Portraits of America's most notable living poets- its poets laureate, its Pulitzer Prize winners, its best literary artists. The images are visual riffs on pieces by the poets themselves.

Featured on PBS NewsHour, Poets & Writers, Publishers Weekly, PBS Illustrated and Buzzfeed.

Featured in a six month exhibition at the Center for Creative Photography.

Published as the Amazon Best-Seller Children of Grass: A Portrait of American Poetry, (Schaffner Press/IPG) September 2019.

Anis Mojgani, national slam poetry champion.


[we were horses]

I was in a dream country. You were there.
And all those little blonde hairs that run up your legs
and over your shoulders.


Nikki Giovanni.



I killed a spider
Not a murderous brown recluse
Nor even a black widow
And if the truth were told this
Was only a small
Sort of papery spider
Who should have run
When I picked up the book
But she didn't
And she scared me
And I smashed her

I don't think
I'm allowed

To kill something

Because I am



Rita Dove, U.S. Poet Laureate, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of the Arts, and the National Humanities Medal.



This alone is what I wish for you: knowledge.

To understand each desire has an edge,

to know we are responsible for the lives

we change. No faith comes without cost,

no one believes without dying.

Now for the first time

I see clearly the trail you planted,

what ground opened to waste,

though you dreamed a wealth

of flowers.

There are no curses⸺only mirrors

held up to the souls of gods and mortals.

And so I give up this fate, too.

Believe in yourself,

go ahead⸺ see where it gets you.


Gregory Pardlo, Pulitzer Prize-winner.


Sam Cooke reminds you how Ol' Man River just keeps rolling
and you begin to wonder what makes a river tick so you go sit
on Union Street Bridge to study the unruffled Gowanus Canal
with its tempting reflections and perfect your knack for reading
water's Om through the clockwork of the air and you think it's like
you which is not much of a river but wise enough water to hush your
regrets for the bloated casualties of your myriad indiscretions since
the first African was made to scoop the marsh to irrigate Dutch arms
until this moment when you see you are that African and you are
the Gowanus just as you are the baby whale lost and barging so far
along the canal you are blessed now and breaking and love this
one the Daily News will name Sludgy whom you will birth still
upon your bay at Red Hook after the sewer spills a glum baptismal
across his fontanel and children will stand around and amen
the Coast Guard atop the fly-flecked carcass preaching that wisdom
bends light into the eye of the whale where if you look close children
you'll find the water bears a flower, and the flower bears your name.

(Gregory Pardlo)


X.J. Kennedy.


Once upon a midnight dreary,

Blue and lonesome, missed my dearie.

Would I find her? Any hope?

Quoth the raven six times, "Nope."


Robert Hass, Poet Laureate of the United States and Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry.

The woman I love is greedy,
but she refuses greed.
She walks so straightly.
When I ask her what she wants,
she says, “A yellow bicycle.”

Sun, sunflower,
coltsfoot on the roadside,
a goldfinch, the sign
that says Yield, her hair,
cat's eyes, his hunger,
and a yellow bicycle.

Once, when they had made love in the middle of the night and it was very sweet, they decided they were hungry, so they got up, got dressed, and drove downtown to an all-night donut shop.
Chicano kids lounged outside, a few drunks, and one black man, selling dope. Just at the entrance there was an old woman in a thin floral print dress. She was barefoot. Her face was covered with sores and dry peeling skin. The sores looked like raisins and her skin was the dry yellow of a parchment lampshade ravaged by light and tossed away. They thought she must have been hungry and, coming out with a white paper bag full of hot rolls, they stopped to offer her one. She looked at them out of her small eyes, bewildered, and shook her head for a little while and said, very kindly, "no."


Mark Doty, National Book Award winner and chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.



When I’m down on my knees pulling up wild mustard
by the roots before it sets seed, hauling the old ferns
further into the shade, I’m talking to the anvil of darkness:

break-table, slab no blow could dent
rung with the making, and out of that chop and rot
comes the fresh surf of the lupines.

When the shovel slips into white root-flesh,
into the meat coursing with cool water,
when I’m grubbing on my knees, what is the hammer?

Dusky skin of the tuber, naked worms
who write on the soil every letter,
my companion blind, all day we go digging,

harrowing, rooting deep. Spade-plunge
and trowel, sweet turned-down gas flame
slow-charring carbon, out of which sprouts

the wild unsayable.
Beauty’s the least of it:
you get ready,

like Deborah, who used to garden in the dark,
hauling out candles and a tall glass of what she said was tea,
and digging and reading and studying in the dirt.

She’d bring a dictionary. If study is prayer, she said, I’m praying.
If you’ve already gone down to the anvil, if you’ve rested your face
on that adamant, maybe you’re already changed.


Joyce Carol Oates, winner of the National Book Award and the National Humanities Medal.



