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Elementary - 2022

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Because I speak Spanish  

I can listen to my grandmother’s stories 

and say familia, madre, amor. 

Because I speak English 

I can learn from my teacher  

and say I love school. 


Because I am bilingual 

I can read libros and books, 

I have amigos and friends, 

I enjoy canciones and songs, 

juegos and games, 

and have twice as much fun. 


And someday, 

because I speak two languages, 

I will be able to do twice as much, 

to help twice as many people 

and be twice as good in what I do.

A Blank White Page

is a meadow

after a snowfall

that a poem

hopes to cross


Lying, thinking

Last night

How to find my soul a home

Where water is not thirsty

And bread loaf is not stone

I came up with one thing

And I don't believe I'm wrong

That nobody,

But nobody

Can make it out here alone.


Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.


There are some millionaires

With money they can't use

Their wives run round like banshees

Their children sing the blues

They've got expensive doctors

To cure their hearts of stone.

But nobody

No, nobody

Can make it out here alone.


Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.


Now if you listen closely

I'll tell you what I know

Storm clouds are gathering

The wind is gonna blow

The race of man is suffering

And I can hear the moan,

'Cause nobody,

But nobody

Can make it out here alone.


Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Life Doesn't Frighten Me

Shadows on the wall 

Noises down the hall 

Life doesn't frighten me at all 


Bad dogs barking loud 

Big ghosts in a cloud 

Life doesn't frighten me at all 


Mean old Mother Goose 

Lions on the loose 

They don't frighten me at all 


Dragons breathing flame 

On my counterpane 

That doesn't frighten me at all. 


I go boo 

Make them shoo 

I make fun 

Way they run 

I won't cry 

So they fly 

I just smile 

They go wild 


Life doesn't frighten me at all. 


Tough guys fight 

All alone at night 

Life doesn't frighten me at all. 


Panthers in the park 

Strangers in the dark 

No, they don't frighten me at all. 


That new classroom where 

Boys all pull my hair 

(Kissy little girls 

With their hair in curls) 

They don't frighten me at all. 


Don't show me frogs and snakes 

And listen for my scream, 

If I'm afraid at all 

It's only in my dreams. 


I've got a magic charm 

That I keep up my sleeve 

I can walk the ocean floor 

And never have to breathe. 


Life doesn't frighten me at all 

Not at all 

Not at all. 


Life doesn't frighten me at all.


If sunlight fell like snowflakes,

gleaming yellow and so bright,

we could build a sunman,

we could have a sunball fight,

we could watch the sunflakes

drifting in the sky.

We could go sleighing

in the middle of July

through sundrifts and sunbanks,

we could ride a sunmobile,

and we could touch sunflakes—

I wonder how they'd feel.

I Am Offering This Poem

I am offering this poem to you,

since I have nothing else to give.

Keep it like a warm coat

when winter comes to cover you,

or like a pair of thick socks

the cold cannot bite through,


                      I love you,


I have nothing else to give you,

so it is a pot full of yellow corn

to warm your belly in winter,

it is a scarf for your head, to wear

over your hair, to tie up around your face,


                      I love you,


Keep it, treasure this as you would

if you were lost, needing direction,

in the wilderness life becomes when mature;

and in the corner of your drawer,

tucked away like a cabin or hogan

in dense trees, come knocking,

and I will answer, give you directions,

and let you warm yourself by this fire,

rest by this fire, and make you feel safe


                      I love you,


It’s all I have to give,

and all anyone needs to live,

and to go on living inside,

when the world outside

no longer cares if you live or die;



                      I love you.


They came like dewdrops overnight

Eating every plant in sight,

Those nasty worms with legs that crawl

So creepy up the garden wall,

Green prickly fuzz to hurt and sting

Each unsuspecting living thing.

How I hate them!   Oh, you know

I’d love to squish them with my toe.

But then I see past their disguise,

Someday they’ll all be butterflies.

[An ancient pond!]

An ancient pond!

With a sound from the water

Of the frog as it plunges in.

The Ecchoing Green

The sun does arise,

And make happy the skies.

