poem index

Poems for Teens

     “One way to look at reading: as the lifelong construction of
     a map by which to trace and plumb what it has ever meant
     to be in the world, and by which to gain perspective on
     that other, ongoing map—the one that marks our own
     passage through the world as we both find and make it.”

     From "Another and Another Before That: Some Thoughts on Reading," by Carl Phillips

     “I respond most to what is found out about the heart and
     spirit, what we can hear through the language. Best of
     all, of course, is when the language and other means of
     poetry combine with the meaning to make us experience
     what we understand.”

     From "The Art of Finding" by Linda Gregg

Browse our anthology of poems for teens below.

Poems for Teens
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Ground Swell
Mark Jarman, 1952
Is nothing real but when I was fifteen,
Going on sixteen, like a corny song?
I see myself so clearly then, and painfully--
Knees bleeding through my usher's uniform
Behind the candy counter in the theater
After a morning's surfing; paddling frantically
To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me,
Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor's
Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt.
Is that all I have to write about?
You write about the life that's vividest.
And if that is your own, that is your subject.
And if the years before and after sixteen
Are colorless as salt and taste like sand--
Return to those remembered chilly mornings,
The light spreading like a great skin on the water,
And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges,
And--what was it exactly?--that slow waiting
When, to invigorate yourself, you peed
Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth
Crawl all around your hips and thighs,
And the first set rolled in and the water level
Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck
The water surface like a brassy palm,
Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed.
Yes. But that was a summer so removed
In time, so specially peculiar to my life,
Why would I want to write about it again?
There was a day or two when, paddling out,
An older boy who had just graduated
And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus,
Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water,
And said my name. I was so much younger,
To be identified by one like him--
The easy deference of a kind of god
Who also went to church where I did--made me
Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed.
He soon was a small figure crossing waves,
The shawling crest surrounding him with spray,
Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name
Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise
To notice me among those trying the big waves
Of the morning break. His name is carved now
On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave
That grievers cross to find a name or names.
I knew him as I say I knew him, then,
Which wasn't very well. My father preached
His funeral. He came home in a bag
That may have mixed in pieces of his squad.
Yes, I can write about a lot of things
Besides the summer that I turned sixteen.
But that's my ground swell. I must start
Where things began to happen and I knew it.
Poems for Teens
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Eating Poetry
Mark Strand, 1934 - 2014
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth. 
There is no happiness like mine. 
I have been eating poetry. 

The librarian does not believe what she sees. 
Her eyes are sad 
and she walks with her hands in her dress. 

The poems are gone. 
The light is dim. 
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up. 

Their eyeballs roll, 
their blond legs burn like brush. 
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.
 
She does not understand. 
When I get on my knees and lick her hand, 
she screams. 

I am a new man. 
I snarl at her and bark. 
I romp with joy in the bookish dark. 
Poems for Teens
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homage to my hips (audio only)
Lucille Clifton, 1936 - 2010

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.

Poems for Teens
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Thanks
W. S. Merwin, 1927
Listen 
with the night falling we are saying thank you 
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings 
we are running out of the glass rooms 
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky 
and say thank you 
we are standing by the water thanking it 
smiling by the windows looking out 
in our directions 

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging 
after funerals we are saying thank you 
after the news of the dead 
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you 
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators 
remembering wars and the police at the door 
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you 
in the banks we are saying thank you 
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us 
our lost feelings we are saying thank you 
with the forests falling faster than the minutes 
of our lives we are saying thank you 
with the words going out like cells of a brain 
with the cities growing over us 
we are saying thank you faster and faster 
with nobody listening we are saying thank you 
we are saying thank you and waving 
dark though it is
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Because it looked hotter that way
Camille T. Dungy, 1972

we let our hair down.  It wasn't so much that we 
worried about what people thought or about keeping it real 
but that we knew this was our moment. We knew we'd blow our cool
 
sooner or later.  Probably sooner.  Probably even before we 
got too far out of Westmont High and had kids of our own who left
home wearing clothes we didn't think belonged in school.

Like Mrs. C. whose nearly unrecognizably pretty senior photo we  
passed every day on the way to Gym, we'd get old.   Or like Mr. Lurk 
who told us all the time how it's never too late

to throw a Hail Mary like he did his junior year and how we
could win everything for the team and hear the band strike 
up a tune so the cheer squad could sing our name, too. Straight

out of a Hallmark movie, Mr. Lurk's hero turned teacher story.  We
had heard it a million times. Sometimes he'd ask us to sing
with him, T-O-N-Y-L-U-R-K Tony Tony Lurk Lurk Lurk. Sin

ironia, con sentimiento, por favor, and then we
would get back to our Spanish lessons, opening our thin
textbooks, until the bell rang and we went on to the cotton gin

in History. Really, this had nothing to do with being cool. We
only wanted to have a moment to ourselves, a moment before Jazz
Band and after Gym when we could look in the mirror and like it. June

and Tiffany and Janet all told me I looked pretty. We
took turns saying nice things, though we might just as likely say, Die
and go to hell.  Beauty or hell. No difference. The bell would ring soon.





