Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Night Migrations

By Louise Glück

This is the moment when you see again
the red berries of the mountain ash
and in the dark sky
the birds' night migrations.

It grieves me to think
the dead won't see them—
these things we depend on,
they disappear.

What will the soul do for solace then?
I tell myself maybe it won't need
these pleasures anymore;
maybe just not being is simply enough,
hard as that is to imagine.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Praise Song for the Day

By Elizabeth Alexander
A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration (January, 2009)

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what's on the other side.

I know there's something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Monday, January 28, 2013


By Robert Frost

Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry's old-fashioned praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgement I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of what had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern history.
Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country'd be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found.
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed
And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.
Elizabeth the First and England won.
Now came on a new order of the ages
That in the Latin of our founding sages
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded his approval of as good.
So much those heroes knew and understood,
I mean the great four, Washington,
John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison
So much they saw as consecrated seers
They must have seen ahead what not appears,
They would bring empires down about our ears
And by the example of our Declaration
Make everybody want to be a nation.
And this is no aristocratic joke
At the expense of negligible folk.
We see how seriously the races swarm
In their attempts at sovereignty and form.
They are our wards we think to some extent
For the time being and with their consent,
To teach them how Democracy is meant.
"New order of the ages" did they say?
If it looks none too orderly today,
'Tis a confusion it was ours to start
So in it have to take courageous part.
No one of honest feeling would approve
A ruler who pretended not to love
A turbulence he had the better of.
Everyone knows the glory of the twain
Who gave America the aeroplane
To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.
Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art.
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom's story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an's and ifs.
There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right devine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young amibition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Inaugural Poem

January 20, 1993
By Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers--desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours--your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Mitt Romney explains why he lost

By Calvin Trillin

Obama was clever as clever could be;
To targeted groups he gave gifts that were free:
Say, healthcare for free until age 26,
And free contraceptives (for sex just for kicks).
Debates in the primaries left our team bruised
From harsh accusations the White House then used.
Whatever the reason for losing might be,
Of one thing I'm sure: it could not have been me.
I'm perfect.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

two birds

By Andrea Gibson


When you ran for Canada
I spent three and a half months screaming your name
Til I saw your feet cross the border
And I bunkered down in your cheerleader pajamas
To stare at the photograph of the two birds.

Two birds.
Give me one stone.

Or a rifle.

I’ll collect the feather pens from the ground
And pretend to write poems about Obama.
Remember how we fucked in the bathroom stall
during his inauguration at Invesco Field?
Later in the bleachers you held my hand and said.
“Look at Michelle. She is so in love.”

There were so many snipers in the stands
When the fireworks started
I was convinced we were being bombed.
For five minutes we sprinted through
The tunnel of the stairwell.
I kept saying, I love you, I love you , I love you, I love….
I thought for sure I would die in your arms.

Dear Love-
I hope Canada is beautiful.
I hope you rise to your feet
every time she sings her anthem.
I hope your hand is forever on your heart.
I hope your heart is forever safe.

Here at home
they are saying Obama
is not the saint we had hoped he’d be.
I wonder if you’d notice
that Michelle is still in love.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

One Today

By Richard Blanco

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.
All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the "I have a dream" we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.
One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.
The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.
Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.
One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.
One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn't give what you wanted.
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope — a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Marking Martin's Day

By Nordette Adams

Some mark this day with service.
Some mark this day to shop.
Some mark this day to tell us
the struggle never stops.
Some grimace, grumbling still
that we mark this day at all,
but Martin's shout for justice
helped us answer freedom's call.
He moved America
to strive for its ideals
to uphold its Declaration
and recall its founding zeal to build
a glorious nation
that stands for liberty.
King pricked the people's
conscience to seek equality.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Scalded Summer

By Andrew Stone

in L.A.
reaches the nineties &
that is wonderful.
but in the bakery,
scalding egg whites
reach into high
hundreds and when the
bowl leans over the
counter & splatters
your shin, your foot,
it leaves a lasting
impression & a blister
appears, imprinting
seven pounds of pain.

Andrew J. Stone is a 20-year-old dissident attending Seattle Pacific University. He hates the sun, sleeps under its shine. His debut chapbook, "Teenage Angst: The Ekphrastic Exercise," will be available from Collective Banter Press in January 2013. Other work has been featured in over 75 literary journals including: right hand pointing, Zygote in my Coffee, Misfits' Miscellany, Yes Poetry, Four Twenty, and Full of Crow.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I Wouldn’t Want to Be Jesus.