The merry bells ring

To welcome the Spring.

The sky-lark and thrush,

The birds of the bush,

Sing louder around,

To the bells’ cheerful sound. 

While our sports shall be seen

On the Ecchoing Green.


Old John, with white hair 

Does laugh away care,

Sitting under the oak,

Among the old folk, 

They laugh at our play, 

And soon they all say.

‘Such, such were the joys. 

When we all girls & boys, 

In our youth-time were seen, 

On the Ecchoing Green.’


Till the little ones weary

No more can be merry

The sun does descend,

And our sports have an end: 

Round the laps of their mothers, 

Many sisters and brothers,

Like birds in their nest,

Are ready for rest;

And sport no more seen,

On the darkening Green. 

Your Catfish Friend

If I were to live my life

in catfish forms

in scaffolds of skin and whiskers

at the bottom of a pond

and you were to come by

   one evening

when the moon was shining

down into my dark home

and stand there at the edge

   of my affection

and think, "It's beautiful

here by this pond.  I wish

   somebody loved me,"

I'd love you and be your catfish

friend and drive such lonely

thoughts from your mind

and suddenly you would be

   at peace,

and ask yourself, "I wonder

if there are any catfish

in this pond?  It seems like

a perfect place for them."

Bluebird (Edited)

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



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 mess up the


you want to mess up my book sales in



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



then I put him back,

but he’s singing a little

in there, I haven’t quite let him


and we sleep together like


with our

secret pact

and it’s nice enough to

make a man

weep, but I don’t

weep, do


The Crocodile

How doth the little crocodile

     Improve his shining tail, 

And pour the waters of the Nile 

     On every golden scale! 


How cheerfully he seems to grin,

     How neatly spreads his claws, 

And welcomes little fishes in, 

     With gently smiling jaws!

i love you to the moon &

not back, let’s not come back, let’s go by the speed of 

queer zest & stay up 

there & get ourselves a little 

moon cottage (so pretty), then start a moon garden 


with lots of moon veggies (so healthy), i mean 

i was already moonlighting 

as an online moonologist 

most weekends, so this is the immensely 


logical next step, are you 

packing your bags yet, don’t forget your 

sailor moon jean jacket, let’s wear 

our sailor moon jean jackets while twirling in that lighter, 


queerer moon gravity, let’s love each other 

(so good) on the moon, let’s love 

the moon        

on the moon



Flowers have faces. They are happy or sad.

Their faces change, like ours;

unlike us, it doesn’t mean

uh-oh a new mood out of nowhere dawned.


Technically it is immoral to kill a flower

but people do it all the time,

to smooth something over or to please a lover.

Nature just rolls right on, headless.

The Drinking Fountain

When I climb up

To get a drink

It doesn't work

The way you'd think


I turn it up.

The water goes

And hits me right 

Upon the nose.


I turn it down

To make it small

And don't get any

Drink at all.

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel

like I’m coming down with something,

something worse than any stomach ache

or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–

a kind of measles of the spirit,

a mumps of the psyche,

a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.


You tell me it is too early to be looking back,

but that is because you have forgotten

the perfect simplicity of being one

and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.

But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.

At four I was an Arabian wizard.

I could make myself invisible

by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.

At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.


But now I am mostly at the window

watching the late afternoon light.

Back then it never fell so solemnly

against the side of my tree house,

and my bicycle never leaned against the garage

as it does today,

all the dark blue speed drained out of it.


This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,

as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.

It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,

time to turn the first big number.


It seems only yesterday I used to believe

there was nothing under my skin but light.

If you cut me I could shine.

But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,

I skin my knees. I bleed.

For a Poet

To John Gaston Edgar


I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,

And laid them away in a box of gold;

Where long will cling the lips of the moth,

I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth;

I hide no hate; I am not even wroth

Who found earth’s breath so keen and cold;

I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,

And laid them away in a box of gold.