With thanks to "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks
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Ballad
Sonia Sanchez, 1934
	      (after the spanish)


forgive me if i laugh 
you are so sure of love 
you are so young 
and i too old to learn of love.

the rain exploding 
in the air is love 
the grass excreting her 
green wax is love 
and stones remembering 
past steps is love, 
but you. you are too young 
for love 
and i too old.

once. what does it matter 
when or who, i knew 
of love. 
i fixed my body 
under his and went 
to sleep in love 
all trace of me 
was wiped away

forgive me if i smile 
young heiress of a naked dream 
you are so young 
and i too old to learn of love.
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Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup
Amy Gerstler

Rocket-shaped popsicles that dyed your lips blue
were popular when I was a kid. That era got labeled
“the space age” in honor of some longed-for,
supersonic, utopian future. Another food of my
youth was candy corn, mostly seen on Halloween.
With its striped triangular “kernels” made
of sugar, wax and corn syrup, candy corn
was a nostalgic treat, harkening back to days
when humans grew, rather than manufactured,
food. But what was fruit cocktail’s secret
meaning? It glistened as though varnished.
Faint of taste and watery, it contained anemic
grapes, wrinkled and pale. Also deflated
maraschino cherries. Fan-shaped pineapple
chunks, and squares of bleached peach
and pear completed the scene. Fruit cocktail’s
colorlessness, its lack of connection to anything
living, (like tree, seed or leaf) seemed
cautionary, sad. A bowl of soupy, faded, funeral
fruit. No more nourishing than a child’s
finger painting, masquerading as happy
appetizer, fruit cocktail insisted on pretending
everything was ok. Eating it meant you embraced
tastelessness. It meant you were easily fooled.
It meant you’d pretend semblances,
no matter how pathetic, were real, and that
when things got dicey, you’d spurn the truth.
Eating fruit cocktail meant you might deny
that ghosts whirled throughout the house
and got sucked up the chimney on nights
Dad wadded old newspapers, warned you
away from the hearth, and finally lit a fire.

Poems for Teens
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Workshop
Billy Collins, 1941
I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title. 
It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now 
so immediately the poem has my attention, 
like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve. 

And I like the first couple of stanzas, 
the way they establish this mode of self-pointing 
that runs through the whole poem 
and tells us that words are food thrown down 
on the ground for other words to eat. 
I can almost taste the tail of the snake 
in its own mouth, 
if you know what I mean. 

But what I’m not sure about is the voice, 
which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans, 
but other times seems standoffish, 
professorial in the worst sense of the word 
like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face. 
But maybe that’s just what it wants to do. 

What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas, 
especially the fourth one. 
I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges 
which gives me a very clear picture. 
And I really like how this drawbridge operator 
just appears out of the blue 
with his feet up on the iron railing 
and his fishing pole jigging—I like jigging— 
a hook in the slow industrial canal below. 
I love slow industrial canal below. All those l’s. 

Maybe it’s just me, 
but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem. 
I mean how can the evening bump into the stars? 
And what’s an obbligato of snow? 
Also, I roam the decaffeinated streets. 
At that point I’m lost. I need help. 

The other thing that throws me off, 
and maybe this is just me, 
is the way the scene keeps shifting around. 
First, we’re in this big aerodrome 
and the speaker is inspecting a row of dirigibles, 
which makes me think this could be a dream. 
Then he takes us into his garden, 
the part with the dahlias and the coiling hose, 
though that’s nice, the coiling hose, 
but then I’m not sure where we’re supposed to be. 
The rain and the mint green light, 
that makes it feel outdoors, but what about this wallpaper? 
Or is it a kind of indoor cemetery? 
There’s something about death going on here. 

In fact, I start to wonder if what we have here 
is really two poems, or three, or four, 
or possibly none. 

But then there’s that last stanza, my favorite. 
This is where the poem wins me back, 
especially the lines spoken in the voice of the mouse. 
I mean we’ve all seen these images in cartoons before, 
but I still love the details he uses 
when he’s describing where he lives. 
The perfect little arch of an entrance in the baseboard, 
the bed made out of a curled-back sardine can, 
the spool of thread for a table. 
I start thinking about how hard the mouse had to work 
night after night collecting all these things 
while the people in the house were fast asleep, 
and that gives me a very strong feeling, 
a very powerful sense of something. 
But I don’t know if anyone else was feeling that. 
Maybe that was just me. 
Maybe that’s just the way I read it. 
Poems for Teens
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Sticks
Thomas Sayers Ellis, 1963
My father was an enormous man
Who believed kindness and lack of size
Were nothing more than sissified
Signs of weakness. Narrow-minded,

His eyes were the worst kind
Of jury — deliberate, distant, hard.
No one could out-shout him
Or make bigger fists. The few

Who tried got taken for bad,
Beat down, their bodies slammed.
I wanted to be just like him:
Big man, man of the house, king.

A plagiarist, hitting the things he hit,
I learned to use my hands watching him
Use his, pretending to slap mother
When he slapped mother.	 

He was sick. A diabetic slept 
Like a silent vowel inside his well-built,
Muscular, dark body. Hard as all that
With similar weaknesses

— I discovered writing,
How words are parts of speech
With beats and breaths of their own.
Interjections like flams. Wham! Bam!

An heir to the rhythm
And tension beneath the beatings,
My first attempts were filled with noise, 
Wild solos, violent uncontrollable blows.

The page tightened like a drum
Resisting the clockwise twisting
Of a handheld chrome key,
The noisy banging and tuning of growth.
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Those Winter Sundays
Robert Hayden, 1913 - 1980
Sundays too my father got up early 
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, 
then with cracked hands that ached 
from labor in the weekday weather made 
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. 

