Poem of the Day: ABC for Refugees

Cherub-bee-dee how does a man
who doesn’t read English well know that cherub-bee-dum
those aren’t really words-bee-dee.
But birds.
Cherub-bee-dum, he stumbles, reading to me
by the sliding glass door cherub-bee-dee, through which I watch
my brother play in the dum-dum-yard.
Cherub-bee-dee, cherub-bee-dum, like how my father says
Fine then! Leave! My mother shouts, Stupid! Dumb!
We live in a small bee-dee-nest too, one hallway to bee-dum-slam doors.
Birds? What are birds?
Thanks to my father, reading with me, I have more feathers.
T-H-E. First word he ever taught me to pluck … 
It is a word used all the time. Cherub-cherub-bee-dum!
The mail. The mailbox. The school bus. The the.
He asks me to read the mail. Not birds, mail.
If you don’t read this, you will turn into birds.
And I read it to him the best I can.
The end. A feather. Two feathers. The. The end.
Mother, mother. Repeat after me.
Cherub-bee-dee, cherub-bee-dum!
We read together before bedtime.
Source: Poetry December 2017

Monica Sok

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Poem of the Day: Self-portrait

I lived between my heart and my head,
like a married couple who can’t get along.
I lived between my left arm, which is swift
and sinister, and my right, which is righteous.
I lived between a laugh and a scowl,
and voted against myself, a two-party system.
My left leg dawdled or danced along,
my right cleaved to the straight and narrow.
My left shoulder was like a stripper on vacation,
my right stood upright as a Roman soldier.
Let’s just say that my left side was the organ
donor and leave my private parts alone,
but as for my eyes, which are two shades
of brown, well, Dionysus, meet Apollo.
Look at Eve raising her left eyebrow
while Adam puts his right foot down.
No one expected it to survive,
but divorce seemed out of the question.
I suppose my left hand and my right hand
will be clasped over my chest in the coffin 
and I’ll be reconciled at last,
I’ll be whole again.
Edward Hirsch, "Self Portrait" from The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (1975-2010). Copyright © 2010 by Edward Hirsch. Reprinted by permission of Edward Hirsch, Inc.

Source: The Living Fire(Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)

Edward Hirsch

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Poem of the Day: The Cranes, Texas January

I call my wife outdoors to have her listen,
to turn her ears upward, beyond the cloud-veiled
sky where the moon dances thin light,
to tell her, “Don’t hear the cars on the freeway—
it’s not the truck-rumble. It is and is not
the sirens.” She stands there, on deck
a rocking boat, wanting to please the captain
who would have her hear the inaudible.
Her eyes, so blue the day sky is envious,
fix blackly on me, her mouth poised on question
like a stone. But, she hears, after all.
                                                           January on the Gulf,  
warm wind washing over us, 
we stand chilled in the winter of those voices.
Poem copyright ©2011 by Mark Sanders from his most recent book of poems, Conditions of Grace: New and Selected Poems, Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Mark Sanders and the publisher.

Mark Sanders

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Poem of the Day: Bread

Each night, in a space he’d make
between waking and purpose,
my grandfather donned his one
suit, in our still dark house, and drove
through Brooklyn’s deserted streets
following trolley tracks to the bakery.
There he’d change into white
linen work clothes and cap,
and in the absence of women,
his hands were both loving, well
into dawn and throughout the day—
kneading, rolling out, shaping
each astonishing moment
of yeasty predictability
in that windowless world lit
by slightly swaying naked bulbs,
where the shadows staggered, woozy
with the aromatic warmth of the work.
Then, the suit and drive, again.
At our table, graced by a loaf
that steamed when we sliced it,
softened the butter and leavened
the very air we’d breathe,
he’d count us blessed.
Poem copyright ©2012 by Richard Levine from his most recent book of poems, A Tide of a Hundred Mountains, Bright Hill Press, 2012. Reprinted by permission of Richard Levine and the publisher.

