favorite poems

Good Bones
by Maggi Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

This Be The Verse
by Phillip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Bluebird
by Charles Bukowski

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he’s
in there.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
works?
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe?
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
sad.
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
die
and we sleep together like
that
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do
you?

Instead of killing yourself
by Derrick C. Brown

wait until
a year from now
where you say,
“Holy fuck,
I can’t believe I was going to kill myself before I etcetera’d…
before I went skinny dipping in Tennessee,
made my own IPA,
tried out for a game show,
rode a camel drunk,
skydived alone,
learned to waltz with clumsy old people,
photographed electric jellyfish,
built a sailboat from trash,
taught someone how to read,
etc. etc. etc.”

The red washing
down the bathtub
can’t change the color of the sea
at all.

Masks
by Shel Silverstein

She had blue skin
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.

 

We teach Life, sir!
by Rafeef Ziadah

Today, my body was a TV’d massacre.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre that had to fit into sound-bites and word limits.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre that had to fit into sound-bites and word limits filled enough with statistics to counter measured response.
And I perfected my English and I learned my UN resolutions.
But still, he asked me, Ms. Ziadah, don’t you think that everything would be resolved if you would just stop teaching so much hatred to your children?
Pause.
I look inside of me for strength to be patient but patience is not at the tip of my tongue as the bombs drop over Gaza.
Patience has just escaped me.
Pause. Smile.
We teach life, sir.
Rafeef, remember to smile.
Pause.

We teach life, sir.
We Palestinians teach life after they have occupied the last sky.
We teach life after they have built their settlements and apartheid walls, after the last skies.
We teach life, sir.

But today, my body was a TV’d massacre made to fit into sound-bites and word limits.
And just give us a story, a human story.

You see, this is not political.
We just want to tell people about you and your people so give us a human story.
Don’t mention that word “apartheid” and “occupation”.
This is not political.
You have to help me as a journalist to help you tell your story which is not a political story.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre.
How about you give us a story of a woman in Gaza who needs medication?

How about you?
Do you have enough bone-broken limbs to cover the sun?
Hand me over your dead and give me the list of their names in one thousand two hundred word limits.

Today, my body was a TV’d massacre that had to fit into sound-bites and word limits and move those that are desensitized to terrorist blood.
But they felt sorry.
They felt sorry for the cattle over Gaza.
So, I give them UN resolutions and statistics and we condemn and we deplore and we reject.
And these are not two equal sides: occupier and occupied.
And a hundred dead, two hundred dead, and a thousand dead.
And between that, war crime and massacre, I vent out words and smile “not exotic”, “not terrorist”.
And I recount, I recount a hundred dead, a thousand dead.

Is anyone out there?
Will anyone listen?
I wish I could wail over their bodies.
I wish I could just run barefoot in every refugee camp and hold every child, cover their ears so they wouldn’t have to hear the sound of bombing for the rest of their life the way I do.

Today, my body was a TV’d massacre
And let me just tell you, there’s nothing your UN resolutions have ever done about this.
And no sound-bite, no sound-bite I come up with, no matter how good my English gets, no sound-bite, no sound-bite, no sound-bite, no sound-bite will bring them back to life.
No sound-bite will fix this.
We teach life, sir.
We teach life, sir.
We Palestinians wake up every morning to teach the rest of the world life, sir.

In this world
by Issa Kobayashi

In this world
we walk on the roof of hell,
gazing at flowers.

What if you slept…
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in you hand
Ah, what then?

How to make love to a trans person
by Gabe Moses

Forget the images you’ve learned to attach
To words like cock and clit,
Chest and breasts.
Break those words open
Like a paramedic cracking ribs
To pump blood through a failing heart.
Push your hands inside.
Get them messy.
Scratch new definitions on the bones.

Get rid of the old words altogether.
Make up new words.
Call it a click or a ditto.
Call it the sound he makes
When you brush your hand against it through his jeans,
When you can hear his heart knocking on the back of his teeth
And every cell in his body is breathing.
Make the arch of her back a language
Name the hollows of each of her vertebrae
When they catch pools of sweat
Like rainwater in a row of paper cups
Align your teeth with this alphabet of her spine
So every word is weighted with the salt of her.