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. 
When the rooms were warm, he'd call, 
and slowly I would rise and dress, 
fearing the chronic angers of that house, 

Speaking indifferently to him, 
who had driven out the cold 
and polished my good shoes as well. 
What did I know, what did I know 
of love's austere and lonely offices? 
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Like Him
Aaron Smith

I’m almost forty and just understanding my father 
doesn’t like me. At thirteen I quit basketball, the next year 
refused to hunt, I knew he was disappointed, but never 
thought he didn’t have to like me 
to love me. No girls. Never learned
to drive a stick. Chose the kitchen and mom
while he went to the woods with friends who had sons 
like he wanted. He tried fishing—a rod and reel 
under the tree one Christmas. Years I tried  
talking deeper, acting tougher 
when we were together. Last summer 
I went with him to buy a tractor. 
In case he needs help, Mom said. He didn’t look at me 
as he and the sales guy tied the wheels to the trailer, perfect 
boy-scout knots. Why do I sometimes wish I could be a man 
who cares about cars and football, who carries a pocketknife 
and needs it? It was January when he screamed: I’m not 
a student, don’t talk down to me! I yelled: You’re not smart enough 
to be one! I learned to fight like his father, like him, like men: 
the meanest guy wins, don't ever apologize.
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Deer Hit
Jon Loomis
You're seventeen and tunnel-vision drunk, 
swerving your father's Fairlane wagon home

at 3:00 a.m. Two-lane road, all curves 
and dips—dark woods, a stream, a patchy acre

of teazle and grass. You don't see the deer 
till they turn their heads—road full of eyeballs,

small moons glowing. You crank the wheel, 
stamp both feet on the brake, skid and jolt

into the ditch. Glitter and crunch of broken glass 
in your lap, deer hair drifting like dust. Your chin

and shirt are soaked—one eye half-obscured 
by the cocked bridge of your nose. The car

still running, its lights angled up at the trees. 
You get out. The deer lies on its side.

A doe, spinning itself around
in a frantic circle, front legs scrambling,

back legs paralyzed, dead. Making a sound—
again and again this terrible bleat.

You watch for a while. It tires, lies still. 
And here's what you do: pick the deer up

like a bride. Wrestle it into the back of the car—
the seat folded down. Somehow, you steer

the wagon out of the ditch and head home, 
night rushing in through the broken window,

headlight dangling, side-mirror gone. 
Your nose throbs, something stabs

in your side. The deer breathing behind you, 
shallow and fast. A stoplight, you're almost home

and the deer scrambles to life, its long head 
appears like a ghost in the rearview mirror

and bites you, its teeth clamp down on your shoulder 
and maybe you scream, you struggle and flail

till the deer, exhausted, lets go and lies down.

2
Your father's waiting up, watching tv.
He's had a few drinks and he's angry.

Christ, he says, when you let yourself in. 
It's Night of the Living Dead. You tell him

some of what happened: the dark road, 
the deer you couldn't avoid. Outside, he circles

the car. Jesus, he says. A long silence. 
Son of a bitch, looking in. He opens the tailgate,

drags the quivering deer out by a leg. 
What can you tell him—you weren't thinking,

you'd injured your head? You wanted to fix 
what you'd broken—restore the beautiful body,

color of wet straw, color of oak leaves in winter? 
The deer shudders and bleats in the driveway.

Your father walks to the toolshed,
comes back lugging a concrete block.

Some things stay with you. Dumping the body 
deep in the woods, like a gangster. The dent

in your nose. All your life, the trail of ruin you leave.
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Falling
James Dickey, 1923 - 1997
A 29-year-old stewardess fell ... to her 
death tonight when she was swept 
through an emergency door that 
suddenly sprang open ... The body ... 
was found ... three hours after the 
accident. 
                   —New York Times

The states when they black out and lie there rolling    when they turn 
To something transcontinental    move by    drawing moonlight out of the great 
One-sided stone hung off the starboard wingtip    some sleeper next to 
An engine is groaning for coffee    and there is faintly coming in 
Somewhere the vast beast-whistle of space. In the galley with its racks 
Of trays    she rummages for a blanket    and moves in her slim tailored 
Uniform to pin it over the cry at the top of the door. As though she blew 

The door down with a silent blast from her lungs    frozen    she is black 
Out finding herself    with the plane nowhere and her body taking by the throat 
The undying cry of the void    falling    living    beginning to be something 
That no one has ever been and lived through    screaming without enough air 
Still neat    lipsticked    stockinged    girdled by regulation    her hat 
Still on    her arms and legs in no world    and yet spaced also strangely 
With utter placid rightness on thin air    taking her time    she holds it 
In many places    and now, still thousands of feet from her death she seems 
To slow    she develops interest    she turns in her maneuverable body 

To watch it. She is hung high up in the overwhelming middle of things in her 
Self    in low body-whistling wrapped intensely    in all her dark dance-weight 
Coming down from a marvellous leap    with the delaying, dumfounding ease 
Of a dream of being drawn    like endless moonlight to the harvest soil 
Of a central state of one’s country    with a great gradual warmth coming 
Over her    floating    finding more and more breath in what she has been using 
For breath    as the levels become more human    seeing clouds placed honestly 
Below her left and right    riding slowly toward them    she clasps it all 
To her and can hang her hands and feet in it in peculiar ways    and 
Her eyes opened wide by wind, can open her mouth as wide    wider and suck 
All the heat from the cornfields    can go down on her back with a feeling 
Of stupendous pillows stacked under her    and can turn    turn as to someone 
In bed    smile, understood in darkness    can go away    slant    slide 
Off tumbling    into the emblem of a bird with its wings half-spread 
Or whirl madly on herself    in endless gymnastics in the growing warmth
Of wheatfields rising toward the harvest moon.    There is time to live 
In superhuman health    seeing mortal unreachable lights far down seeing 
An ultimate highway with one late priceless car probing it    arriving 
In a square town    and off her starboard arm the glitter of water catches 
The moon by its one shaken side    scaled, roaming silver    My God it is good 
And evil    lying in one after another of all the positions for love 
Making    dancing    sleeping    and now cloud wisps at her no 
Raincoat    no matter    all small towns brokenly brighter from inside 
Cloud    she walks over them like rain    bursts out to behold a Greyhound 
Bus shooting light through its sides    it is the signal to go straight 
Down like a glorious diver    then feet first    her skirt stripped beautifully 
Up    her face in fear-scented cloths    her legs deliriously bare    then 
Arms out    she slow-rolls over    steadies out    waits for something great 
To take control of her    trembles near feathers    planes head-down 
The quick movements of bird-necks turning her head    gold eyes the insight- 
eyesight of owls blazing into the hencoops    a taste for chicken overwhelming 
Her    the long-range vision of hawks enlarging all human lights of cars 
Freight trains    looped bridges    enlarging the moon racing slowly 
Through all the curves of a river    all the darks of the midwest blazing 
From above. A rabbit in a bush turns white    the smothering chickens 
Huddle    for over them there is still time for something to live 
With the streaming half-idea of a long stoop    a hurtling    a fall 
That is controlled    that plummets as it wills    turns gravity 
Into a new condition, showing its other side like a moon    shining 
New Powers    there is still time to live on a breath made of nothing 
But the whole night    time for her to remember to arrange her skirt 
Like a diagram of a bat    tightly it guides her    she has this flying-skin 
Made of garments    and there are also those sky-divers on TV    sailing 
In sunlight    smiling under their goggles    swapping batons back and forth 
And He who jumped without a chute and was handed one by a diving 
Buddy. She looks for her grinning companion    white teeth    nowhere 
She is screaming    singing hymns    her thin human wings spread out 
From her neat shoulders    the air beast-crooning to her    warbling 
And she can no longer behold the huge partial form of the world    now 
She is watching her country lose its evoked master shape    watching it lose 
And gain    get back its houses and peoples    watching it bring up 
Its local lights    single homes    lamps on barn roofs    if she fell 
Into water she might live    like a diver    cleaving    perfect    plunge 

