poem index

National Poetry Month Poster Poems, 2016

This year's National Poetry Month poster features lines from classic and contemporary poems chosen by designer Debbie Millman.

National Poetry Month Poster Poems, 2016
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Janet McNally

If you believe in snow, you have to believe
in water as it’s meant to be, loosed

from clouds arranged like asphodel. Because that’s
what it’s like to come back: a slow

surfacing, memory spiraling away. You can sleep
so long, whole seasons are forgotten

like hospital-room plaster, spidered
with cracks in Portugal shapes. You can love

sleep like water, love your heavy limbs
pushing river and ocean aside.

After Maggie woke the doctors had her stringing
bracelets of semiprecious beads, and she

couldn’t stop counting the kinds of blue.
Here, summer, in the high shade of a gingko,

she pulls up a handful of stones on silk
and we drink grapefruit seltzer, listening

to the tinny chime of bubbles
rising to the air. She can’t remember

autumn, so we tell her someday this tree will drop
its fan-shaped leaves all at once,

golden in the October crush
of every plant’s frantic strip show. Later

we’ll see mountains through the scrim of empty
branches, and if we want we can look straight up

into the atmosphere, see the same plain old sky
revolving. When we ask Maggie what color it is

she always says iolite, picturing beads
like raindrops, shining azure on the table.

She forgets that sometimes things don’t stay
where you leave them, that the sky fades

to white even before snow begins to
fall. It’s hard, but we have to tell her

even sapphires don’t glow blue
without some kind of help.

"Maggie Says There’s No Such Thing as Winter" from Some Girls by Janet McNally © 2015. Used with permission of White Pine Press.

National Poetry Month Poster Poems, 2016
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Ellen Bass

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

"Relax" from Like a Beggar. Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

National Poetry Month Poster Poems, 2016
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Jim Handlin

                         1

Everything gets slow, stops.
I reread the telegram.


                         2

I remember the squirrel dead
at the end of the driveway.
The body thrown up on the grass
next to the azalea.
The red where the car hit
so different from the red
of the bush.
All that day and the next
I thought of ways
to stay close to my mother.


                     3

They auction the contents
of the estate. Limoges and
cloisonné, piece after piece.
The bed she slept in, her silver
tea set. I notice cobwebs
in corners, dust, places
where the wallpaper's faded.
Her painting for some other wall,
her gold for someone else's finger.
Outside taillights slash the night:
red and more red.

First appeared in the May 1981 issue of Poetry. Copyright © 1981 Jim Handlin. Used with permission of the author.

National Poetry Month Poster Poems, 2016
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Hilda Morley, 1916 - 1998

Last night
                   tossed in
my bed
                  the sound of the rain turned me
around,
               a leaf
in a dried gully
                        from side to
side,
          the sound of the rain took me
apart,      opened to             what is it?
breath caught in memory of
a deep sweetness
                             that sound
                             unceasing
delicate,             the wetness running
through my body
                           It might be nighttime
                           in a forest hut,
the rain constant
                          in little rivulets
splashing,
                       at times uncertain—

safe in each other's arms,
                                       the rain sheltering
us       a depth opening
bottomless to a terrible sweetness,
                                             the small rain
shaking us in our bed
                                         (the terror)
whispering
                        End of a season,
                        wind from the west

From To Hold in My Hand: Selected Poems, 1955-1983 (Sheep Meadow Press, 1983). Copyright © 1983 by Hilda Morley.

National Poetry Month Poster Poems, 2016
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James Kimbrell
Let it be said
that Tim's year was divided
into two seasons: sneakers
and flip-flops. Let us
remember that Tim
would sometimes throw a football
with all the requisite grip, angle
and spiral-talk. Let us recall
that for the sake of what was left
of appearances, my mother
never once let him sleep
in her bed; he snored all over
our dog-chewed couch, and in
the mornings when I tip-toed
past him on my way
to school, his jowls
fat as a catcher's mitt, I never cracked
an empty bottle across that space
where his front teeth
rotted out. Nor did I touch
a struck match to that mole
by his lip, whiskery dot that—he 
believed—made him irresistable
to all lovelorn women.
Still, let us remember
sweetness: Tim lying face down,
Mom popping the zits
that dotted his broad, sun-spotted back,
which, though obviously
gross, gets the January photo
in my personal wall calendar
of what love should be,
if such a calendar
could still exist above my kitchen table
junked up with the heretos and
therefores from my
last divorce.
              Let us not forget
how my mother would slip
into her red cocktail dress
and Tim would say,
"Your mother is beautiful,"
before getting up
to go dance with someone else.
              In fairness, let me
confess that I pedaled
my ten-speed
across the Leaf River bridge
all the way to Tim's
other woman's house
and lay with that woman's daughter
beside the moon-
cold weight
of the propane tank, dumb
with liquor, numb to
the fire ants that we spread
our blanket over until
I stopped for a second
and looked up
because I wondered if
her mother could hear us,
or if Tim might not
have stood in the kitchen,
maybe looked out
the window and saw
my white ass pumping
in the moonlight,
and whispered
to himself, "That's my boy."

