Thank you kindly for following along for another April of verse. I want to close this month with one of my favorite poems, written by the brilliant Ross Gay (1974-).
I realize many of the works I selected this month (and for years prior) may seem a little dark at times. But I love this poem so much because it speaks to my most hopeful self, the self that believes so fervently that amidst all this darkness there is so much life and light to be grateful for–not the least of which are beautiful words and all of you for taking the time to appreciate them alongside me.
“Sorrow is Not My Name”
—after Gwendolyn Brooks
No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.
—for Walter Aikens
Let’s wind down National Poetry Month with this poem by Nathalie Handal (1969-). Her border-crossing life (she’s French-American, was born in Haiti to a Palestinian family and has lived around the world) emerges in her collection Poet in Andalucía, which explores otherness and togetherness so beautifully.
Ahora que está tan sola la soledad
Joaquín Sabina, “Ahora que”
Now that we’ve counted
the seasons for exile
and stopped wondering
if it’s us or the birds who weep
Now that the canvas is wet
and paint drips on our bodies
now that we have crossed
the borders of hearts
and know what’s real
now that disappearance
can’t be understood after all
Now that we stay in bed
and I lay you out inside of me
now that the streets are empty
and you press a compass to your chest
stack a sorrow after a wound
and measure the map of want
Now that two people run inside of you
one searching for its lost head
while the other watches
now that we have learned
to love each other
the way we are told we should
Now that I say goodbye
and write about leaving
I feel alive
now that nothing is urgent
and everything is here
now that waiting keeps us away
from a forest of thorns
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Ada Limón (1976-). Many of you have probably received this wonderful and necessary poem via text or in a handwritten note from me in the last few years–now I want to share it with all of you!
“How to Triumph Like a Girl”
I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let’s be honest, I like
that they’re ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don’t you want to believe it?
Don’t you want to tug my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it’s going to come in first.
from Bright Dead Things
Rachael McKibbens’ new collection blud was not an easy read in the best sense; it is, as its very name suggests, nakedly intense and beautiful.
I have learned to need the body
I spent years trying to rid the world of
have learned to cherish its pale rebel hymn
warped by ghost heat, carried, carried
by all my loyal dead. I have learned
to crawl backward into the wilderness
to ask, to eat, to steep in your gentleness.
Let this be where I permit forgiveness
to know your name, to leave our crulest years
where & how we need them most–
behind & unlit.
Before I begin posting work from many poets who haven’t appeared on this blog before, let’s start with this intricate gem by the magnificent writer and activist, June Jordan (1936-2002), who I just love so much.
Not looking now and then I find you here
not knowing where you are.
Talk to me. Tell me things I see
fill the table between us or surround
the precipice nobody dares to forget.
Talking takes time takes everything
sooner than I can forget the precipice
and speak to your being there
where I can hear you move no nearer
than you were standing on my hands
covered my eyes dreaming about music.
To all my lovely readers, friends, and random stumblers-upon,
Have you mostly been sitting behind a screen this month, scrolling through poems in isolation and then moving on with your day? Do your friends not know you actually like poetry? Has one line of verse been haunting, confusing, or delighting you for weeks?
How about you invite others to share in that experience with you for a day? Please join me tomorrow, Thursday April 27, in celebrating one of my favorite not-actual-but-should-be-official holidays, Poem in Your Pocket Day.
The “rules” of celebrating this day are pretty simple. Put a poem in your pocket. You got that part already. Now you can’t just let it fester there all day. Read it to a friend over lunch, startle your coworkers at a meeting, recite one to your partner before bed. Or if you’d rather share quietly, slip some verse into the pocket of a loved one, leave one at a cafe table, or print out dozens of poems, as I did many years ago, and plaster them all over your dorm walls. Just get the beautiful words out there, somehow and somewhere.
And, if you are so inclined, please comment with the poems you decide to share. My pockets are ready to be filled.*
(* This is the same text I’ve used the past few years. Apologies for taking this blogging shortcut, but I figured there was no point reinventing the wheel on this!)
There’s so much going on in this breathless, breathtaking prose poem from Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib‘s collection The Crown Ain’t Worth Much. Give yourself time to read it slowly, and then once more.
“DUDES, WE DID NOT GO THROUGH
THE HASSLE OF GETTING THESE
FAKE IDS FOR THIS JUKEBOX TO
NOT HAVE ANY SPRINGSTEEN”
& and it is the end of another summer where I have slept on my couch
for days only allowing another body to interrupt long enough for
our limbs to tangle like weeds up the side of a brick house,
reaching for something impossible. I promise there have always
been dishes spilling out of the sink, love. It’s how I discovered this
kind of hunger. Last week, Rick lit a cigarette & yelled across the
bar that the only difference between smoking & kissing someone
who smokes is the way mouths collide before death sits in your
lungs like an abandoned city & everyone laughed while I tried to
wipe another’s lip gloss from my cheek. Most people I know
cannot sleep until they crawl though someone else’s hollow.
There are nights when I wish we were all still children, but then
again, I suppose we may be or at least there is no other way to
explain how we make every doorway our own. The way we stain
ourselves & anything else that moves. The way we scream into
the dark like a siren & the weeping, yet another thing we never
mention in the morning. I think I am starting to vanish slowly
from head to toe. There are ten different ways to say sunset. The
bartender says my face is wearing all of them.