[love is more thicker than forget]

love is more thicker than forget

more thinner than recall

more seldom than a wave is wet

more frequent than to fail


it is most mad and moonly

and less it shall unbe

than all the sea which only

is deeper than the sea


love is less always than to win

less never than alive

less bigger than the least begin

less littler than forgive


it is most sane and sunly

and more it cannot die

than all the sky which only

is higher than the sky

maggie and milly and molly and may

maggie and milly and molly and may

went down to the beach(to play one day)


and maggie discovered a shell that sang

so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and


milly befriended a stranded star

whose rays five languid fingers were;


and molly was chased by a horrible thing

which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and


may came home with a smooth round stone

as small as a world and as large as alone.


For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)

it's always ourselves we find in the sea

A Bird, came down the Walk

A Bird, came down the Walk - 

He did not know I saw -

He bit an Angle Worm in halves 

And ate the fellow, raw, 


And then, he drank a Dew

From a convenient Grass -

And then hopped sidewise to the Wall 

To let a Beetle pass -


He glanced with rapid eyes,

That hurried all abroad -

They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,

He stirred his Velvet Head. - 


Like one in danger, Cautious,

I offered him a Crumb,

And he unrolled his feathers, 

And rowed him softer Home -


Than Oars divide the Ocean,

Too silver for a seam,

Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon, 

Leap, plashless as they swim. 

Excerpt from "They are not long"

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

Love and desire and hate:

I think they have no portion in us after

We pass the gate. 


They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream. 

The Song of the Jellicles

              Jellicle Cats come out to-night

              Jellicle Cats come one come all:

              The Jellicle Moon is shining bright—

              Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.


Jellicle Cats are black and white,

Jellicle Cats are rather small;

Jellicle Cats are merry and bright,

And pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.

Jellicle Cats have cheerful faces,

Jellicle Cats have bright black eyes;


They like to practise their airs and graces

And wait for the Jellicle Moon to rise.


Jellicle Cats develop slowly,

Jellicle Cats are not too big;

Jellicle Cats are roly-poly,

They know how to dance a gavotte and a jig.

Until the Jellicle Moon appears

They make their toilette and take their repose:

Jellicle Cats wash behind their ears,

Jellicle dry between their toes.


Jellicle Cats are white and black,

Jellicle Cats are of moderate size;

Jellicle Cats jump like a jumping-jack,

Jellicle Cats have moonlit eyes.

They're quiet enough in the morning hours,

They're quiet enough in the afternoon,

Reserving their terpsichorean powers

To dance by the light of the Jellicle Moon.


Jellicle Cats are black and white,

Jellicle Cats (as I said) are small;

If it happens to be a stormy night

They will practise a caper or two in the hall.

If it happens the sun is shining bright

You would say they had nothing to do at all:

They are resting and saving themselves to be right

For the Jellicle Moon and the Jellicle Ball.

Bilingual / Bilingüe

My father liked them separate, one there,  

one here (allá y aquí), as if aware 


that words might cut in two his daughter’s heart  

(el corazón) and lock the alien part 


to what he was—his memory, his name  

(su nombre)—with a key he could not claim. 


“English outside this door, Spanish inside,”  

he said, “y basta.” But who can divide 


the world, the word (mundo y palabra) from  

any child? I knew how to be dumb 


and stubborn (testaruda); late, in bed,  

I hoarded secret syllables I read 


until my tongue (mi lengua) learned to run  

where his stumbled. And still the heart was one. 


I like to think he knew that, even when,  

proud (orgulloso) of his daughter’s pen, 


he stood outside mis versos, half in fear  

of words he loved but wanted not to hear.

Something Told the Wild Geese

Something told the wild geese

It was time to go,

Though the fields lay golden

Something whispered, "snow."


Leaves were green and stirring,

Berries, luster-glossed,

But beneath warm feathers

Something cautioned, "frost."


All the sagging orchards

Steamed with amber spice,

But each wild breast stiffened

At remembered ice.


Something told the wild geese

It was time to fly,

Summer sun was on their wings,

Winter in their cry.

Bilingual Blues

Soy un ajiaco de contradicciones. 

I have mixed feelings about everything. 

Name your tema, I'll hedge; 

name your cerca, I'll straddle it 

like a cubano. 