Into another    heavy silver    unbreathable    slowing    saving 
Element: there is water    there is time to perfect all the fine 
Points of diving    feet together    toes pointed    hands shaped right 
To insert her into water like a needle    to come out healthily dripping 
And be handed a Coca-Cola    there they are    there are the waters 
Of life    the moon packed and coiled in a reservoir    so let me begin 
To plane across the night air of Kansas    opening my eyes superhumanly 
Bright    to the damned moon    opening the natural wings of my jacket 
By Don Loper    moving like a hunting owl toward the glitter of water 
One cannot just fall    just tumble screaming all that time    one must use 
It    she is now through with all    through all    clouds    damp    hair 
Straightened    the last wisp of fog pulled apart on her face like wool revealing 
New darks    new progressions of headlights along dirt roads from chaos 

And night    a gradual warming    a new-made, inevitable world of one’s own 
Country    a great stone of light in its waiting waters    hold    hold out 
For water: who knows when what correct young woman must take up her body 
And fly    and head for the moon-crazed inner eye of midwest imprisoned 
Water    stored up for her for years    the arms of her jacket slipping 
Air up her sleeves to go    all over her? What final things can be said 
Of one who starts her sheerly in her body in the high middle of night 
Air    to track down water like a rabbit where it lies like life itself 
Off to the right in Kansas? She goes toward    the blazing-bare lake 
Her skirts neat    her hands and face warmed more and more by the air 
Rising from pastures of beans    and under her    under chenille bedspreads 
The farm girls are feeling the goddess in them struggle and rise brooding 
On the scratch-shining posts of the bed    dreaming of female signs 
Of the moon    male blood like iron    of what is really said by the moan 
Of airliners passing over them at dead of midwest midnight    passing 
Over brush fires    burning out in silence on little hills    and will wake 
To see the woman they should be    struggling on the rooftree to become 
Stars: for her the ground is closer    water is nearer    she passes 
It    then banks    turns    her sleeves fluttering differently as she rolls 
Out to face the east, where the sun shall come up from wheatfields she must 
Do something with water    fly to it    fall in it    drink it    rise 
From it    but there is none left upon earth    the clouds have drunk it back 
The plants have sucked it down    there are standing toward her only 
The common fields of death    she comes back from flying to falling 
Returns to a powerful cry    the silent scream with which she blew down 
The coupled door of the airliner    nearly    nearly losing hold 
Of what she has done    remembers    remembers the shape at the heart 
Of cloud    fashionably swirling    remembers she still has time to die 
Beyond explanation. Let her now take off her hat in summer air the contour 
Of cornfields    and have enough time to kick off her one remaining 
Shoe with the toes    of the other foot    to unhook her stockings 
With calm fingers, noting how fatally easy it is to undress in midair 
Near death    when the body will assume without effort any position 
Except the one that will sustain it    enable it to rise    live 
Not die    nine farms hover close    widen    eight of them separate, leaving 
One in the middle    then the fields of that farm do the same    there is no 
Way to back off    from her chosen ground    but she sheds the jacket 
With its silver sad impotent wings    sheds the bat’s guiding tailpiece 
Of her skirt    the lightning-charged clinging of her blouse    the intimate 
Inner flying-garment of her slip in which she rides like the holy ghost 
Of a virgin    sheds the long windsocks of her stockings    absurd 
Brassiere    then feels the girdle required by regulations squirming 
Off her: no longer monobuttocked    she feels the girdle flutter    shake 
In her hand    and float    upward    her clothes rising off her ascending 
Into cloud    and fights away from her head the last sharp dangerous shoe 
Like a dumb bird    and now will drop in    SOON    now will drop 