Mid-morning Monday she is staring
peaceful as the rain in that shallow back yard
she wears flannel bedroom slippers
she is sipping coffee
she is thinking—
—gazing at the weedy bumpy yard
at the faces beginning to take shape
in the wavy mud
in the linoleum
where floorboards assert themselves

Women whose lives are food
breaking eggs with care
scraping garbage from the plates
unpacking groceries hand over hand

Wednesday evening: he takes the cans out front
tough plastic with detachable lids
Thursday morning: the garbage truck whining at 7
Friday the shopping mall open till 9
bags of groceries unpacked
hand over certain hand

Men whose lives are money
time-and-a-half Saturdays
the lunchbag folded with care and brought back home
unfolded Monday morning

Women whose lives are food
because they are not punch-carded
because they are unclocked
sighing glad to be alone
staring into the yard, mid-morning
by mid-afternoon everything is forgotten

There are long evenings
panel discussions on abortions, fashions, meaningful work
there are love scenes where people mouth passions
sprightly, handsome, silly, manic
in close-ups revealed ageless
the women whose lives are food
the men whose lives are money
fidget as these strangers embrace and weep and mis-
understand and forgive and die and weep and embrace
and the viewers stare and fidget and sigh and
begin yawning around 10:30
never made it past midnight, even on Saturdays,
watching their braven selves perform

Where are the promised revelations?
Why have they been shown so many times?
Long-limbed children a thousand miles to the west
hitch-hiking in spring, burnt bronze in summer
thumbs nagging
eyes pleading
Give us a ride, huh? Give us a ride?

and when they return nothing is changed
the linoleum looks older
the Hawaiian Chicken is new
the girls wash their hair more often
the boys skip over the puddles
in the GM parking lot
no one eyes them with envy

their mothers stoop
the oven doors settle with a thump
the dishes are rinsed and stacked and
by mid-morning the house is quiet
it is raining out back
or not raining
the relief of emptiness rains
simple, terrible, routine
at peace 


Kim Addonizio.


I like to touch your tattoos in complete
darkness, when I can’t see them. I’m sure of
where they are, know by heart the neat
lines of lightning pulsing just above
your nipple, can find, as if by instinct, the blue
swirls of water on your shoulder where a serpent
twists, facing a dragon. When I pull you
to me, taking you until we’re spent
and quiet on the sheets, I love to kiss
the pictures in your skin. They’ll last until
you’re seared to ashes; whatever persists
or turns to pain between us, they will still
be there. Such permanence is terrifying.
So I touch them in the dark; but touch them, trying.


Kaveh Akbar.


some boys aren't born they bubble
up from earth's crust land safely around
kitchen tables green globes of fruit already

in their mouths when they find themselves crying
they stop crying these boys moan
more than other boys they do as desire

demands when they dance their bodies plunge
into space and recover the music stays
in their breastbones they sing songs

about storms they dry their shoes on porches
these boys are so cold their pilot lights never light
they buy the best heat money can buy blue flames

swamp smoke they are desperate
to lick and be licked sometimes one will eat
all the food in a house or break every bone

in his jaw sometimes one will disappear into himself
like a ram charging a mirror when this happens
they all feel it afterwards the others dream

of rain their pupils boil they light black candles
and pray the only prayer they know 'oh lord
spare this body set fire to another'


Sam Sax.



you know you have to pay, right?
the marquee does its neon work to draw you
but your wallet will be punished.

the big man sits in his tiny booth with his big hands
you wonder if he finds you disgusting, or sees you
place the bill right in his palm. feel meat

through the currency. fantasize he might follow you in,
leave your eyes in his mouth. what is a poem worth, anyway?
ten dollars at the door? the long staircase? the soiled

cloth seats? who uses cloth seats anymore, anyway?
you read they hold disease better than mosquitoes.
you feel the swarm beneath as you sit.

each tiny needle sucking you down. it is dark
as you imagined. but you do not do what you imagined
you would do. your body does not transform

into something with more limbs. prehensile and guttural.
you sit. hands decorative silk napkins folded in pockets.
the whole of your skin shrinking away from its lineage.

that accordion history opening all its doors into the dark.
imagine the actors dead now, forever blazing in celluloid
before the swarms of us, forced into the same positions

over and over, the desperate cocaine buzzing through
the screen. the same angry hives, the overdubbed screams.
in the pause between films, you wonder again,

the cost of a poem. is it the man wearing a dark suit
beside you? his face a candle of legs? his wet and demanding
skin? the next film begins … and you reach out for him.

the mosquito’s feeding the blood forward into your hands.
your hands, outstretched as though you’d expect him to save
you. but he pulls away. he fades into the dark. then

when you open your mouth one strange voice stumbles out
after another. pandemic of hair yawns down your back, a thin
tail gasps out from between your hind legs. so you walk

down the long staircase. your body transforming into something
so much smaller. the big man’s hands now are five stories wide.
in the cab ride home, you laugh at how you tried to speak

a dying language. how naive and brave you were.
how ludicrous you believed you might find something holy
in sweat, a new way to talk about perversion or release

or the genealogy of desire. you do not tell anyone you went.
so tiny you could climb inside a stranger’s pocket. and you want to.
and you paid to. ugly swarm of cloth still folded in the blood.

isn’t it funny how you once believed nothing
in this whole world could disgust you?


Jeffrey McDaniel.



In an effort to get people to look
into each other’s eyes more,
and also to appease the mutes,
the government has decided
to allot each person exactly one hundred
and sixty-seven words, per day.