"Elegy for My Mother's Ex-Boyfriend" from Smote. Copyright © 2015 by James Kimbrell. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Sarabande Books, www.sarabandebooks.org.

National Poetry Month Poster Poems, 2016
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Safiya Sinclair

The meek inherit nothing.
God in his tattered coat
this morning, a quiet tongue

in my ear, begging for alms,
cold hands reaching up my skirt.
Little lamb, paupered flock,

bless my black tea with tears.
I have shorn your golden
fleece, worn vast spools

of white lace, glittering jacquard,
gilded fig leaves, jeweled dust
on my skin. Cornsilk hair

in my hems. I have milked
the stout beast of what you call America;
and wear your men across my chest

like furs. Stick-pin fox and snow
blue chinchilla: They too came
to nibble at my door,

the soft pink tangles I trap
them in. Dear watchers in the shadows,
dear thick-thighed fiends. At ease,

please. Tell the hounds who undress
me with their eyes—I have nothing
to hide. I will spread myself

wide. Here, a flash of muscle. Here,
some blood in the hunt. Now the center
of the world: my incandescent cunt.

All hail the dark blooms of amaryllis
and the wild pink Damascus,
my sweet Aphrodite unfolding

in the kink. All hail hot jasmine
in the night; thick syrup
in your mouth, forked dagger

on my tongue. Legions at my heel.
Here at the world’s red mecca,
kneel. Here Eden, here Bethlehem,

here in the cradle of Thebes,
a towering sphinx roams the garden,
her wet dawn devouring. 

"Center of the World" first appeared in the December 2015 issue of Poetry. Subsequently published in Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press, 2016). Copyright © 2015 by Safiya Sinclair.

National Poetry Month Poster Poems, 2016
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Erika L. Sánchez
Admit it—
you wanted the end 

with a serpentine 
greed. How to negotiate

that strangling 
mist, the fibrous
 
whisper?

To cease to exist 
and to die

are two different things entirely. 

But you knew this, 
didn't you?

Some days you knelt on coins 
in those yellow hours. 

You lit a flame

to your shadow 
and ate

scorpions with your naked fingers. 

So touched by the sadness of hair
in a dirty sink.

The malevolent smell 
of soap. 

When instead of swallowing a fistful
of white pills,

you decided to shower, 

the palm trees
nodded in agreement,

a choir 
of crickets singing 

behind your swollen eyes.

The masked bird 
turned to you 

with a shred of paper hanging 
from its beak.

At dusk, 
hair wet and fragrant,

you cupped a goat's face

and kissed 
his trembling horns. 

The ghost? 

It fell prostrate,
passed through you 

like a swift 
and generous storm.

"Six Months After Contemplating Suicide" first appeared in the December 2015 issue of Poetry. Copyright © 2015 Erika L. Sánchez.

National Poetry Month Poster Poems, 2016
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Stephanie Gray
     After Tim Dlugos' Things I Might Do

I probably didn't tell you that the last
Line of your poem left me on a plane of
Movement somewhere between the best of pop
Culture and the longest break in your favorite pop song
I probably didn't tell you that the train is going to take
Way longer than you think and you were probably annoyed
I probably broke the moon in pieces with my night vision
Straining too hard to remember what I probably dropped in your inbox
I probably should've said what I meant.
You probably knew how my life didn't fix into
That theory box on your shelf, so I probably
Ignored you when you said hi to me near Mercer St
I probably left off the most important thing
But you probably didn't want to hear it
I probably tried to be a good New Yorker and
Work hard and play hard but it didn't work
Out that way, I probably just reverted back to
The Rust Belt mode—work hard, have it not mean
Enough to play hard or play at all. It's probably too hard to make
A dent for yourself in the Rust Belt. It's all probably said and done
Your neighbor knows what you did tomorrow and what was
Going on yesterday. Probably good too so you don't get in trouble
With the other neighbor. But they probably don't know that you could
Be in NY for a few hours and have something good and so life changing happen
To you it was probably a 360 for you and probably took
You years to come down to 180, probably, right?