In like this    the greatest thing that ever came to Kansas    down from all 
Heights    all levels of American breath    layered in the lungs from the frail 
Chill of space to the loam where extinction slumbers in corn tassels thickly 
And breathes like rich farmers counting: will come along them after 
Her last superhuman act    the last slow careful passing of her hands 
All over her unharmed body    desired by every sleeper in his dream: 
Boys finding for the first time their loins filled with heart’s blood 
Widowed farmers whose hands float under light covers to find themselves 
Arisen at sunrise    the splendid position of blood unearthly drawn 
Toward clouds    all feel something    pass over them as she passes 
Her palms over her long legs    her small breasts    and deeply between 
Her thighs    her hair shot loose from all pins    streaming in the wind 
Of her body    let her come openly    trying at the last second to land 
On her back    This is it    THIS 
                                                   All those who find her impressed 
In the soft loam    gone down    driven well into the image of her body 
The furrows for miles flowing in upon her where she lies very deep 
In her mortal outline    in the earth as it is in cloud    can tell nothing 
But that she is there    inexplicable    unquestionable    and remember 
That something broke in them as well    and began to live and die more 
When they walked for no reason into their fields to where the whole earth 
Caught her    interrupted her maiden flight    told her how to lie she cannot 
Turn    go away    cannot move    cannot slide off it and assume another 
Position    no sky-diver with any grin could save her    hold her in his arms 
Plummet with her    unfold above her his wedding silks    she can no longer 
Mark the rain with whirling women that take the place of a dead wife 
Or the goddess in Norwegian farm girls    or all the back-breaking whores 
Of Wichita. All the known air above her is not giving up quite one 
Breath    it is all gone    and yet not dead    not anywhere else 
Quite    lying still in the field on her back    sensing the smells 
Of incessant growth try to lift her    a little sight left in the corner 
Of one eye    fading    seeing something wave    lies believing 
That she could have made it    at the best part of her brief goddess 
State    to water    gone in headfirst    come out smiling    invulnerable 
Girl in a bathing-suit ad    but she is lying like a sunbather at the last 
Of moonlight    half-buried in her impact on the earth    not far 
From a railroad trestle    a water tank    she could see if she could 
Raise her head from her modest hole    with her clothes beginning 
To come down all over Kansas    into bushes    on the dewy sixth green 
Of a golf course    one shoe    her girdle coming down fantastically 
On a clothesline, where it belongs    her blouse on a lightning rod: 

Lies in the fields    in this field    on her broken back as though on 
A cloud she cannot drop through    while farmers sleepwalk without 
Their women from houses    a walk like falling toward the far waters 
Of life    in moonlight    toward the dreamed eternal meaning of their farms 
Toward the flowering of the harvest in their hands    that tragic cost 
Feels herself go    go toward    go outward    breathes at last fully 
Not    and tries    less    once    tries    tries    AH, GOD—
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A Muse
Reginald Shepherd, 1963 - 2008
He winds through the party like wind, one of the just 
who live alone in black and white, bewildered

by the eden of his body. (You, you talk like winter 
rain.) He's the meaning of almost-morning walking home 

at five A.M., the difference a night makes 
turning over into day, simple birds staking claims 

on no sleep. Whatever they call those particular birds. 
He's the age of sensibility at seventeen, he isn't worth

the time of afternoon it takes to write this down. 
He's the friend that lightning makes, raking 

the naked tree, thunder that waits for weeks to arrive; 
he's the certainty of torrents in September, harvest time 

and powerlines down for miles. He doesn't even know 
his name. In his body he's one with air, white as a sky

rinsed with rain. It's cold there, it's hard to breathe, 
and drowning is somewhere to be after a month of drought. 
Poems for Teens
next
Alice at Seventeen: Like a Blind Child
Darcy Cummings

One summer afternoon, I learned my body
like a blind child leaving a walled
school for the first time, stumbling
from cool hallways to a world
dense with scent and sound,
pines roaring in the sudden wind
like a huge chorus of insects.
I felt the damp socket of flowers,
touched weeds riding the crest
of a stony ridge, and the scrubby
ground cover on low hills.
Haystacks began to burn,
smoke rose like sheets of
translucent mica. The thick air
hummed over the stretched wires
of wheat as I lay in the overgrown field
listening to the shrieks of small rabbits
bounding beneath my skin.

Poems for Teens
next
Ave Maria
Frank O'Hara, 1926 - 1966
Mothers of America
                               let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won't know what you're up to
it's true that fresh air is good for the body
                                                              but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images 
and when you grow old as grow old you must
                                                                  they won't hate you
they won't criticize you they won't know
                                                           they'll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey

they may even be grateful to you
                                                  for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
                                            and didn't upset the peaceful home
they will know where candy bars come from
                                                               and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it's over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
                                                oh mothers you will have made the little tykes
so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies
they won't know the difference
                                             and if somebody does it'll be sheer gravy
and they'll have been truly entertained either way
instead of hanging around the yard
                                                     or up in their room
                                                                                   hating you
prematurely since you won't have done anything horribly mean yet
except keeping them from the darker joys
                                                               it's unforgivable the latter
so don't blame me if you won't take this advice
                                                                      and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set
                                                                                  seeing
movies you wouldn't let them see when they were young
Poems for Teens
next
Charlotte Bronte in Leeds Point
Stephen Dunn, 1939
From her window marshland stretched for miles.
If not for egrets and gulls, it reminded her of the moors
behind the parsonage, how the fog often hovered
and descended as if sheltering some sweet compulsion
the age was not ready to see. On clear days the jagged
skyline of Atlantic City was visible—Atlantic City,
where all compulsions had a home.

"Everything's too easy now," she said to her neighbor,
"nothing resisted, nothing gained." Once, at eighteen,
she dreamed of London's proud salons glowing
with brilliant fires and dazzling chandeliers.
Already her own person—passionate, assertive—
soon she'd create a governess insistent on rights equal
to those above her rank. "The dangerous picture

of a natural heart," one offended critic carped.
She'd failed, he said, to let religion reign
over the passions and, worse, she was a woman.
Now she was amazed at what women had,
doubly amazed at what they didn't.
But she hadn't come back to complain or haunt.
Her house on the bay was modest, adequate.