Richard Levine

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Poem of the Day: Graduation Day

Drawn by ceremonial obligation
up from sleep I woke and stepped 
into the borrowed black robes
all ghost bureaucrats trained 
to redirect dreaming pretend 
we do not like to wear. I drove 
my black car to the stadium 
to sit on stage and be watched 
watching young expectant spirits 
one by one with dread certainty 
pass before me, clouded 
in their names. Then listened 
to no one in their speeches say 
you’re welcome for allowing 
us not to tell you it’s already 
too late to learn anything 
or defend whatever accidental 
instrument in us causes 
all these useless thoughts. 
Like if you walked for hours 
through the vast black avenues 
of those server farms all of us 
with our endless attention built,
you could almost feel the same 
peaceful disinterest as when 
your parents talking and smoking 
raised their heads for a moment 
to smile and tell you go back 
upstairs and read the book 
you love about myths that explain 
weather and death. Now it is 
almost June and they are finally 
the children they always were. 
So more precise than anyone 
has ever had to be, go forget
everything we told you
so you can fix what we kept
destroying by calling the future.
 
Matthew Zapruder, "Graduation Day." Copyright © 2017 Matthew Zapruder. Used by permission of the author for PoetryNow, a partnership between the Poetry Foundation and the WFMT Radio Network.

Source: PoetryNow(2017)

Matthew Zapruder

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Poem of the Day: A Perfect Mess

I read somewhere
that if pedestrians didn’t break traffic laws to cross
Times Square whenever and by whatever means possible,
      the whole city
would stop, it would stop.
Cars would back up to Rhode Island,
an epic gridlock not even a cat
could thread through. It’s not law but the sprawl
of our separate wills that keeps us all flowing. Today I loved
the unprecedented gall
of the piano movers, shoving a roped-up baby grand
up Ninth Avenue before a thunderstorm.
They were a grim and hefty pair, cynical
as any day laborers. They knew what was coming,
the instrument white lacquered, the sky bulging black
as a bad water balloon and in one pinprick instant
it burst. A downpour like a fire hose.
For a few heartbeats, the whole city stalled,
paused, a heart thump, then it all went staccato.
And it was my pleasure to witness a not
insignificant miracle: in one instant every black
umbrella in Hell’s Kitchen opened on cue, everyone
still moving. It was a scene from an unwritten opera,
the sails of some vast armada.
And four old ladies interrupted their own slow progress
to accompany the piano movers.
each holding what might have once been
lace parasols over the grunting men. I passed next
the crowd of pastel ballerinas huddled
under the corner awning,
in line for an open call — stork-limbed, ankles
zigzagged with ribbon, a few passing a lit cigarette
around. The city feeds on beauty, starves
for it, breeds it. Coming home after midnight,
to my deserted block with its famously high
subway-rat count, I heard a tenor exhale pure
longing down the brick canyons, the steaming moon
opened its mouth to drink from on high …
Source: Poetry December 2012

Mary Karr

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Poem of the Day: In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.

I
honey people murder mercy U.S.A.   
the milkland turn to monsters teach   
to kill to violate pull down destroy   
the weakly freedom growing fruit   
from being born
America
tomorrow yesterday rip rape   
exacerbate despoil disfigure   
crazy running threat the   
deadly thrall
appall belief dispel
the wildlife burn the breast   
the onward tongue
the outward hand
deform the normal rainy   
riot sunshine shelter wreck
of darkness derogate
delimit blank
explode deprive
assassinate and batten up
like bullets fatten up
the raving greed
reactivate a springtime
terrorizing
death by men by more
than you or I can
STOP
       II
They sleep who know a regulated place
or pulse or tide or changing sky
according to some universal   
stage direction obvious   
like shorewashed shells
we share an afternoon of mourning   
in between no next predictable
except for wild reversal hearse rehearsal   
bleach the blacklong lunging
ritual of fright insanity and more
deplorable abortion
more and
more
June Jordan, “In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.” from Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by The June M. Jordan Literary Trust. Reprinted with the permission of The June M. Jordan Literary Trust, www.junejordan.com.