I have mixed feelings about everything. 

Soy un ajiaco de contradicciones. 

Vexed, hexed, complexed, 

hyphenated, oxygenated, illegally alienated, 

psycho soy, cantando voy: 

You say tomato, 

I say tu madre; 

You say potato, 

I say Pototo. 

Let's call the hole 

un hueco, the thing 

a cosa, and if the cosa goes into the hueco, 

consider yourself en casa, 

consider yourself part of the family. 


Soy un ajiaco de contradicciones, 

un puré de impurezas: 

a little square from Rubik's Cuba 

que nadie nunca acoplará. 



Light Light

is the ink we use

Night Night

is our parchment

We’re fireflies

fireflies flickering




glimmering fireflies



insect calligraphers insect calligraphers

practicing penmanship

copying sentences

Six-legged scribblers Six-legged scribblers

of vanishing messages

fleeting graffiti

Fine artists in flight Fine artists in flight

adding dabs of light

bright brush strokes

Signing the June nights Signing the June nights

as if they were paintings as if they were paintings


flickering fireflies

fireflies         flickering

fireflies.         fireflies.


after Nikki Giovanni


She asked me to kill the spider

Instead, I get the most

peaceful weapons I can find.


I take a cup and a napkin.

I catch the spider, put it outside

and allow it to walk away.


If I am ever caught in the wrong place

at the wrong time, just being alive

and not bothering anyone,


I hope I am greeted

with the same kind

of mercy.

Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain --- and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.


I have looked down the saddest city lane.

I have passed by the watchman on his beat

And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.


I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

When far away an interrupted cry

Came over houses from another street,


But not to call me back or say good-by;

And further still at an unearthly height,

One luminary clock against the sky


Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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.

Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep; 

I am not there. I do not sleep. 

I am a thousand winds that blow. 

I am the diamond glints on snow. 

I am the sunlight on ripened grain. 

I am the gentle autumn rain. 

When you awaken in the morning’s hush 

I am the swift uplifting rush 

Of quiet birds in circled flight. 

I am the soft stars that shine at night. 

Do not stand at my grave and cry; 

I am not there. I did not die. 


I wake in the morning early

And always, the very first thing,

I poke out my head and I sit up in bed 

And I sing and I sing and I sing.

Knoxville, Tennessee

I always like summer


you can eat fresh corn

from daddy's garden

and okra

and greens

and cabbage

and lots of


and buttermilk

and homemade ice-cream

at the church picnic

and listen to

gospel music


at the church


and go to the mountains with

your grandmother

and go barefooted

and be warm

all the time

not only when you go to bed

and sleep


her grandmother called her from the playground   

       “yes, ma’am”

       “i want chu to learn how to make rolls” said the old   

woman proudly

but the little girl didn’t want

to learn how because she knew

even if she couldn’t say it that

that would mean when the old one died she would be less   

dependent on her spirit so

she said

       “i don’t want to know how to make no rolls”

with her lips poked out

and the old woman wiped her hands on

her apron saying “lord

       these children”

and neither of them ever

said what they meant

and i guess nobody ever does

My First Memory (of Librarians)

This is my first memory:

A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky

       wood floor

A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center

Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply

       too short

              For me to sit in and read

So my first book was always big


In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided

To the left side the card catalogue

On the right newspapers draped over what looked like

       a quilt rack

Magazines face out from the wall


The welcoming smile of my librarian

The anticipation in my heart

All those books—another world—just waiting

At my fingertips.

By Myself

When I’m by myself 

And I close my eyes 

I’m a twin

I’m a dimple in a chin 

I’m a room full of toys 

I’m a squeaky noise 

I’m a gospel song

I’m a gong

I’m a leaf turning red

I’m a loaf of brown bread 

I’m a whatever I want to be 

An anything I care to be 

And when I open my eyes 

What I care to be

Is me.

Three Ponies

Three little ponies who didn’t like their hay

Said to each other “Let’s run away!”

Said the first “I will canter!”

Said the second “I will trot!”

Said the third “I will run if it’s not too hot!”