When you peel layers of clothing from his skin
Do not act as though you are changing dressings on a trauma patient
Even though it’s highly likely that you are.
Do not ask if she’s “had the surgery.”
Do not tell him that the needlepoint bruises on his thighs look like they hurt
If you are being offered a body
That has already been laid upon an altar of surgical steel
A sacrifice to whatever gods govern bodies
That come with some assembly required
Whatever you do,
Do not say that the carefully sculpted landscape
Bordered by rocky ridges of scar tissue
Looks almost natural.

If she offers you breastbone
Aching to carve soft fruit from its branches
Though there may be more tissue in the lining of her bra
Than the flesh that rises to meet it
Let her ripen in your hands.
Imagine if she’d lost those swells to cancer,
Diabetes,
A car accident instead of an accident of genetics
Would you think of her as less a woman then?
Then think of her as no less one now.

If he offers you a thumb-sized sprout of muscle
Reaching toward you when you kiss him
Like it wants to go deep enough inside you
To scratch his name on the bottom of your heart
Hold it as if it can-
In your hand, in your mouth
Inside the nest of your pelvic bones.
Though his skin may hardly do more than brush yours,
You will feel him deeper than you think.

Realize that bodies are only a fraction of who we are
They’re just oddly-shaped vessels for hearts
And honestly, they can barely contain us
We strain at their seams with every breath we take
We are all pulse and sweat,
Tissue and nerve ending
We are programmed to grope and fumble until we get it right.
Bodies have been learning each other forever.
It’s what bodies do.
They are grab bags of parts
And half the fun is figuring out
All the different ways we can fit them together;
All the different uses for hipbones and hands,
Tongues and teeth;
All the ways to car-crash our bodies beautiful.
But we could never forget how to use our hearts
Even if we tried.
That’s the important part.
Don’t worry about the bodies.
They’ve got this.

Feminist or a Womanist
by Staceyann Chin

“Am I a feminist or a womanist?
The student needs to know if I do men occasionally and primarily, am I a lesbian?
Tongue tied up in my cheek, I attempt to respond with some honesty.
Well, this business of Dykes and Dykery, I tell her, it’s often messy.
With social tensions as they are, you never quite know what you’re getting.

Girls who are only straight at night, hardcore butches be sporting dresses between 9 & 6 every day.
Sometimes she is a he, trapped by the limitations of our imaginations.
Primarily, I tell her, I am concerned about young women who are raped on college campuses, in bars, after poetry readings like this one, in bars.
Bruised lip and broken heart, you will forgive her if she does not come forward with the truth immediately, for when she does, it is she who will stand trial as damaged goods.
Everyone will say she asked for it, dressed as she was, she must have wanted it.
The words will knock about in her head: ” Harlot, slut, tease, loose woman” – some people can not handle a woman on the loose.
You know those women in pinstriped shirts and silk ties, You know those women in blood-red stiletto heels and short skirts.
These women make New York City the most interesting place.
And while we’re on the subject of diversity, Asia is not one big race, and there’s not one big country called ‘The Islands’, and no, I am not from there.

There are a hundred ways to slip between the cracks of our not so credible cultural assumptions about race and religion.
Most people are suprised that my father is Chinese.
Like there’s some kind of preconditioned look for the half-Chinese, lesbian poet who used to be Catholic, but now believes in dreams.

Let’s get real sister-boy in the double-x hooded sweatshirt.
That blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus in the Vatican ain’t right.
That motherfucker was Jewish, not white.
Christ was a middle-eastern rasta man who ate grapes in the company of prostitutes and he drank wine more than he drank water.
Born of the spirit, the disciples loved him in the flesh.

But the discourse is not on those of us who identify as gay or lesbian or even straight.
The state needs us to be either a clear left or right.
Those in the middle get caught in the cross – fire away at the other side.
If you are not for us, then you must be against us.
If you are not for us, then you must be against us.
People get scared enough, they pick a team.
Be it for Buddha or Krishna or Christ, I believe God is that place between belief and what you name it.
I believe holy is what you do when there is nothing between your actions and the truth.

The truth is I’m afraid to draw your black lines around me, I’m not always pale in the middle, I come in too many flavors for one f***ing spoon.
I am never one thing or the other.
At night I am everything I fear, tears and sorrows, black windows and muffled screams.
In the morning, I am all I ever want to be: rain and laughter, bare footprints and invisible seams, always without breath or definition.
I claim every single dawn, for yesterday is simply what I was, and tomorrow even that will be gone.”

Suicide in the Trenches
by Siegfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Deceit and I, by RJ Walker

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