Source: The Norton Anthology of African American Literature(1997)

June Jordan

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Poem of the Day: Get Rid of the X

My shadow followed me to San Diego
   silently, she never complained.
No green card, no identity pass,
   she is wedded to my fate.
The moon is a drunk and anorectic,
   constantly reeling, changing weight.
My shadow dances grotesquely,
   resentful she can’t leave me.
The moon mourns his unwritten novels,
   cries naked into the trees and fades.
Tomorrow, he’ll return to beat me
   blue—again, again and again.
Goodbye Moon, goodbye Shadow.
   My husband, my lover, I’m late.
The sun will plunge through the window.
   I must make my leap of faith.
Marilyn Chin, "Get Rid of the X" from Rhapsody in Plain Yellow. Copyright © 2002 by Marilyn Chin. Used by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Source: Rhapsody in Plain Yellow(W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002)

Marilyn Chin

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Poem of the Day: Early Cinema

According to Mister Hedges, the custodian
who called upon their parents
after young Otwiner and young Julia
were spotted at the matinee
of Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik
at the segregated Knickerbocker Theater
in the uncommon Washington December
of 1922, “Your young ladies
were misrepresenting themselves today,”
meaning, of course, that they were passing.
After coffee and no cake were finished
and Mister Hedges had buttoned his coat
against the strange evening chill,
choice words were had with Otwiner and Julia,
shame upon the family, shame upon the race.
How they’d longed to see Rudolph Valentino,
who was swarthy like a Negro, like the finest Negro man.
In The Sheik, they’d heard, he was turbaned,
whisked damsels away in a desert cloud.
They’d heard this from Lucille and Ella
who’d put on their fine frocks and French,
claiming to be “of foreign extraction”
to sneak into the Knickerbocker Theater
past the usher who knew their parents
but did not know them.
They’d heard this from Mignon and Doris
who’d painted carmine bindis on their foreheads
braided their black hair tight down the back,
and huffed, “We’ll have to take this up with the Embassy”
to the squinting ticket taker.
Otwiner and Julia were tired of Oscar Michaux,
tired of church, tired of responsibility,
rectitude, posture, grooming, modulation,
tired of homilies each way they turned,
tired of colored right and wrong.
They wanted to be whisked away.
The morning after Mister Hedges’ visit
the paperboy cried “Extra!” and Papas
shrugged camel’s hair topcoats over pressed pajamas,
and Mamas read aloud at the breakfast table,
“No Colored Killed When Roof Caves In”
at the Knickerbocker Theater
at the evening show
from a surfeit of snow on the roof.
One hundred others dead.
It appeared that God had spoken.
There was no school that day,
no movies for months after.
Elizabeth Alexander, “Early Cinema” from Antebellum Dream Book. Copyright © 2001 by Elizabeth Alexander. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.

Source: Antebellum Dream Book(Graywolf Press, 2001)

Elizabeth Alexander

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Poem of the Day: Dear Reader

You have forgotten it all.
You have forgotten your name,
where you lived, who you
loved, why.
                      I am simply
your nurse, terse and unlovely
I point to things
and remind you what they are:
chair, book, daughter, soup.
 
And when we are alone
I tell you what lies
in each direction: This way
is death, and this way, after
a longer walk, is death,
and that way is death but you
won’t see it
until it is right
in front of you.
 
              Once after
your niece had been to visit you
and I said something about
how you must love her
or she must love you
or something useless like that,
you gripped my forearm
in your terrible swift hand
and said, she is
everything—you gave
me a shake—everything
to me.
               And then you fell
back into the well. Deep
in the well of everything. And I
stand at the edge and call:
                  chair, book, daughter, soup.
Rita Mae Reese, “Dear Reader” from The Alphabet Conspiracy. Copyright © 2011 by Rita Mae Reese. Reprinted by permission of Red Hen Press.

Source: The Alphabet Conspiracy(Arktoi Books, 2011)

Rita Mae Reese

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