When the phone rings, I put it to my ear
without saying hello. In the restaurant
I point at chicken noodle soup.
I am adjusting well to the new way.

Late at night, I call my long distance lover,
proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.
I saved the rest for you.

When she doesn’t respond,
I know she’s used up all her words,
so I slowly whisper I love you
thirty-two and a third times.
After that, we just sit on the line
and listen to each other breathe.


Adrienne Su.



I never had to make one,
no sickening weeks by ocean,

no waiting for the aerogrammes
that gradually ceased to come.

Spent the babysitting money
on novels, shoes, and movies,

yet the neighborhood stayed empty.
It had nothing to do with a journey

not undertaken, not with dialect,
nor with a land that waited

to be rediscovered, then rejected.
As acid rain collected

above the suburban hills, I tried
to imagine being nothing, tried

to be able to claim, “I have
no culture,” and be believed.

Yet the land occupies the person
even as the semblance of freedom

invites a kind of recklessness.
Tradition, unobserved, unasked,

hangs on tight; ancestors roam
into reverie, interfering at the most

awkward moments, first flirtations,
in doorways and dressing rooms—

But of course. Here in America,
no one escapes. In the end, each traveler

returns to the town where, everyone
knew, she hadn’t even been born.


Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski of the alternative performance group The Poetry Brothel.


What is the point of a memory
palace if I hang your portrait in every
room? As one might stuff a man
made of paper with more paper
so that he can burn
longer. I posit that.
It helps me remember. The desert
room, where I hung
a candelabra from the sky
and the weight of it was nothing
to a man like that. In every room
I kept the tape for measuring
mercilessly his shortcomings
& with luxurious scorn, wondered how
I had ensnared him there. In a glass
jar filled with knowledge, I keep
my children & they bond me
to the mountain palace where
I can never live. I am so tall.


Martin Espada.


At night,
with my wife
sitting on the bed,
I turn from her
to unbuckle
my belt
so she won't see
her father
his belt




"this is your
captain" Frank says from the cockpit

"all passengers wishing to bail out
any time during our flight


I have shredded the parachutes to confetti
in celebration of our arrival"


Marilyn Hacker, winner of the National Book Award for poetry.

I woke up, and the surgeon said, 'You're cured.'
Strapped to the gurney, in the cotton gown
and pants I was wearing when they slid me down
onto the table, made new straps secure
while I stared at the hydra-headed O.R.
lamp, I took in the tall, confident, brown-
skinned man, and the ache I couldn't quite call pain
from where my right breast wasn't anymore
to my armpit. A not-yet-talking head,
I bit dry my lips. What else could he have said?
And then my love was there in a hospital coat;
then my old love, still young and very scared.
Then I, alone, graphed clock hands' asymptote
to noon, when I would be wheeled back upstairs.


Anonymous 'Instagram poet' Atticus, author of "Love Her Wild.'


We are ghosts of ourselves
until they come along.
Love fills us in,
in all our thin places.
Love gives us skin.



Kazim Ali.



in case of warmth the oceans will rise
strange cup to move through
after the continents came together

after you swam crazy through the storm to shore
after you asked for it
after you drove yourself relentlessly into the sea

we listen to one gust after the other
a gorgeous scale in the most ordinary range
drumming the time of the sea into a signature of leaves

twenty minutes of ecstasy
blue and after the blue, blue-white
a buoy, a sandpiper, a wholesale slaughter of blue

either way the harp’s plucked chords
like the fog or the answer of water
dissolved into the shore’s copious footnotes

transcribing the music onto ebbing surface
a missing word where continents rub together
disappear or dispel the notion
there is any such word worth knowing

a bridge collapsing along unquelled cadences of sound
when you whisper yourself to eternity
whose name did you whisper and into whose ear


Danez Smith.


I hear music rise off your skin. Each hair on your arm a tiny viola.
A wind full of bows blows & all I hear is the brown

hum of your flesh, a symphony of pigment too often drowned out
by the gun songs & sirens. Don’t listen to that music.

You are the first light in the morning, the dark edge of the sun.
You are too beautiful for bullets. You, long the poster child for metal

wrecked bodies, are too precious for the dirt’s greedy teeth.
You are what was left when the hot, bright stars danced

with the black endlessness around them. You are the scraps
of the beginning, you are not meant to end so soon.

I want to kiss you. Not on your mouth, but on your most
secret scars, your ashy black & journeyed knees,

your ring finger, the trigger finger, those hands
the world fears so much. I am not your enemy,

not poison, not deadly sin, not ocean hungry for blood,
nor trying to trick you. I came from the same red clay,

same ship as you. You are my brother first, my lover
second & never a God. I am sick of people always

calling us Gods. What God do you know that dies this easy?
If I believed in fire, I would think you a thing scorched

& dangerous & glowing. But I no longer believe in embers,
we know you can burn down with no flame for miles.

So thank you. Thank you for not fading to ash & memory.
Your existence is so kind.


Jane Hirshfield, chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim, and first female graduate of Princeton University.

The woodpecker keeps returning
to drill the house wall.
Put a pie plate over one place, he chooses another.

