What I Didn't Know Before by Ada Limón
was how horses simply give birth to other horses. Not a baby by any means, not a creature of liminal spaces, but already a four-legged beast hellbent on walking, scrambling after the mother. A horse gives way to another horse and then suddenly there are two horses, just like that. That's how I loved you. You, off the long train from Red Bank carrying a coffee as big as your arm, a bag with two computers swinging in it unwieldily at your side. I remember we broke into laughter when we saw each other. What was between us wasn't a fragile thing to be coddled, cooed over. It came out fully formed, ready to run.
We Are All Saying the Same Thing by Juan Felipe Herrera after Szymborska
Yeti come down. The escape is over—the earthquake mixes the leaves into an exotic pattern.
You slide down the precipice & spit. You chew on a Tibetan prayer wheel.
This is our city with the bridge in flames, call it Desire. This is our mountain, hear its umber harness shiver, call it Time.
& this old woman beating a bluish rag with her shredded hands—call her now,
call her with your honey-like voices. She is the sky you were after, that immeasurable breath in every one of us.
We are all saying the same thing, Yeti. We lift our breast & speak of fire, then ice.
We press into our little knotted wombs, wonder about our ends, then, our beginnings.
My Father as Cartographer by Natasha Tretheway
In dim light now, his eyes straining to survey the territory: here is the country of Loss, its colony Grief; the great continent Desire and its borderland Regret;
vast, unfathomable water, an archipelago—the tiny islands of Joy, untethered, set adrift. At the bottom of the map his legend and cartouche, the measures of distance, key
to the symbols marking each known land. What's missing is the traveler's warning at the margins: a dragon— its serpentine signature—monstrous as a two-faced daughter.
The Story Wheel by Joy Harjo
I leave you to your ceremony of grieving Which is also of celebration Given when an honored humbled one Leaves behind a trail of happiness In the dark of human tribulation. None of us is above the other In this story of forever. Though we follow that red road home, one behind another. There is a light breaking through the storm And it is buffalo hunting weather. There you can see your mother. She is busy as she was ever— She holds up a new jingle dress, for her youngest beloved daughter. And for her special son, a set of finely beaded gear. All for that welcome home dance, The most favorite of all— when everyone finds their way back together to dance, eat and celebrate. And tell story after story of how they fought and played in the story wheel and how no one was ever really lost at all.
Born by Lee Herrick
I was born in an ocean of poor magic near a songwriter with stories
but no maps, strung out on local wine and rice.
I was born because the magic and the birds were certain they'd seen me before.
There were no gasps or hands clapping nor arias or sobs. I was there
on the grass, a full head of black hair, eyes that asked, will you say a little more
a curiosity that became desire, then death, then desire again.
Runaway Child by Ada Limón
The ocean was two things once, in two places, north it was the high
icy waves of Bodega Bay, Dillon, and Limantour, and south it was the blue ease
of Oceanside and Encinitas, umbrellas in a sleepy breeze.
It took me years to realize those two blues were the same ocean.
I thought they must be separate. Must be cleaved in the center by a fault line.
On a call just now with my grandmother she mentions how all the flowers
I've sent are from my garden, so I let her believe it. Sweet lies of the mind.
She says she's surprised I like to grow things, didn't think
I was that kind of girl, she always thought I was a runaway child.
She flicks her hand away, to show me her hand becoming a bird, swerving
until it is a white gull in the wind. She repeats: a runaway child.
Mercy is not frozen in time, but flits about frantically, unsure where to land.
As children, they'd bring us to the ocean, divorce distraction and summer,
we'd drift with the tide southward until we'd almost lose sight of them,
waving dramatically for our return, shouting until we came back to the shore.
Once, when she was watching us, I tried to run away, four or five years old,
and when I got to the end of the driveway, she didn't try to stop me. Even shut the door.
And so I came back. She knew what it was to be unloved, abandoned by her mother,
riding her bike by her father's house with his other children, late afternoons,
before her grandmother would call her home for supper. Some days, I think
she would have let me leave, some days I think of her shaking on the shore.
Now, she thinks all the flowers I've sent are from my garden. Grown
from seeds and tended. She gets a kick out of it, this runaway child
so overly loved, she could dare to drift away from it all.
If I Should Fail by Ada Limón
The ivy eating the fence line, each tendril multiplying by green tendril, if I should fail the seeds lifted out and devoured by bristled marauders, blame only me and the strip of sun which bade me come to lie down snakelike on my belly, low snake energy, and be tempted by the crevices between the world and not world, if I should fail know I stared long into fractures and it seemed to me a mighty system of gaps one could slither into and I was made whole in that knowledge of a sleek nothingness.
Testimony by Lee Herrick
I heard the American poet groan like his farmworker mother bent into California's central question like a rake or a comma or a death that was not a death but a rising fire or a shotgun in a wheat field.
I heard the father say to himself to hell with it before he wrote a seven page manifesto on the crimes of lemon trees whose leaves become little whispers in our dream like yellow flowers floating on a lake.
I heard anger come into the night I heard the night bring you down I heard the down say please madam I heard a woman say Hmong means free I heard freedom like kingdom.
For Earth's Grandsons by Joy Harjo
Stand tall, no matter your height, how dark your skin Your spirit is all colors within You are made of the finest woven light From the iridescent love that formed your mothers, fathers Your grandparents all the way back on the spiral road— There is no end to this love It has formed your bodies Feeds your bright spirits And no matter what happens in these times of breaking— No matter dictators, the heartless, and liars No matter—you are born of those Who kept ceremonial embers burning in their hands All through the miles of relentless exile Those who sang the path through massacre All the way to sunrise You will make it through—
We Are Surprised by Ada Limón
Now, we take the moon into the middle of our brains
so we look like roadside stray cats with bright flashlight-white eyes
in our faces, but no real ideas of when or where to run.
We linger on the field's green edge and say, Someday, son, none of this
will be yours. Miracles are all around. We're not so much homeless
as we are home-free, penny-poor, but plenty lucky for love and leaves
that keep breaking the fall. Here it is: the new way of living with the world
inside of us so we cannot lose it, and we cannot be lost. You and me
are us and them, and it and sky. It's hard to believe we didn't
know that before; it's hard to believe we were so hollowed out, so drained,
only so we could shine a little harder when the light finally came.