It need not accommodate brilliant sisters
or dissolute brothers, spirits lost or fallen.
Feminists would pay homage, praise her honesty
and courage. Rarely was she pleased. After all,
she was an artist; to speak of honesty in art,
she knew, was somewhat beside the point.
And she had married, had even learned to respect

the weakness in men, those qualities they called
their strengths. Whatever the struggle, she wanted men
included. Charlotte missed reading chapters to Emily, 
Emily reading chapters to her. As ever, though, she'd try
to convert present into presence, something unsung
sung, some uprush of desire frankly acknowledged,
even in this, her new excuse for a body.
Poems for Teens
next
Cicada
John Blair
A youngest brother turns seventeen with a click as good as a roar,
finds the door and is gone.
You listen for that small sound, hear a memory.
The air-raid sirens howled of summer tornadoes, the sound

thrown back against the scattered thumbs
of grain silos and the open Oklahoma plains
like the warning wail of insects.
Repudiation is fast like a whirlwind.

Only children don't know that all you live is leaving.
Yes, the first knowledge that counts is that everything stops.
Even in the bible-belt, second comings are promises
you never really believed;

so you turn and walk into the embrace of the world
as you would to a woman, an arrant
an orphic movement as shocking as the subtle
animal pulse of a flower opening, palm up.

We are all so helpless.
I can look at my wife's full form now
and hope for children,
picture her figured by the weight of babies.

Only, it's still so much like trying to find something
once lost. My brother felt the fullness of his years, the pull
in the gut that's almost sickness. His white
smooth face is gone into living and fierce illusion,

a journey dissolute and as immutable
as the whining heat of summer.
Soon enough, too soon, momentum just isn't enough.
Our tragedy is to live in a world

that doesn't invite us back.
We slow, find ourselves sitting in a room that shifts so slightly
we can only imagine the difference.
I want to tell him to listen.

I want to tell him what it is to crave darkness,
to want to crawl headfirst into a dirt-warm womb
to sleep, to wait seventeen years,
to emerge again.
Poems for Teens
next
In Knowledge of Young Boys
Toi Derricotte, 1941
i knew you before you had a mother,
when you were newtlike, swimming,
a horrible brain in water.
i knew you when your connections
belonged only to yourself,
when you had no history
to hook on to,
barnacle,
when you had no sustenance of metal
when you had no boat to travel
when you stayed in the same
place, treading the question;
i knew you when you were all
eyes and a cocktail,
blank as the sky of a mind,
a root, neither ground nor placental;
not yet
red with the cut nor astonished
by pain, one terrible eye
open in the center of your head
to night, turning, and the stars
blinked like a cat. we swam
in the last trickle of champagne
before we knew breastmilk—we
shared the night of the closet,
the parasitic
closing on our thumbprint,
we were smudged in a yellow book.

son, we were oak without
mouth, uncut, we were
brave before memory.
Poems for Teens
next
Dangerous for Girls
Connie Voisine
It was the summer of Chandra Levy, disappearing
       from Washington D.C., her lover a Congressman, evasive
              and blow-dried from Modesto, the TV wondering

in every room in America to an image of her tight jeans and piles
       of curls frozen in a studio pose. It was the summer the only 
              woman known as a serial killer, a ten-dollar whore trolling

the plains of central Florida, said she knew she would
       kill again, murder filled her dreams
              and if she walked in the world, it would crack

her open with its awful wings. It was the summer that in Texas, another
       young woman killed her five children, left with too many
              little boys, always pregnant. One Thanksgiving, she tried

to slash her own throat. That summer the Congressman
       lied again about the nature of his relations, or,
              as he said, he couldn't remember if they had sex that last

night he saw her, but there were many anonymous girls that summer,
       there always are, who lower their necks to the stone
              and pray, not to God but to the Virgin, herself once

a young girl, chosen in her room by an archangel.
       Instead of praying, that summer I watched television, reruns of
              a UFO series featuring a melancholic woman detective

who had gotten cancer and was made sterile by aliens. I watched
       infomercials: exercise machines, pasta makers,
              and a product called Nails Again With Henna,

ladies, make your nails steely strong, naturally,
       and then the photograph of Chandra Levy
              would appear again, below a bright red number,

such as 81, to indicate the days she was missing.
       Her mother said, please understand how we're feeling
              when told that the police don't believe she will be found alive,

though they searched the parks and forests
       of the Capitol for the remains and I remembered
              being caught in Tennessee, my tent filled with wind

lifting around me, tornado honey, said the operator when I called
       in fear. The highway barren, I drove to a truck stop where
              maybe a hundred trucks hummed in pale, even rows

like eggs in a carton. Truckers paced in the dining room,
       fatigue in their beards, in their bottomless
              cups of coffee. The store sold handcuffs, dirty

magazines, t-shirts that read, Ass, gas or grass.
       Nobody rides for free, and a bulletin board bore a 
              public notice: Jane Doe, found in a refrigerator box

outside Johnson, TN, her slight measurements and weight.
       The photographs were of her face, not peaceful in death,
              and of her tattoos Born to Run, and J.T. caught in

scrollworks of roses. One winter in Harvard Square, I wandered 
       drunk, my arms full of still warm, stolen laundry, and
              a man said come to my studio and of course I went—

for some girls, our bodies are not immortal so much as
       expendable, we have punished them or wearied
              from dragging them around for so long and so we go

wearing the brilliant plumage of the possibly freed
       by death. Quick on the icy sidewalks, I felt thin and
              fleet, and the night made me feel unique in the eyes

of the stranger. He told me he made sculptures
       of figure skaters, not of the women's bodies,
              but of the air that whipped around them,

a study of negative space,
       which he said was the where-we-were-not
              that made us. Dizzy from beer,

I thought why not step into
       that space? He locked the door behind me.
Poems for Teens
next
Howl, Parts I & II
Allen Ginsberg, 1926 - 1997