There is nothing good to eat there:
he has found in the house
a resonant billboard to post his intentions,
his voluble strength as provider.

But where is the female he drums for? Where?

I ask this, who am myself the ruined siding,
the handsome red-capped bird, the missing mate.


Joan Naviyuk Kane.



A man goes on a journey, a woman does not.
Instead, birches murmur into the song
of a bird unseen, the forest endlessly receding.

To be alone and without purpose: a seed
borne on wind to flat stones arrayed
on the remote shore. Witness to news,

songs, myelin. One of our last
a succession of ribs distinct and vast
in sudden collapse. Mother, we make

no choices. Mother, he counts our frail bones.


Erika L. Sanchez.



Admit it—
you wanted the end

with a serpentine
greed. How to negotiate

that strangling
mist, the fibrous


To cease to exist
and to die

are two different things entirely.

But you knew this,
didn’t you?

Some days you knelt on coins
in those yellow hours.

You lit a flame

to your shadow
and ate

scorpions with your naked fingers.

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

The malevolent smell
of soap.

When instead of swallowing a fistful
of white pills,

you decided to shower,

the palm trees
nodded in agreement,

a choir
of crickets singing

behind your swollen eyes.

The masked bird
turned to you

with a shred of paper hanging
from its beak.

At dusk,
hair wet and fragrant,

you cupped a goat’s face

and kissed
his trembling horns.

The ghost?

It fell prostrate,
passed through you

like a swift
and generous storm.


Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz.



(Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz)

Let me tell you something.
When you wake up in the morning,
take a shower, get dressed, go to work,
and the first thing you do is turn on
your computer and look at photos
of two hot, hard guys doing each other
in the mouth and butt, you are either
on the road to getting fired

or you are me.

Let me tell you something.
When that cute guy from tech comes down
to audit your computer for “illegal hardware”
and finds three fisting videos, a Beginner’s
Guide to BDSM, and the complete trailer
for the film Ejacula, and all he can say is:
"Well, everything looks to be in order."

then honey, you can be safe
in the assumption that you are
the resident badass.

That’s right,
I’m my internet company’s
dirty little secret.

I’m the porn girl.

Only one on the floor. Only one in the building.
Only one getting paid cash money
to write copy like:

Panting for Panties:
Let us get you to the brink
with photos of ladies wearing
nothing but wet cotton!

I am getting people to the brink all day long,
and I don’t even have to be in the same country as them.

I’m the New Millennial Badass.

Call me up at two in the afternoon,
and I’ll tell you the URL where you can watch
Paris Hilton fuck for free.

Break up with your boyfriend,
and I will have him inserted
into an all ‘leather daddy’ gay erotica story,
where his name will be
the online gloryhole flashpoint
for so many cock-tugging burly bear men
that when he finally goes home
to the girl he broke up with you to be with,
he’ll cum HTML all over her Banana Republic
beige tweed skirt.

Oh yes.

I’m that girl.

I’m the trouble maker.
Piss me off, and guess whose head
will be photoshopped into a threesome
with Dick Cheney and George W. Bush?

I’m so hardcore, that compared to me,
Ron Jeremy is only double X.

I’m so hardcore, that my boss once yelled at me
for looking at CNN.com.

I’m so hardcore, that my computer dictionary
now accepts the words wetty, mangina,
and buttgasm: a word I created *myself.*

And I’m so hardcore, that I write poetry
during my lunch break.

And I’m so hardcore, that I am writing this poem
during my lunch break.
And I’m so hardcore, that I wish my lunch break
lasted all day, because I’d much rather be known
as the poet girl than the porn girl.

But I’m so hardcore, that I live in a country
that only spends 4 cents per citizen on the arts.

And I’m so hardcore, that when I tried to live
on my art alone, I had to budget myself
five pierogies a day just to pay rent.

And I’m so hardcore, that I took the first damn job
that came along and I lucked out with a rock ‘n’ roll job
where I watch naked people do naked things to each other
all day long and get paid for it.

But I am so hardcore, that I don’t even care.

Because no matter how cool working for porn
seems at cocktail parties or at poetry readings,

the truth of the matter is I am being paid
not to write my own stuff for eight hours a day,
forty hours a week. And if that ain’t the definition
of “anti-badass,” I don’t know what is.

But don’t worry about me, honey,
because I’ve got a plan.


Benjamin Alire Saenz.



I came to you one rainless August night.
You taught me how to live without the rain.
You are thirst and thirst is all I know.
You are sand, wind, sun, and burning sky,
The hottest blue. You blow a breeze and brand
Your breath into my mouth. You reach—then bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
You wrap your name tight around my ribs
And keep me warm. I was born for you.
Above, below, by you, by you surrounded.
I wake to you at dawn. Never break your
Knot. Reach, rise, blow, Sálvame, mi dios,
Trágame, mi tierra. Salva, traga, Break me,
I am bread. I will be the water for your thirst.


Tyler Knott Gregson.


Bring me a cut man, steady hands
still quick with stitch and sew.
I'm bruised and sliced
and these will scar.
Sit me on the stool,
sponge water til the red
runs clear,
I will stand again,
I will always get back up.
Wipe these eyes of the blood
that pooled,
I need to see
what's coming for me.
I will haunch over and gasp
for breath, I will
rise steady and slow,
I will shrug the blows absorbed,
and walking forward,
I will grin.