And they all started off

With their tails in the air

But they couldn’t jump the fence

So they’re all still there.

The Dream of Shoji

How to say milk?  How to say sand, snow, sow,


linen, cloud, cocoon, or albino?

How to say page or canvas or rice balls?


Trying to recall Japanese, I blank out:


it's clear I know forgetting.  Mother, tell me

what to call that paper screen that slides the interior in?


Apart, we are two quiet things:

a person and an instrument.

I in my body,

the clarinet in its case.


We are like good friends.

The clarinet takes nothing away from me.

It lets me borrow its notes.


If I loan it my breath,

I can speak with its sweet voice.

Together, we will make a world

full of song.

Makin' Jump Shots

He waltzes into the lane

’cross the free-throw line,

fakes a drive, pivots,

floats from the asphalt turf

in an arc of black light,

and sinks two into the chains.


One on one he fakes

down the main, passes

into the free lane

and hits the chains.


A sniff in the fallen air—

he stuffs it through the chains

riding high:

“traveling” someone calls—

and he laughs, stepping

to a silent beat, gliding

as he sinks two into the chains.

Five Directions to My House

1. Go back to the grain yellow hills where the broken speak of elegance

2. Walk up to the canvas door, the short bed stretched against the clouds

3. Beneath the earth, an ant writes with the grace of a governor

4. Blow, blow Red Tail Hawk, your hidden sleeve—your desert secrets

5. You are there, almost, without a name, without a body, go now

6. I said five, said five like a guitar says six. 

Jackrabbits, Green Onions, & Witches Stew

Jackrabbits, green onions & witches stew


Three dollars & upside down lemons & you


Dinky planet on a skateboard of dynamite


Oh, what to do, chile peppers, Mrs. Oops


Dr. What, Mr. Space Station unscrewed


The Redbook of Ants says you better run


No sireee, LOL, blowin’ my bubble gum sun

[Death is nothing at all]

Death is nothing at all.

It does not count.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

Nothing has happened.


Everything remains exactly as it was.

I am I, and you are you,

and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.

Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.


Call me by the old familiar name.

Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone.

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.


Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.

Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.


Life means all that it ever meant.

It is the same as it ever was.

There is absolute and unbroken continuity.

What is this death but a negligible accident?


Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you, for an interval,

somewhere very near,

just round the corner.


All is well.

Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.

One brief moment and all will be as it was before.

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!


Subways Are People

Subways are people---


People standing

People sitting

People swaying to and fro

Some in suits

Some in tatters

People I will never know


Some with glasses 

Some without

Boy with smile

Girl with frown


People dashing

Steel flashing

Up and down and 

‘round the town


Subways are people---


People old

People new

People always on the go

Racing, running, rushing people

People I will never know.


Hold fast to dreams 

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.


Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

Dream Variations

To fling my arms wide

In some place of the sun,

To whirl and to dance

Till the white day is done.

Then rest at cool evening

Beneath a tall tree

While night comes on gently,

    Dark like me—

That is my dream!


To fling my arms wide

In the face of the sun,

Dance! Whirl! Whirl!

Till the quick day is done.

Rest at pale evening . . .

A tall, slim tree . . .

Night coming tenderly

    Black like me.

Grandpa's Stories

The pictures on the television 

Do not make me dream as well 

As the stories without pictures 

Grandpa knows how to tell


Even if he does not know 

What makes a Spaceman go, 

Grandpa says back in his time 

Hamburgers only cost a dime, 

Ice cream cones a nickel, 

And a penny for a pickle.

Your World

Your world is as big as you make it. 

I know, for I used to abide

In the narrowest nest in a corner, 

My wings pressing close to my side. 


But I sighted the distant horizon 

Where the skyline encircled the sea 

And I throbbed with a burning desire 

To travel this immensity. 


I battered the cordons around me 

And cradled my wings on the breeze, 

Then soared to the uttermost reaches 

With rapture, with power, with ease!

Money Matters

I saved all my pennies

and soon had a nickel.

I saved all my nickels

and soon had a dime.

I saved all my dimes

and soon had a quarter.