For Carl Solomon

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
     starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking 
     for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
     connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking 
     in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating 
     across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw
     Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs 
     illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
     hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the 
     scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing 
     obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their 
     money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through
     the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo 
     with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise 
     Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and
     cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in 
     the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, 
     illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns,
     wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of 
     teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon 
     and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, 
     ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from 
     Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of 
     wheels and children brought them down shuddering 
     mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of 
     brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out 
     and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate 
     Fugazzi's, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen 
     jukebox, 
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to 
     Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge,
a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the 
     stoops off fire escapes off windowsills of Empire State out 
     of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and 
     memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of 
     hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and 
     nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on 
     the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of 
     ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and 
     migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark's bleak 
     furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad
     yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken
     hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing
     through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and 
     bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at
     their feet in Kansas, who loned it through the streets of
     Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary
     indian angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in
     supernatural ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on
     the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz
     or sex or soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to
     converse about America and Eternity, a hopeless task, and
     so took ship to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind
     nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of
     poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago,
who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the FBI in
     beards and shorts with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark
     skin passing out incomprehensible leaflets,
who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the
     narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square
     weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos
     wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Staten
     Island ferry also wailed,
who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and
     trembling before the machinery of other skeletons,
who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in
     policecars for committing no crime but their own wild
     cooking pederasty and intoxication,
who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off
     the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists,
     and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors,
     caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and
     the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their
     semen freely to whomever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob
     behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked
     angel came to pierce them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one  
     eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew
     that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does
     nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden
     threads of the craftsman's loom.
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a
     sweetheart a package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the
     bed, and continued along the floor and down the hall and
     ended fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt
     and come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the
     sunset, and were red eyed in the morning but prepared to
     sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under
     barns and naked in the lake,
who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen
     night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and
     Adonis of Denver--joy to the memory of his innumerable lays
     of girls in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses'
     rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt
     waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings
     & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, &
     hometown alleys too,
who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams,
     woke on a sudden Manhattan, and picked themselves up out
     of basements hungover with heartless Tokay and horrors of
     Third Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemployment
     offices,
who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the
     snowbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open
     to a room full of steamheat and opium,
who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of
     the Hudson under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon &
     their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion,
who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at
     the muddy bottom of the rivers of Bowery,
who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full
     of onions and bad music,
who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and
     rose up to build harpsichords in their lofts,

who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned with flame
     under the tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of
     theology,
who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations
     which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish,
who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas
     dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom,
who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg,
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for
     Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads
     every day for the next decade,
who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave
     up and were forced to open antique stores where they thought
     they were growing old and cried,
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison
     Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of
     the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of
     the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister
     intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs
     of Absolute Reality,
who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and
     walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of
     Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free
     beer,
who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway
     window, jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried
     all over the street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot
     smashed phonograph records of nostalgic European 1930s
     German jazz finished the whiskey and threw up groaning into
     the bloody toilet, moans in their ears and the blast of
     colossal steamwhistles,
who barreled down the highways of the past journeying to the
     each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude watch or
     Birmingham jazz incarnation, who drove crosscountry
     seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you had
     a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity,
who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to
     Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver &
     brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find
     out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,
who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each
     other's salvation and light and breasts, until the soul
     illuminated its hair for a second, 
who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for impossible
     criminals with golden heads and the charm of reality in their
     hearts who sang sweet blues to Alcatraz,
who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to
     tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the
     black locomotive or Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the
     daisychain or grave,
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism &
     were left with their insanity & their hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and
     subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of
     the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of
     suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol
     electricity hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy
     pingpong & amnesia,
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong
     table, resting briefly in catatonia,
returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and
     tears and fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of
     the madtowns of the East,
Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls, bickering
     with the echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the
     midnight solitude-bench dolmen-realms of love, dream of life
     a nightmare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the moon,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out
     of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 a.m.
     and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the
     last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental
     furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the
     closet, and even that imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little
     bit of hallucination--
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're
     really in the total animal soup of time--
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a
     sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the
     catalog the meter & the vibrating plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through
     images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul
     between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and
     set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping
     with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and
     stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking
     with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform
     to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting
     down here what might be left to say in time come after
     death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn
     shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked
     mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani
     saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their
     own bodies good to eat a thousand years.

 

II

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls
     and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable
     dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys
     sobbing in armies!  Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! 
     Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone
     soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch
     whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of
     war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is
     running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! 
     Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo!  Moloch whose
     ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose
     skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless
     Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the
     fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the 
     cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is
     electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter
     of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless
     hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! 
     Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and
     manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a
     consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out
     of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in
     Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton
     treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral
     nations! invincible mad houses granite cocks! monstrous
     bombs! 
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements,
     trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists
     and is everywhere about us! 
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the
     American river! 
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload
     of sensitive bullshit! 
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down
     the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal
     screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! 
     down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the
     holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roofl to
     solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the
     street!
Poems for Teens
next
Possum Crossing
Nikki Giovanni, 1943
Backing out the driveway
the car lights cast an eerie glow
in the morning fog centering
on movement in the rain slick street

Hitting brakes I anticipate a squirrel or a cat or sometimes
a little raccoon
I once braked for a blind little mole who try though he did
could not escape the cat toying with his life
Mother-to-be possum occasionally lopes home . . . being
naturally . . . slow her condition makes her even more ginger

We need a sign POSSUM CROSSING to warn coffee-gurgling neighbors:
we share the streets with more than trucks and vans and
railroad crossings

All birds being the living kin of dinosaurs
think themselves invincible and pay no heed
to the rolling wheels while they dine
on an unlucky rabbit

I hit brakes for the flutter of the lights hoping it's not a deer
or a skunk or a groundhog
coffee splashes over the cup which I quickly put away from me
and into the empty passenger seat
I look . . .
relieved and exasperated ...
to discover I have just missed a big wet leaf
struggling . . . to lift itself into the wind
and live
Poems for Teens
next
Mairsy and Dosey (audio only)
Sharon Olds, 1942

 

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.