Terrance Hayes, poetry editor of the New York Times.



I will have to admit I was one of them. I believed the holes
would be erased. Our leader knew this floating up a mountain
on the backs of soldiers. I wanted only to be free, a cup of water,
if not rain. But the war spread to the edges of the state, narrow
closets opened in the field, the petals were white as cuffs.
What I had was the same as power, a dampness in the thread
of an old jacket. There was something sad and unforgiving
about our leader's accent, his short yellow tongue like a pencil
with no eraser. When they ask or wonder without asking
what I did when I saw the slick and shameful, the naked men
hanging an inch from the ground, when they ask what I did
when I heard of the prisoners, when I heard of the wars against
ideas, when they exiled strangers, what will I say? That's why
God et cetera? Who said you need not arm your children,
nor send them off to war? Who cares about the past worn
smooth by error and friction? The water of damage lay charged
in my mouth, bleeding its oil. I walked the back roads
of my property with one shoe untied and the other in my hand.


Sharon Olds, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.   Seven thousand still photographs.


At moments almost thinking of her, I was 

moving through the still life show while my mother 

had her stroke. She was teaching someone, three

time zones away, to peel and slice

a banana, in the one correct way,

and I was with the little leeks,

near the sweated egg, near the newts quick 

and the newts gone over on their backs. An orange

trailed from its shoulders the stole of its rind, 

the farther from the tree the more thinged and dried, 

the wasp was done with one sable guard-hair

in oil that had ground gold in it. She had 

alerted me, from the start, to objects, she'd cried 

out, in pain, from their shining. She held the 

banana and lectured like a child professor on its

longitudes and divisible threes, 

she raised her hands to her temples, and held them, 

and screamed, and fell to her bedroom floor, and I 

wandered, calm, among oysters, and walnuts, 

mice, apricots, coins, a golden 

smiling skull, even a wild flayed 

hare strung up by one foot like a dancer 

leaping, I strolled, ignorant 

of my mother, among the tulips, beetles in their 

holy stripes, she lay while I walked 

blind through music. When I learned her spirit 

had left her body while I was immersed 

in pretty matter, I almost felt something had 

served her right- what my mother had thought 

when her mother had died, what I'd comforted her for thinking. 

Once, in that comfort, I saw my face over her 

shoulder, in a gilded mirror. 


Nicole Sealey.



Scientists say the average human
life gets three months longer every year.
By this math, death will be optional. Like a tie
or dessert or suffering. My mother asks
whether I’d want to live forever.
“I’d get bored,” I tell her. “But,” she says,
“there’s so much to do,” meaning
she believes there’s much she hasn’t done.
Thirty years ago she was the age I am now
but, unlike me, too industrious to think about
birds disappeared by rain. If only we had more
time or enough money to be kept on ice
until such a time science could bring us back.
Of late my mother has begun to think life
short-lived. I’m too young to convince her
otherwise. The one and only occasion
I was in the same room as the Mona Lisa,
it was encased in glass behind what I imagine
were velvet ropes. There’s far less between
ourselves and oblivion—skin that often defeats
its very purpose. Or maybe its purpose
isn’t protection at all, but rather to provide
a place, similar to a doctor’s waiting room,
in which to sit until our names are called.
Hold your questions until the end.
Mother, measure my wide-open arms—
we still have this much time to kill.


Joshua Marie Wilkinson.



Memories (a torn open roof,
taste of marmalade or warm beer,
goldfinch smacked a window
or drawn into a book with three
kinds of color & some black)

Find us stopped in a doorway kissing
or whistling, pulling that door shut,
or a shirt off, a sliver out, a page
loose, a sky over,
a melon apart.
bad bridges & skiffs in chop.
You still must keep
at a certain distance
for the whole body to
in the photograph.


Javier Zamora.



as in you’re dragged to the darkest alleyway where dirt becomes beach for hours you can’t find a place to stand without noticing the stars’ sickness there’s a voice where forceps flay you can’t recall your hair memorizing
ditches the voice is built like invasion and says how did you raze the lines in the sand cerote your face sizzles as a wave the weight of bodies dressed in the uniform of a question blue crabs clamp your voice to night and your hands are no longer yours released all you can say is there’s not enough sand where blue crabs eat sleep out of me


Joy Harjo, U.S. Poet Laureate.



She says she is going to kill
herself. I am a thousand miles away.
To her voice in an ocean
of telephone sound. Grey sky
and nearly sundown; I don't ask her how.
I am already familiar with the weapons:
a restaurant that wouldn't serve her,
the thinnest laughter, another drink.
And even if I weren't closer
to the cliff edge of the talking
wire, I would still be another mirror,
another running horse.

Her escape is my own.
I tell her, yes. Yes. We ride
out for breath over the distance.
Night air approaches, the galloping

No sound.
No sound.

Ted Kooser, Poet Laureate of the United States.

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm—a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say. 

Dana Levin.



And blush for a cheek of stone.