I saved all my quarters

and went to the store.


Yes, I’d saved and saved for a video system, 

which was really quite an expense.

But the clerk looked down and laughed in 

my face…


I only had eighty-three cents.


I have a brief confession

that I would like to make.

If I don’t get it off my chest

I'm sure my heart will break.


I didn't do my reading.

I watched TV instead—

while munching cookies, cakes, and chips

and cinnamon raisin bread.


I didn't wash the dishes.

I didn't clean the mess.

Now there are roaches eating crumbs—

a million, more or less.


I didn't turn the TV off.

I didn't shut the light.

Just think of all the energy

I wasted through the night.


I feel so very guilty.

I did a lousy job.

I hope my students don't find out

that I am such a slob.

my graduation speech

i think in spanish

i write in english


i want to go back to puerto rico,

but i wonder if my kink could live

in ponce, mayagüez and carolina


tengo las venas aculturadas

escribo en spanglish

abraham in español

abraham in english

tato in spanish

"taro" in english

tonto in both languages


how are you?

¿cómo estás?

i don't know if i'm coming

or si me fui ya


si me dicen barranquitas, yo reply,

"¿con qué se come eso?"

si me dicen caviar, i digo,

"a new pair of converse sneakers."


ahí supe que estoy [  ]

ahí supe que estamos [  ]


english or spanish

spanish or english


now, dig this:


hablo lo inglés matao

hablo lo español matao

no sé leer ninguno bien


so it is, spanglish to matao

what i digo

             ¡ay, virgen, yo no sé hablar!

From Blossoms

From blossoms comes

this brown paper bag of peaches

we bought from the boy

at the bend in the road where we turned toward   

signs painted Peaches.


From laden boughs, from hands,

from sweet fellowship in the bins,

comes nectar at the roadside, succulent

peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,

comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.


O, to take what we love inside,

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into   

the round jubilance of peach.


There are days we live

as if death were nowhere

in the background; from joy

to joy to joy, from wing to wing,

from blossom to blossom to

impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.


No shoes and a glossy

red helmet, I rode

on the back of my dad’s

Harley at seven years old.

Before the divorce.

Before the new apartment.

Before the new marriage.

Before the apple tree.

Before the ceramics in the garbage.

Before the dog’s chain.

Before the koi were all eaten

by the crane. Before the road

between us, there was the road

beneath us, and I was just

big enough not to let go:

Henno Road, creek just below,

rough wind, chicken legs,

and I never knew survival

was like that. If you live,

you look back and beg

for it again, the hazardous

bliss before you know

what you would miss.

The Raincoat

When the doctor suggested surgery

and a brace for all my youngest years,

my parents scrambled to take me

to massage therapy, deep tissue work,

osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine

unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,

and move more in a body unclouded

by pain. My mom would tell me to sing

songs to her the whole forty-five minute

drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-

five minutes back from physical therapy.

She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered

by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,

because I thought she liked it. I never

asked her what she gave up to drive me,

or how her day was before this chore. Today,

at her age, I was driving myself home from yet

another spine appointment, singing along

to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,

and I saw a mom take her raincoat off

and give it to her young daughter when

a storm took over the afternoon. My god,

I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her

raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel

that I never got wet.


I shall dance tonight.

When the dusk comes crawling, 

There will be dancing

and feasting.

I shall dance with the others

in circles, 

in leaps,

in stomps.


Laughter and talk

Will weave into the night, 

Among the fires

of my people. 

Games will be played

And I shall be 

a part of it.


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking

And a gray mist on the sea’s face and a great dawn breaking.


I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.


I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife,

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

There Are Birds Here

For Detroit


There are birds here,

so many birds here

is what I was trying to say

when they said those birds were metaphors

for what is trapped

between buildings

and buildings. No.

The birds are here

to root around for bread

the girl’s hands tear

and toss like confetti. No,

I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,

I said confetti, and no

not the confetti

a tank can make of a building.

I mean the confetti

a boy can’t stop smiling about

and no his smile isn’t much

like a skeleton at all. And no

his neighborhood is not like a war zone.

