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.
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.
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.
Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the Poet David Henderson
Hi there. My name is George
If you bear with me
for a few minutes I
will share with you
of the 30,117 uses to which
the lowly peanut has been put
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
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
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.
Speak right into the peanut!
Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.
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.
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.
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.