Blush for the lips sewn tight with thread, no speech for the dead

You’ve got the razor. You can make each suture snap.

And watch the mouth
bloom up with foam,
as if he’d drowned himself in soap—

You lift the neck and let the head drop back.
The mouth yawns wide its prize—

White thrive.
The larval joy.
Hot in their gorge on the stew of balms,
a moist exhale—
as if there were a last breath, a taunt
into your inner ear, Good Dog, you dig your hands in,
the glossal

saying, Graduate
of the School of Flesh,
Father Conspirator—

I will learn it.
I will bite the tongue from the corpse.


Tony Hoagland.



Who would have imagined that I would have to go
a million miles away from the place where I was born
to find people who would love me?
And that I would go that distance and that I would find those people?
In the dream JoAnne was showing me how much arm to amputate
if your hand gets trapped in the gears of the machine;
if you acted fast, she said, you could save everything above the wrist.
You want to keep a really sharp blade close by, she said.
Now I raise that hand to scratch one of those nasty little
scabs on the back of my head, and we sit outside and watch
the sun go down, inflamed as an appendicitis
over western Illinois — which then subsides and cools into a smooth gray sea.
Who knows, this might be the last good night of summer.
My broken nose is forming an idea of what’s for supper.
Hard to believe that death is just around the corner.
What kind of idiot would think he even had a destiny?
I was on the road for so long by myself,
I took to reading motel Bibles just for company.
Lying on the chintz bedspread before going to sleep,
still feeling the motion of the car inside my body,
I thought some wrongness in my self had made me that alone.
And God said, You are worth more to me
than one hundred sparrows.
And when I read that, I wept.
And God said, Whom have I blessed more than I have blessed you?
And I looked at the mini bar
and the bad abstract hotel art on the wall
and the dark TV set watching like a deacon.And God said, Survive. And carry my perfume among the perishing.

Patricia Smith, four time National Slam Poetry champion.



Every night, my mother leaned over a chipped porcelain tub.
She dragged the crotch of the day's panties over a washboard.
The crotch of those panties was cleaned thin, shredded bright.
She poured heat onto the absence of stain, pressed, rattled
the room with scrubbing, squeezed without rinsing, draped
the stiff, defeated things over the shower rod. Naked and
bubbled from the waist down, she flipped on the faucet
at the sink, ran the hot water until every surface was slimy
with steam, splashed a capful of disinfectant- meant for soiled
floors and scarred walls- into a rubber bag, filled the bag
with scalding water. She sat on the toilet, spread her legs,
stared again at the strands of silver. She twisted a tube to
the bag, snaked the tube inside her body. The slowly spreading
burn said the day was ending in God's name. She threw back
her head and bellowed. On a hook, waiting, a white dress. 


Leila Chatti.



No matter how many times you ring the bell in the bad dark,
no one will let you in. You face the fun

house with its mirrors on the outside
so everyone can see. And everyone looks. You are in your underwear

and the room is cold. The doctor’s stethoscope pressed to you
becomes suddenly a snake. Your heart hisses in its cage. Your heart sputters,

a doused flame. You are drowning in your blue paper gown, which recedes
in the back like an ocean, your skin a bank of hot sand.

The horizon bleeds and the days and you
wander lost in a city of scalpels where everything glitters

and pills fade like moons on your tongue. You sidle through
sterile labyrinths and piss in a cup. You wait in a room like a chapel

or the belly of a beast. Either way, you think
something will save you, you believe this the whole fearsome time.

Your god comes and he is ordinary and terrible. He confers
with the doctors at your kitchen table and tells you to eat

your clots, round as peas. You want dessert. You want to
deceive him, but he, like you, has eyes, and uses them.

You are grounded, in the ground. The pit is a tub
and you are washing in your body’s black water. You rise

like a fever. You writhe on a bed on a stage, the strings reaching
toward heaven. There is a momentary break for everyone

else: intermission. They chatter in the lobby. You babble
symptoms in a white confessional. You fall from a great height and land

on a gurney. You are at the front of a classroom and you are stripped
to your bones. The doctor points to your pelvis. You model

the tumors—in this light they look pretty, like jewels. 


Eduardo Corral.



in a Tex-Mex restaurant. His co-workers,
unable to utter his name, renamed him Jalapeño.

If I ask for a goldfish, he spits a glob of phlegm
into a jar of water. The silver letters

on his black belt spell Sangrón. Once, borracho,
at dinner, he said: Jesus wasn’t a snowman.

Arriba Durango. Arriba Orizaba. Packed
into a car trunk, he was smuggled into the States.

Frijolero. Greaser. In Tucson he branded
cattle. He slept in a stable. The horse blankets

oddly fragrant: wood smoke, lilac. He’s an illegal.
I’m an Illegal-American. Once, in a grove

of saguaro, at dusk, I slept next to him. I woke
with his thumb in my mouth. ¿No qué no

tronabas, pistolita? He learned English
by listening to the radio. The first four words

he memorized: In God We Trust. The fifth:
Percolate. Again and again I borrow his clothes.

