out
to start, to kick it down the short straightaway

into the curve, the curve a devil’s handiwork,
with Worsenski ahead of me, two hundred sixty
pounds, one hundred pounds more than me,

and all I could see were the Converse soles
of a boy I dusted in my dreams on the bus
out here to make the track team, letters

for my sweater, girls going goo-goo over me,
coaches from big-league schools with papers
to say I was headed for glory, my unkempt

disappointment in me now sealed by winged
feet beating me in the curve, Worsenski as big
as the USS Enterprise sliding through Pacific

waters, parting the air in front of him that
sucked back behind just to hold me in my grip
of deep shame until I wished I were not there.

I wanted more than being human, a warrior
of field and track would be bursting out now
ripping open my chest with masculinity

to make Jesse Owens proud or jealous,
or inspired or something other than me
the pulling-up caboose slower than mud

running like an old man really walking,
all the most valuable parts of me inside
my brain in wishes, in dreams, in things

not yet born into the world, in calculations
of beauty, in yearning for love, for the word
of love, for some adoration from Wanda,

the most beautiful girl in the whole block,
black like me and wondering just what
life had to give those of us who can fly.

Copyright © 2015 Afaa Michael Weaver. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

Attention Grabbers
next
Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967
Hold fast to dreams 
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes published by Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. All rights reserved.

Attention Grabbers
next
June Jordan, 1936 - 2002

                    For the Poet David Henderson

Hi there. My name is George
Washington
Carver.
If you bear with me
for a few minutes I
will share with you
a few
of the 30,117 uses to which
the lowly peanut has been put
by me
since yesterday afternoon.
If you will look at my feet you will notice
my sensible shoelaces made from unadulterated
peanut leaf composition that is biodegradable
in the extreme.
To your left you can observe the lovely Renoir
masterpiece reproduction that I have cleverly
pieced together from several million peanut
shell chips painted painstakingly so as to
accurately represent the colors of the original!
Overhead you will spot a squadron of Peanut B-52
Bombers flying due west.
I would extend my hands to greet you
at this time
except for the fact that I am holding a reserve
supply of high energy dry roasted peanuts
guaranteed to accelerate protein assimilation
precisely documented by my pocket peanut calculator;

May I ask when did you last contemplate the relationship
between the expanding peanut products industry
and the development of post-Marxian economic theory
which (Let me emphasize) need not exclude moral attrition
of prepuberty
polymorphic
prehensile skills within the population age sectors
of 8 to 15?
I hope you will excuse me if I appear to be staring at you
through these functional yet high fashion and prescriptive
peanut contact lenses providing for the most
minute observation of your physical response to all of this
ultimately nutritional information.
Peanut butter peanut soap peanut margarine peanut
brick houses and house and field peanut per se well
illustrate the diversified
potential of this lowly leguminous plant
to which you may correctly refer
also
as the goober the pindar the groundnut
and the ground pea/let me
interrupt to take your name down on my
pocket peanut writing pad complete with matching
peanut pencil that only 3 or 4
chewing motions of the jaws will sharpen
into pyrotechnical utility
and no sweat.
Please:
Speak right into the peanut!

Your name?


Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

Attention Grabbers
next
Bianca Stone

I am going to the mountains
where the alternating universe of autumn
descends over you at an erotic squat. Out of that blank
and meaningless Play-Doh of my psychic flesh
I am moving on. I am a pupil of fading antiquity.
Sprawled across the table, in a lament about healthcare
and the ineptitude of The System.
Nothing burns quite like The System. It comes at you
when you ask for help, displaying its super-talons
around a clutch of arrows, saying No.

“What deeds could man ever have done
if he had not been enveloped in the dust-cloud
of the unhistorical?” Nietzsche asks this morning
from a small pamphlet on my lap, issued in 1949
in New York City, which I am leaving now,
like a wife from her distant husband
who will not stop to ask her why she is weeping
while she slices apart his silk ties on the floor of the closet.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Bianca Stone. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 28, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Attention Grabbers
next
Shane McCrae

The shadow I had carried lightly has

Been forced upon me now and heavy since

Bulky since     now and since unwieldy as

A corpse the shadow I     was born from in

 

And to I     should have known I couldn’t being

As how it wasn’t me who lifted it

Not     all the way     from me in the first place being

As how its lightness after was a gift

 

Its near-     bodilessness a gift     from those

Who bind it to me now I should have known

I couldn’t while they watched me     set it loose

 

They bind it     to my back they make it strange

That I knew     in my arms they weigh it down

With the shadow they had kept the bindings in

Copyright © 2017 by Shane McCrae. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 29, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Attention Grabbers
next
Rasheed Copeland
the gone did not go so that we’d endure
plucking grapes from the potato salad
we did not stretch Frankie Beverly’s voice
like a tent across this humble meadow
of amber folk sipping gold sun through skin
rejoicing over their continued breath
just for you to invite anyone in
able to pause the bloody legacy
and distract your eyes with a flimsy act
you break all the unwritten covenants
forged in the saved language of unmarked graves
those called to eat are those who starved with us
and not those whose mouths still water
when watching the grill’s flame lick Uncle’s arm

Copyright © 2019 by Rasheed Copeland. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.