I am trying to say

his neighborhood

is as tattered and feathered

as anything else,

as shadow pierced by sun

and light parted

by shadow-dance as anything else,

but they won’t stop saying

how lovely the ruins,

how ruined the lovely

children must be in that birdless city.

Wolf Energy

Some people have wolf energy—visible

either in the jaw or the lean, rising shoulders,

a gait radiating speed. Other people

have rabbit energy. If you were sleeping

and they bit your neck, it might strike you

as ticklish. Others have bear energy—oversized,

cuddly, but liable to snarl and swipe your face

with a paw. Cat energy is first cousins

with skunk energy. My wife says my face

looks like a shark’s, but squirrel teeth

line my gums. If I chomp you,

you won’t lose an arm. My half-brother

is an owl that flew into the woods

and never came back. My one brother

is half-rhino and half-blowtorch.

My other brother is a puddle of water

evaporating in a cave. Each day

I check to make sure he’s still there. 

December, 1919

Last night I heard your voice, mother,

      The words you sang to me

When I, a little barefoot boy,

      Knelt down against your knee.


And tears gushed from my heart, mother,

      And passed beyond its wall,

But though the fountain reached my throat

      The drops refused to fall.


'Tis ten years since you died, mother,

      Just ten dark years of pain,

And oh, I only wish that I

      Could weep just once again.

Antagonish [I met a man who wasn't there]

Yesterday, upon the stair,

I met a man who wasn't there

He wasn't there again today

I wish, I wish he'd go away…


When I came home last night at three

The man was waiting there for me

But when I looked around the hall

I couldn't see him there at all!


Go away, go away, don't you come back any more!

Go away, go away, and please don't slam the door... (slam!)


Last night I saw upon the stair

A little man who wasn't there

He wasn't there again today

Oh, how I wish he'd go away...


Dot a dot dot dot a dot dot

Spotting the windowpane.


Spack a spack speck flick a flack fleck

Freckling the windowpane.


A spatter a scatter a wet cat a clatter

A splatter a rumble outside.


Umbrella umbrella umbrella umbrella

Bumbershoot barrel of rain.


Slosh a galosh slosh a galosh

Slither and slather a glide


A puddle a jump a puddle a jump

A puddle a jump puddle splosh


A juddle a pump a luddle a dump

A pudmuddle jump in and slide!

Afternoon on a Hill

I will be the gladdest thing

Under the sun!

I will touch a hundred flowers

And not pick one!


I will look at cliffs and clouds

With quiet eyes,

Watch the wind bow down the grass

And the grass rise.


And when lights begin to show

Up from the town

I will mark which must be mine, 

And then start down!

City Trees

The trees along this city street,

Save for the traffic and the trains,

Would make a sound as thin and sweet

As trees in country lanes.


And people standing in their shade

Out of a shower, undoubtedly

Would hear such music as is made

Upon a country tree.


Oh, little leaves that are so dumb

Against the shrieking city air,

I watch you when the wind has come, --

I know what sound is there.

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;

    It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—

    It gives a lovely light!

Words Free as Confetti

Come, words, come in your every color. 

I’ll toss you in storm or breeze.

I’ll say, say, say you,

Taste you sweet as plump plums,

bitter as old lemons,

I’ll sniff you, words, warm

as almonds or tart as apple‐red, 

feel you green

and soft as new grass,

lightweight as dandelion plumes,

or thorngray as cactus,

heavy as black cement,

cold blue as icicles,

warm as abuelita’s yellowlap.

I’ll hear you, words, loud as searoar’s 

Purple crash, hushed

as gatitos curled in sleep,

as the last goldlullaby.

I’ll see you long and dark as tunnels,

bright as rainbows,

playful as chestnutwind.

I’ll watch you, words, rise and dance 

and spin.

I’ll say, say, say you 

in English,

in Spanish,

I’ll find you.

Hold you.

Toss you.

I’m free too.

I say yo soy libre

I am free

free, free,

free as confetti.