Poems for Teens
next
Lady Tactics (audio only)
Anne Waldman, 1945

 

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.

Poems for Teens
next
Making a Fist
Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

"How do you know if you are going to die?"
I begged my mother. 
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
"When you can no longer make a fist."

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
Poems for Teens
next
We Real Cool
Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917 - 2000
                   THE POOL PLAYERS. 
                   SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.



We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Poems for Teens
next
Mermaid Song
Kim Addonizio, 1954
         for Aya at fifteen

Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself 
upside down across the sofa, reading, 
one hand idly sunk into a bowl
of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on. 
I think they are growing gills, swimming 
up the sweet air to reach you. Small girl, 
my slim miracle, they multiply.
In the black hours when I lie sleepless, 
near drowning, dread-heavy, your face 
is the bright lure I look for, love's hook 
piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.
Poems for Teens
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Notes from the Other Side
Jane Kenyon, 1947 - 1995
I divested myself of despair
and fear when I came here.

Now there is no more catching
one's own eye in the mirror,

there are no bad books, no plastic,
no insurance premiums, and of course

no illness. Contrition 
does not exist, nor gnashing

of teeth. No one howls as the first
clod of earth hits the casket.

The poor we no longer have with us. 
Our calm hearts strike only the hour,

and God, as promised, proves
to be mercy clothed in light.
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Patience
Kay Ryan, 1945
Patience is
wider than one
once envisioned,
with ribbons
of rivers
and distant 
ranges and 
tasks undertaken
and finished
with modest 
relish by
natives in their 
native dress.
Who would 
have guessed
it possible 
that waiting
is sustainable—
a place with 
its own harvests.
Or that in 
time's fullness
the diamonds 
of patience
couldn't be 
distinguished
from the genuine 
in brilliance
or hardness.
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The Wild Iris (audio only)
Louise Glück, 1943

 

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.

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The Young Man's Song
W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939
I whispered, "I am too young,"  
And then, "I am old enough";   
Wherefore I threw a penny   
To find out if I might love.   
"Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair,"   
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,   
I am looped in the loops of her hair.   
   
Oh, love is the crooked thing,   
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,   
For he would be thinking of love   
Till the stars had run away,   
And the shadows eaten the moon.   
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon. 
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White Apples
Donald Hall, 1928
when my father had been dead a week
I woke
with his voice in my ear
I sat up in bed
and held my breath
and stared at the pale closed door

white apples and the taste of stone

if he called again
I would put on my coat and galoshes
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That Sure is My Little Dog
Eleanor Lerman
Yes, indeed, that is my house that I am carrying around 
on my back like a bullet-proof shell and yes, that sure is
my little dog walking a hard road in hard boots. And 
just wait until you see my girl, chomping on the chains
of fate with her mouth full of jagged steel. She’s damn
ready and so am I. What else did you expect from the 
brainiacs of my generation? The survivors, the nonbelievers, 
the oddball-outs with the Cuban Missile Crisis still 
sizzling in our blood? Don’t tell me that you bought 
our act, just because our worried parents (and believe me,
we’re nothing like them) taught us how to dress for work
and to speak as if we cared about our education. And 
I guess the music fooled you: you thought we’d keep 
the party going even to the edge of the abyss. Well,
too bad. It’s all yours now. Good luck on the ramparts.
What you want to watch for is when the sky shakes
itself free of kites and flies away. Have a nice day.
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The Changing Light
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1919
The changing light
                 at San Francisco
       is none of your East Coast light
                none of your
                            pearly light of Paris
The light of San Francisco
                        is a sea light
                                       an island light
And the light of fog
                   blanketing the hills
          drifting in at night
                      through the Golden Gate
                                       to lie on the city at dawn
And then the halcyon late mornings
       after the fog burns off
            and the sun paints white houses
                                    with the sea light of Greece
                 with sharp clean shadows	
                       making the town look like
                                it had just been painted

But the wind comes up at four o'clock
                                     sweeping the hills

And then the veil of light of early evening

And then another scrim
                  when the new night fog
                                        floats in
And in that vale of light
                      the city drifts
                                    anchorless upon the ocean
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The Fist
Derek Walcott, 1930
The fist clenched round my heart
loosens a little, and I gasp
brightness; but it tightens
again. When have I ever not loved
the pain of love? But this has moved

past love to mania. This has the strong
clench of the madman, this is
gripping the ledge of unreason, before
plunging howling into the abyss.

Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.
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The New Higher
John Ashbery, 1927

You meant more than life to me. I lived through
you not knowing, not knowing I was living.
I learned that you called for me. I came to where
you were living, up a stair. There was no one there.
No one to appreciate me. The legality of it
upset a chair. Many times to celebrate
we were called together and where
we had been there was nothing there,
nothing that is anywhere. We passed obliquely,
leaving no stare. When the sun was done muttering,
in an optimistic way, it was time to leave that there.

Blithely passing in and out of where, blushing shyly
at the tag on the overcoat near the window where
the outside crept away, I put aside the there and now.
Now it was time to stumble anew,
blacking out when time came in the window.
There was not much of it left.
I laughed and put my hands shyly
across your eyes. Can you see now?
Yes I can see I am only in the where
where the blossoming stream takes off, under your window.
Go presently you said. Go from my window.
I am in love with your window I cannot undermine
it, I said.

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The Pomegranate
Eavan Boland, 1944
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere.  And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted.  Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
                    It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate!  How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and 
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry.  I could warn her.  There is still a chance.
The rain is cold.  The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world.  But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.  
She will enter it.  As I have.
She will wake up.  She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips.  I will say nothing.