By Jack McCarthy

Oh, I wouldn’t mind doing a miracle or two.
And as Jesus I’d have no problem with the cool sayings—
hey, if I knew the people following me around
were memorizing everything I said,
and that I’d still be getting quoted 2000 years later,
I could come up with some real zingers.
Just substitute Republicans for Pharisees, I’d be halfway home.

Walking town to town with my posse?
I’d love that. I know how when guys
get together in some desperate enterprise,
everybody’s sense of humor gets sharpened,
and if we survive we remember those times
as much for the laughter as the desperation.

How would I feel about some honey
washing my feet with her hair? I might say,
“Darlin, dontcha think that’s a little over the top?”
but that wouldn’t be a deal-breaker.

Turning the other cheek would be hard for me,
but I think I could do it if I was sure it was
the right thing, and I think Jesus was that sure.
And how much harder could it be than the balancing act of,
“Yes, I am your tender, sensitive poetry guy,
but I’m still Irish and don’t fuck with me—“

Crucifixion?  I have to admit that if I knew they were
gonna make an icon out of me in my skivvies
I’d think about doing less sermonizing and more working out.

OK, Crucifixion is not something I’d look forward to.
But it was just one day—
and it was over at three o’clock.
I’d be more afraid of it if they were
torturing me so I’d betray my friends,
because in the end I would betray my friends,
and that’d be the worst part.

But they were torturing Jesus
just for sport, and put it in perspective,
we can watch bloodier scenes than that
on TV any night of the week.

For me, the hardest thing of all would be
the taunting: when they started talkin’ shit, like,
“If you really are the Son of God, come down
from the cross… blah blah blah.”
10 seconds of that I’d be down on the ground
and up in someone’s face: “You want me?
You got me, bitch!”No Resurrection, no Christianity;
just squander everything on one irresistible punchline,
biblically misdirected, tragically mistimed,
but nonetheless curiously satisfying.

But real reason I wouldn’t want to be Jesus,
the deal-breaker to end all deal-breakers,
is all the subsequent centuries
sitting at the right hand of my Father and
weeping at all the inhumanities, atrocities, abuses,
being committed

in my name.

If I were Jesus I’d never stop crying
at all the shit going down every hour of every day

in my name,

never stop repeating
to the end of time and beyond,

“Better I never came.
Better I never came.”

And my friend Muhammad here
feels exactly the same.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


By W. D. Ehrhart

Again we pass that field
by the Legion Post on Chelten Avenue,
its ugly little pointed snout
ranged against my daughter's school.

"Did you ever use a gun
like that?" my daughter asks,
and I say, "No, but others did.
I used a smaller gun. A rifle."
She knows I've been to war.

"That's dumb," she says,
and I say, "Yes," and nod
because it was, and nod again
because she doesn't know.
How do you tell a four-year-old

what steel can do to flesh?
How vivid do you dare to get?
How explain a world where men
kill other men deliberately
and call it love of country?

Just eighteen, I killed
a ten-year-old. I didn't know.
He spins across the marketplace
all shattered chest, all eyes and arms.
Do I tell her that? Not yet,

though one day I will have
no choice except to tell her
or to send her into the world
wide-eyed and ignorant.
The boy spins across the years

till he lands in a heap
in another war in another place
where yet another generation
is rudely about to discover
what their fathers never told them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


By Frank O'Hara

Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it's no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn't need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water

I wouldn't want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days 

Monday, January 14, 2013

You Tell Us What to Do

By Faiz Ahmed Faiz

When we launched life
on the river of grief,
how vital were our arms, how ruby our blood.
With a few strokes, it seemed,
we would cross all pain,
we would soon disembark.
That didn't happen.
In the stillness of each wave we found invisible currents.
The boatmen, too, were unskilled,
their oars untested.
Investigate the matter as you will,
blame whomever, as much as you want,
but the river hasn't changed,
the raft is still the same.
Now you suggest what's to be done,
you tell us how to come ashore.