From Shorthand and Electric Language Stars by Stephanie Gray. Copyright © 2015 Stephanie Gray. Used with permission of Portable Press at Y-Yo Labs.

National Poetry Month Poster Poems, 2016
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Margaret Avison, 1918 - 2007

Hot in June a narrow winged
long-elbowed-thread-legged
living insect lived
and died within
the lodgers' second-floor bathroom here.

At six a.m.
wafting ceilingward,
no breeze but what it living made there;

at noon standing
still as a constellation of spruce needles
before the moment of
making it, whirling;

at four a
wilted flotsam, cornsilk, on the linoleum:

now that it is
over, I
look with new eyes
upon this room
adequate for one to
be, in.

Its insect-day
has threaded a needle
for me for my eyes dimming
over rips and tears and
thin places.

Reprinted from Always Now (in three volumes) by Margaret Avison with permission of the Porcupine's Quill. Copyright © The Estate of Margaret Avison, 2003.

National Poetry Month Poster Poems, 2016
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Louis Simpson, 1923 - 2012

My father in the night commanding No
Has work to do. Smoke issues from his lips;
      He reads in silence.
The frogs are croaking and the street lamps glow.

And then my mother winds the gramophone,
The Bride of Lammermoor begins to shriek—
      Or reads a story
About a prince, a castle, and a dragon.

The moon is glittering above the hill.
I stand before the gateposts of the King—
      So runs the story—
Of Thule, at midnight when the mice are still.

And I have been in Thule! It has come true—
The journey and the danger of the world,
      All that there is
To bear and to enjoy, endure and do.

Landscapes, seascapes . . . where have I been led?
The names of cities—Paris, Venice, Rome—
      Held out their arms.
A feathered god, seductive, went ahead.

Here is my house. Under a red rose tree
A child is swinging; another gravely plays.
      They are not surprised
That I am here; they were expecting me.

And yet my father sits and reads in silence,
My mother sheds a tear, the moon is still,
      And the dark wind
Is murmuring that nothing ever happens.

Beyond his jurisdiction as I move
Do I not prove him wrong? And yet, it's true
      They will not change
There, on the stage of terror and of love.

The actors in that playhouse always sit
In fixed positions—father, mother, child
      With painted eyes.
How sad it is to be a little puppet!

Their heads are wooden. And you once pretended
To understand them! Shake them as you will,
      They cannot speak.
Do what you will, the comedy is ended.

Father, why did you work? Why did you weep,
Mother? Was the story so important?
      "Listen!" the wind
Said to the children, and they fell asleep.

"My Father in the Night Commanding No" from The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems 1940-2001. Copyright © 1963, 2001 by Louis Simpson. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

National Poetry Month Poster Poems, 2016
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Adrienne Rich, 1929 - 2012

There are no angels       yet
here comes an angel       one
with a man's face         young
shut-off         the dark
side of the moon         turning to me
and saying:        I am the plumed
                            serpent       the beast
                            with fangs of fire   and a gentle
                            heart

But he doesn't say that       His message
drenches his body
he'd want to kill me
for using words to name him

I sit in the bare apartment
reading
words stream past me        poetry
twentieth-century rivers
disturbed surfaces        reflecting clouds
reflecting wrinkled neon
but clogged        and mostly
nothing alive left
in their depths

The angel is barely
speaking        to me
Once in a horn of light
he stood       or someone like him
salutations in gold-leaf
ribboning from his lips

Today again        the hair streams
to his shoulders
the eyes reflect      something
like a lost country       or so I think
but the ribbon has reeled itself
up
    he isn't giving
or taking any shit
We glance miserably
across the room       at each other

It's true       there are moments
closer and closer together
when words stick       in my throat
                                          'the art of love'
                                          'the art of words'
I get your message Gabriel
just        will you stay looking
straight at me
awhile longer

"Gabriel." Copyright © 1993 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1969 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, from Collected Early Poems: 1950-1970 by Adrienne Rich. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.