Every day in April, you put a poem in our lunch boxes to celebrate poetry month. Now, the internet is your lunchbox and every month is April.
The summer ends, and it is time
To face another way. Our theme
Reversed, we harvest the last row
To store against the cold, undo
The garden that will be undone.
We grieve under the weakened sun
To see all earth’s green fountains dried,
And fallen all the works of light.
You do not speak, and I regret
This downfall of the good we sought
As though the fault were mine. I bring
The plow to turn the shattering
Leaves and bent stems into the dark,
From which they may return. At work,
I see you leaving our bright land,
The last cut flowers in your hand.
I like to think
he survived in order to find me, in order
to arrive here, sober, tired from a long night
of tongues and hands and thighs, music
on the radio, coffee— so he could look up and see me,
standing in the kitchen in his torn t-shirt,
the hem of it brushing my knees, but I know
it’s only luck that brought him here, luck
and a love that had nothing to do with me,
except that this is what we sometimes get if we live
long enough, if we are patient with our lives.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
NAOMI SHIHAB NYE
When I met death too early
I did not pray for you, or beg for time
to peel back like muscle from the bone.
I thought of our child who never was.
Her hair like mine, a blackberry bush of curls.
Your half moon eyes shining
from her face, always giving too much away.
It is my swan song. My final scream.
The cry of women, my good lord.
CLEMENTINE VON RADICS
I missed sadness because I no longer missed you,
how emotionally counterintuitive it was
as my citizenship in the nation I made of you
gradually lapsed. I woke some other
place with lakes and blue skies and rush hours
and strangers I worried about. But no you.
No ages of you. No your name three times
when I walked somewhere or lay down at night
to bargain with sleep. No you
falling from my mouth everywhere I went.
No you anywhere to be seen.
A secret to keep. And mostly I did,
even beside other women who asked
with the privilege of their bodies
if you had ever existed and what did you do
and did you have a name I’d share
and had you been good to me
but I never gave you up. I left the last of you
to be lost in the fog inside me.
Napping in bomb craters, haggling
over debts I couldn’t deny were mine,
memorizing every month’s horoscope.
It seemed then the days
you had left me stained in sadness
were like that. Good apples on back order from God
and the steaks full of blood
you taught me to love, rationed.
At least I told myself this,
thinking of all the never you were.
But there were limits and lengths
and limits again. There were
songs inside the fog inside the world.
Without warning we lose
the vastness of the fields
the clarity we swear
but it takes us years
to forget someone
who merely looked at us
JOSÉ TOLENTINO MENDONÇA
Listen! I will be honest with you,
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes,
These are the days that must happen to you:
You shall not heap up what is call’d riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve,
You but arrive at the city to which you were destin’d, you hardly settle yourself to satisfaction before you are call’d by an irresistible call to depart,
You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mockings of those who remain behind you,
What beckonings of love you receive you shall only answer with passionate kisses of parting,
You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their reach’d hands toward you.
Allons! after the great Companions, and to belong to them!
They too are on the road—they are the swift and majestic men—they are the greatest women,
Enjoyers of calms of seas and storms of seas,
Sailors of many a ship, walkers of many a mile of land,
Habituès of many distant countries, habituès of far-distant dwellings,
Trusters of men and women, observers of cities, solitary toilers,
Pausers and contemplators of tufts, blossoms, shells of the shore,
Dancers at wedding-dances, kissers of brides, tender helpers of children, bearers of children,
Soldiers of revolts, standers by gaping graves, lowerers-down of coffins,
Journeyers over consecutive seasons, over the years, the curious years each emerging from that which preceded it,
Journeyers as with companions, namely their own diverse phases,
Forth-steppers from the latent unrealized baby-days,
Journeyers gayly with their own youth, journeyers with their bearded and well-grain’d manhood,
Journeyers with their womanhood, ample, unsurpass’d, content,
Journeyers with their own sublime old age of manhood or womanhood,
Old age, calm, expanded, broad with the haughty breadth of the universe,
Old age, flowing free with the delicious near-by freedom of death.
Allons! to that which is endless as it was beginningless,
To undergo much, tramps of days, rests of nights,
To merge all in the travel they tend to, and the days and nights they tend to,
Again to merge them in the start of superior journeys,
To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it,
To conceive no time, however distant, but what you may reach it and pass it,
To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you, however long but it stretches and waits for you,
To see no being, not God’s or any, but you also go thither,
To see no possession but you may possess it, enjoying all without labor or purchase, abstracting the feast yet not abstracting one particle of it,
To take the best of the farmer’s farm and the rich man’s elegant villa, and the chaste blessings of the well-married couple, and the fruits of orchards and flowers of gardens,
To take to your use out of the compact cities as you pass through,
To carry buildings and streets with you afterward wherever you go,
To gather the minds of men out of their brains as you encounter them, to gather the love out of their hearts,
To take your lovers on the road with you, for all that you leave them behind you,
To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls.