He calls me Scarecrow. In Oregon he picked apples.
Braeburn. Jonagold. Cameo. Nightly,

to entertain his cuates, around a campfire,
he strummed a guitarra, sang corridos. Arriba

Durango. Arriba Orizaba. Packed into
a car trunk, he was smuggled into the States.

Greaser. Beaner. Once, borracho, at breakfast,
he said: The heart can only be broken

once, like a window. ¡No mames! His favorite
belt buckle: an águila perched on a nopal.

If he laughs out loud, his hands tremble.
Bugs Bunny wants to deport him. César Chávez

wants to deport him. When I walk through
the desert, I wear his shirt. The gaze of the moon

stitches the buttons of his shirt to my skin.
The snake hisses. The snake is torn.

Vijay Seshadri, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.


On a day like any other day,
like "yesterday or centuries before,"
in a town with the one remembered street,
shaded by the buckeye and the sycamore--
the street long and true as a theorem,
the day like yesterday or the day before,
the street you walked down centuries before--
the story the same as the others flooding in
from the cardinal points is
turning to take a good look at you.
Every creature, intelligent or not, has disappeared--
the humans, phosphorescent,
the duplicating pets, the guppies and spaniels,
the Woolworth's turtle that cost forty-nine cents
(with the soiled price tag half-peeled on its shell)--
but, from the look of things, it only just happened.
The wheels of the upside-down tricycle are spinning.
The swings are empty but swinging.
And the shadow is still there, and there
is the object that made it,
riding the proximate atmosphere,
oblong and illustrious above
the dispeopled bedroom community,
venting the memories of those it took,
their corrosive human element.
This is what you have to walk through to escape,
transparent but alive as coal dust.
This is what you have to hack through,
bamboo-tough and thickly clustered.
The myths are somewhere else, but here are the meanings,
and you have to breathe them in
until they burn your throat
and peck at your brain with their intoxicated teeth.
This is you as seen by them, from the corner of an eye
(was that the way you were always seen?).
This is you when the President died
(the day is brilliant and cold).
This is you poking a ground wasps' nest.
This is you at the doorway, unobserved,
while your aunts and uncles keen over the body.
This is your first river, your first planetarium, your first popsicle.
The cold and brilliant day in six-color prints--
but the people on the screen are black and white.
Your friend's mother is saying,
Hush, children! Don't you understand history is being made?
You do, and you still do. Made and made again.
This is you as seen by them, and them as seen by you,
and you as seen by you, in five dimensions,
in seven, in three again, then two,
then reduced to a dimensionless point
in a universe where the only constant is the speed of light.
This is you at the speed of light. 


Doug Anderson.


We are still, lips swollen with mosquito bites.
A treeline opens out onto paddies
quartered by dikes, a moon in each,
and in the center, the hedged island of a village
floats in its own time, ribboned with smoke.
Someone is cooking fish.
Whispers move across water.
Children and old people. Anyone between
is a target. It is so quiet
you can hear a safety clicked off
all the way on the other side.
Things live in my hair. I do not bathe.
I have thrown away my underwear.
I have forgotten the why of everything.
I sense an indifference larger than anything
I know. All that will remain of us
is rusting metal disappearing in vines.
Above the fog that clots the hill ahead
a red tracer arcs and dims.
A black snake slides off the paddy dike
into the water and makes the moon shiver. 


Arthur Sze, chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.



A man hauling coal in the street is stilled forever.
Inside a temple, instead of light

a slow shutter lets the darkness in.
I see a rat turn a corner running from a man with a chair trying to smash it,

see people sleeping at midnight in a Wuhan street on bamboo beds,
a dead pig floating, bloated, on water.

I see a photograph of a son smiling who two years ago fell off a cliff
and his photograph is in each room of the apartment.

I meet a woman who had smallpox as a child, was abandoned by her mother
but who lived, now has two daughters, a son, a son-in-law;

they live in three rooms and watch a color television.
I see a man in blue work clothes whose father was a peasant

who joined the Communist party early but by the time of the Cultural Revolution
had risen in rank and become a target of the Red Guards.

I see a woman who tried to kill herself with an acupuncture needle
but instead hit a vital point and cured her chronic asthma.

A Chinese poet argues that the fundamental difference between East and West
is that in the East an individual does not believe himself

in control of his fate but yields to it.
As a negative reverses light and dark

these words are prose accounts of personal tragedy becoming metaphor,
an emulsion of silver salts sensitive to light,

laughter in the underground bomb shelter converted into a movie theater,
lovers in the Summer Palace park. 


Beth Ann Fennelly.



[I Come From a Long Line of Modest Achievers]

I’m fond of recalling how my mother is fond of recalling how my great-grandfather was the very first person to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on the second day.


Bought a bag of frozen peas to numb my husband’s sore testicles after his vasectomy.

That night I cooked pea soup.

[I Knew a Woman]

Everything she had was better than everything the rest of us had. Not by a lot. But by enough.

[Married Love, 1]

When we snuggle, my left hand finds purchase on his back cyst. My home button.

[Why I’m Switching Salons]

“We can put on a topcoat with glitter,” said the manicurist. “We all know how you feel about glitter.”

[Copulation Couplet]

--for the birds and other open-minded parties--

Birds without penises do it like this:

press vent to vent and pass the sperm, called “the cloacal kiss.”