When we saw the wounds of our country
appear on our skins,
we believed each word of the healers.
Besides, we remembered so many cures,
it seemed at any moment
all troubles would end, each wound heal completely.
That didn't happen: our ailments
were so many, so deep within us
that all diagnoses proved false, each remedy useless.
Now do whatever, follow each clue,
accuse whomever, as much as you will,
our bodies are still the same,
our wounds still open.
Now tell us what we should do,
you tell us how to heal these wounds.

Translated by Agha Shahid Ali

Friday, January 11, 2013

Small Prayer

By Weldon Kees

Change, move, dead clock, that this fresh day
May break with dazzling light to these sick eyes.
Burn, glare, old sun, so long unseen,
That time may find its sound again, and cleanse
Whatever it is that a wound remembers
After the healing ends.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Burning in the Rain

By Richard Blanco

Someday compassion would demand
I set myself free of my desire to recreate
my father, indulge in my mother’s losses,
strangle lovers with words, forcing them
to confess for me and take the blame.
Today was that day: I tossed them, sheet
by sheet on the patio and gathered them
into a pyre. I wanted to let them go
in a blaze, tiny white dwarfs imploding
beside the azaleas and ficus bushes,
let them crackle, burst like winged seeds,
let them smolder into gossamer embers—
a thousand gray butterflies in the wind.
Today was that day, but it rained, kept
raining. Instead of fire, water—drops
knocking on doors, wetting windows
into mirrors reflecting me in the oaks.
The garden walls and stones swelling
into ghostlier shades of themselves,
the wind chimes giggling in the storm,
a coffee cup left overflowing with rain.
Instead of burning, my pages turned
into water lilies floating over puddles,
then tiny white cliffs as the sun set,
finally drying all night under the moon
into papier-mâché souvenirs. Today
the rain would not let their lives burn.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In Flight

By Jennifer Sweeney

The Himalayan legend says
there are beautiful white birds
that live completely in flight.
They are born in the air,

must learn to fly before falling
and die also in their flying.
Maybe you have been born
into such a life

with the bottom dropping out.
Maybe gravity is claiming you
and you feel

For the one who lives inside the fall,
the sky beneath the sky of all.

Monday, January 7, 2013


By Martín Espada

Let the blasphemy be spoken: poetry can save us,
not the way a fisherman pulls the drowning swimmer
into his boat, not the way Jesus, between screams,
promised life everlasting to the thief crucified beside him
on the hill, but salvation nevertheless.

Somewhere a convict sobs into a book of poems
from the prison library, and I know why
his hands are careful not to break the brittle pages.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Day is Done

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night, 
As a feather is wafted downward 
From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village 
Gleam through the rain and the mist, 
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me, 
That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing, 
That is not akin to pain, 
And resembles sorrow only 
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem, 
Some simple and heartfelt lay, 
That shall soothe this restless feeling, 
And banish the thoughts of day.  

Not from the grand old masters, 
Not from the bards sublime, 
Whose distant footsteps echo 
Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music, 
Their mighty thoughts suggest 
Life's endless toil and endeavor; 
And to-night I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet, 
Whose songs gushed from his heart, 
As showers from the clouds of summer, 
Or tears from the eyelids start;
Who, through long days of labor, 
And nights devoid of ease, 
Still heard in his soul the music 
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet 
The restless pulse of care, 
And come like the benediction 
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume 
The poem of thy choice, 
And lend to the rhyme of the poet 
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music 
And the cares that infest the day, 
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs, 
And as silently steal away.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Resolved: Combustion

By Jane Yolen
"Success isn't a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire." Arnold H. Glasow

First find the right tinder,
a handful of dry grass,
the idea of the poem, piecemeal,
shaggy, rough, flaking in the hand.
A bit of flint next, the hard idea,
needing something striking at the core.
Find a stick, not for poking about with,
that will come later in the revision,
but to cradle the nascent flame.
Then blow. Oh--wait,
your hot air is not regulated enough.
You might put the small spark out.
Thrust the ember into the pith,
into the heart of the poem.
Feel the heat of it, browning the edges,
curling, curing, curating your lines.
Now you are ready, the fire is set.
Breath deep. Blow yourself apart.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


By Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi

Your heart thumps -
as if she were already
at your door.

 Or - as if expecting her -
all the birds in the midday sky
arrive to clamour at your window.

 An age of patience.
A forest of fluttering.