All parts away for the progress of souls,
All religion, all solid things, arts, governments—all that was or is apparent upon this globe or any globe, falls into niches and corners before the procession of souls along the grand roads of the universe.
Of the progress of the souls of men and women along the grand roads of the universe, all other progress is the needed emblem and sustenance.
Forever alive, forever forward,
Stately, solemn, sad, withdrawn, baffled, mad, turbulent, feeble, dissatisfied,
Desperate, proud, fond, sick, accepted by men, rejected by men,
They go! they go! I know that they go, but I know not where they go,
But I know that they go toward the best—toward something great.
Whoever you are, come forth! or man or woman come forth!
You must not stay sleeping and dallying there in the house, though you built it, or though it has been built for you.
Out of the dark confinement! out from behind the screen!
It is useless to protest, I know all and expose it.
Behold through you as bad as the rest,
Through the laughter, dancing, dining, supping, of people,
Inside of dresses and ornaments, inside of those wash’d and trimm’d faces,
Behold a secret silent loathing and despair.
No husband, no wife, no friend, trusted to hear the confession,
Another self, a duplicate of every one, skulking and hiding it goes,
Formless and wordless through the streets of the cities, polite and bland in the parlors,
In the cars of railroads, in steamboats, in the public assembly,
Home to the houses of men and women, at the table, in the bedroom, everywhere,
Smartly attired, countenance smiling, form upright, death under the breast-bones, hell under the skull-bones,
Under the broadcloth and gloves, under the ribbons and artificial flowers,
Keeping fair with the customs, speaking not a syllable of itself,
Speaking of any thing else but never of itself.
Allons! through struggles and wars!
The goal that was named cannot be countermanded.
Have the past struggles succeeded?
What has succeeded? yourself? your nation? Nature?
Now understand me well—it is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary.
My call is the call of battle, I nourish active rebellion,
He going with me must go well arm’d,
He going with me goes often with spare diet, poverty, angry enemies, desertions.
Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
Those many dark nights in our wedding house.
Hundreds of them—like fireflies—
above the quiet road till dawn,
and still I can’t remember even
one of the naked trips he made downstairs
to bring me back a glass of water:
aged, sagging, fly-footed one.
Then the dog would sneak into our room
and groan and settle his bones down
on the wood floor, heavily.
I knew we were all going to die
but not then, and not right away;
because in those days
there were more days to come.
I thought I could not
run out of them.
I want you to tell me about every person
you’ve ever been in love with.
Tell me why you loved them,
then tell me why they loved you.
Tell me about a day in your life
you wouldn’t think you’d live through.
Tell me what the word home means to you
And tell me in a way that I’ll know your mother’s name
just by the way you describe your bedroom when you were 8.
See, I wanna know the first time you felt the weight of hate
and if that day still trembles beneath your bones.
Do you prefer to play in puddles of rain
or bounce in bellies of snow?
And if you were to build a snowman,
would you rip two branches
from a tree to build your snowman arms?
Or would you leave your snowman armless
for the sake of being harmless to the tree?
And if you would, would you notice how
the tree weeps for you because your snowman
has no arms to hug you every time you kiss him on the cheek?
Do you kiss your friends on the cheek?
Do you sleep besides them when they’re sad,
even if that makes your lover mad?
Do you think that anger is a sincere emotion
or just the timid motion of a fragile heart
trying to beat away its pain?
See, I wanna know what you think of your first name.
And if you often lie awake at night and imagine your mother’s joy
when she spoke it for the very first time.
I want you to tell me all the ways you’ve been unkind.
Tell me all the ways you’ve been cruel.
Tell me- knowing that I often picture Gandhi at ten years old beating up little boys at school.
If you were walking by a chemical plant, where smoke stacks
were filling the sky with dark, black clouds, would you holler, “Poison! Poison! Poison!” really loud or would you whisper,
“That cloud looks like a fish, and that cloud looks like a fairy”?
Do you believe that Mary was really a virgin?
Do you believe that Moses really parted the sea?
And if you don’t believe in miracles,
how would you explain the miracle of my life to me?
See, I wanna know if you believe in any god,
or if you believe in many gods.
Or better yet, what gods believe in you.