[“If You Were Born Catholic, You’ll Always Be Catholic”]

My husband sits up after changing the van’s busted tire, grease on his forehead, and I think—though it’s been thirty years—it’s Ash Wednesday.

[Married Love, 2]

There will come a day—let it be many years from now—when our kids realize no married couple ever needed to retreat at high noon behind their locked bedroom door to discuss taxes.

[No, It’s Not a Coincidence]

In every book my husband’s written, a minor character named Colin suffers a horrible death. This is because the boyfriend I had before I met my husband was named Colin. In addition to being named Colin, he was Scottish, and an architect. So it’s easy to imagine my husband’s feelings of inadequacy. My husband cannot build a tall building of many stories. He can only build a story, and then push Colin out of it.

[Returning from Spring Break, Junior Year at Notre Dame]

Swapped the rosary on my bedpost for Mardi Gras beads.

[Still Have the Playbill]

I peaked early, fourth grade. I had the lead in Mary Poppins. Mr. Banks was played by Vince Vaughn. Yes, that Vince Vaughn, though at that point he was just a kid, just another nobody like the rest of us. He didn’t go to Hollywood until after high school.

I don’t recall him as being particularly talented.

[The Sum of What I Recall, One Year Later, from the Prague Walking Tour]

Kafka was not the unhappy person we generally assume him to be.

[When They Grow Up]

My oldest child will hate me because I wrote an entire book about her. My middle child will hate me because I wrote hardly a word about him. But the baby; ah, the baby. When I write about him, I call it fiction, and I’m always sure to mention he has a big penis.

[(Don’t Think About the) Pink Elephant]

Sometimes at the end of yoga I’m finally relaxing into that calm where I’ve forgotten my to-do list. That’s when the instructor says, “Don’t think about your to-do list.” Suddenly it’s back, and it’s longer, because now it includes forgetting my to-do list.

[A Few Weeks Later, the Recorded But Not Yet Released “Dock of the Bay” Would Become History’s First Posthumous #1 Hit]

It was storming, that December day in 1967, when the two-engine plane containing twenty-six-year-old Otis Redding and his back-up band, the Bar-Kays, took off from Cleveland. Just a few miles short of the Madison, Wisconsin airport, the plane crashed into Lake Monona. The crash killed Otis, his pilot, his manager, and four out of five Bar-Kays. Only the lonely trumpeter survived.

He was the one who played Taps.

[Married Love, 3]

As we lower onto the December-cold pleather seats of the minivan, we knock hands: both of us reaching to turn on the other’s seat warmer first. 


Derrick C. Brown.


I got carried until I was shallow in the mud.
Pressed face-first into the dam.
Sad water. Sad water
don't ever make it to the sea.

The best song
is always
far from the hit.

She can love me lame from far away.
She could not love me over laundry,
oil changes and weed whacking.

She missed being nude with me
in a hotel challenging the sea.
It's not the real me. I'm often nothing nights.
I'm often nothing as night.

I don't trust anyone who tells it like it is
when all we really do is rework how it was.
I can't believe you are gone. 


Bryan Borland.


It’s summer in America
and no one knows
how high to fly their flag
or which flag to fly
for our part we have again pledged allegiance
to one another but this isn’t a love poem
there are no love poems in America today
only the poetry of necessity of documentation
written at a time when we can make no promises
of life in twenty years or less than that
if our skin is brown or black look back
that same number of years to what the poets
were trying to tell us and who listened
and why we didn’t look at the revolutions
that begin when we remember to point
the camera outside ourselves the enemy
of our enemy is our enemy is what they
teach us but what does that camera catch :
the murder in front of our smiling faces
the blood splatter on our shirts
they tried to tell us was decoration

Meg Day.



Forgive me my deafness now for your name on others’ lips:
each mouth gathers then opens & I search for the wave

the fluke of their tongues should make with the blow
of your name in that mild darkness I recognize but cannot

explain as the same oblivious blue of *Hold the conch to your ear*
& hearing the highway loud & clear. My hands are bloated

with the name signs of my kin who have waited for water
to reach their ears. Or oil; grease from a fox with the gall

of a hare, bear fat melted in hot piss, peach kernels fried
in hog lard & tucked along the cavum for a cure; a sharp stick

even, a jagged rock; anything to wedge down deep to the drum
inside that kept them walking away from wives—old

or otherwise—& the tales they tell about our being too broken
for their bearing, & yet they bear on. Down. Forgive me

my deafness for my own sound, how I mistook it for a wound
you could heal. Forgive me the places your wasted words

could have saved us from going had I heard you with my hands.
I saw Joni live & still thought *a gay pair of guys put up a parking lot.*

How could I have known *You are worthless* sounds like *Should we
do this*, even with the lights on. You let me say Yes. So what

if Johnny Nash *can see clearly now Lorraine is gone*—I only wanted
to hear the sea. The audiologist asks *Does it seem like you’re under

water?* & I think only of your name. I thought it was you
after *I love*, but memory proves nothing save my certainty—

the chapped round of your mouth was the same shape while at rest
or in thought or blowing smoke, & all three make a similar sound: 

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