Origin of Tears

translated by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright and Franz Wright



this is when

your heart is sweating

in the mine of the thorax

never seeing the sun


do you feel the heart’s back aching?

do you feel the heart’s chest aching?



this is when

the heart spits in your eyes

The Bronze Legacy

To a Brown Boy


’Tis a noble gift to be brown, all brown,

  Like the strongest things that make up this earth,

Like the mountains grave and grand,

  Even like the very land,

  Even like the trunks of trees—

  Even oaks, to be like these!

God builds His strength in bronze.


To be brown like thrush and lark!

  Like the subtle wren so dark!

Nay, the king of beasts wears brown;

  Eagles are of this same hue.

I thank God, then, I am brown.

  Brown has mighty things to do.

They Were My People

They were those who cut cane

to the rhythm of the sunbeat


They were those who carried cane

to the rhythm of the sunbeat


They were those who crushed cane

to the rhythm of the sunbeat


They were women weeding, carrying babies

to the rhythm of the sunbeat


They were my people, working so hard

to the rhythm of the sunbeat - - long ago

to the rhythm of the sunbeat.


They said something mean to me 

and didn’t notice it was mean. 


So my heart wandered 

into the rainy night without them 

and found a canopy 

to hide under. 


My eyes started  

seeing through things. 

Like gauze. 

Old self through new self. 

My flexible body 

went backwards 

and forwards 

in time. 


It’s hard to describe but true: 

I grew another head  

with better ideas 

inside my old head.


The river is famous to the fish.


The loud voice is famous to silence,   

which knew it would inherit the earth   

before anybody said so.   


The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   

watching him from the birdhouse.   


The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   


The idea you carry close to your bosom   

is famous to your bosom.   


The boot is famous to the earth,   

more famous than the dress shoe,   

which is famous only to floors.


The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   

and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   


I want to be famous to shuffling men   

who smile while crossing streets,   

sticky children in grocery lines,   

famous as the one who smiled back.


I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   

but because it never forgot what it could do.

How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?

When you quietly close

the door to a room

the room is not finished.


It is resting. Temporarily.

Glad to be without you

for a while.


Now it has time to gather

its balls of gray dust,

to pitch them from corner to corner.


Now it seeps back into itself,

unruffled and proud.

Outlines grow firmer.


When you return,

you might move the stack of books,

freshen the water for the roses.


I think you could keep doing this

forever. But the blue chair looks best

with the red pillow. So you might as well


leave it that way.


I go down to the edge of the sea.

How everything shines in the morning light!

The cusp of the whelk,

the broken cupboard of the clam,

the opened, blue mussels,

moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—

and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,

dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.

It's like a schoolhouse

of little words,

thousands of words.

First you figure out what each one means by itself,

the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop

       full of moonlight.


Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.


So long as I am hanging on

I want to be young and noble.

I want to be bold.


So said the great buck, named Swirler,

as he stepped like a king past me

the week before he was arrow-killed.


And so said the wren in the bush

after another hard year

of love, of nest-life, or singing.


And so say I

every morning, just before sunrise,

wading the edge of the dark ocean.

Bleezer’s Ice Cream

I am Ebenezer Bleezer,


there are flavors in my freezer

you have never seen before,

twenty-eight divine creations

too delicious to resist,

why not do yourself a favor,

try the flavors on my list:































I am Ebenezer Bleezer,


taste a flavor from my freezer,

you will surely ask for more.

Noisy Noisy

It's noisy, noisy overhead,

the birds are winging south,

and every bird is opening

a noisy, noisy mouth.


They fill the air with loud complaint,

they honk and quack and squawk—

they do not feel like flying,

but it's much too far to walk.

Don't Go Into the Library

The library is dangerous—

Don’t go in. If you do


You know what will happen.

It’s like a pet store or a bakery—


Every single time you’ll come out of there

Holding something in your arms.


Those novels with their big eyes.

And those no-nonsense, all muscle


Greyhounds and Dobermans,

All non-fiction and business,


Cuddly when they’re young,

But then the first page is turned.


The doughnut scent of it all, knowledge,

The aroma of coffee being made


In all those books, something for everyone,


The deli offerings of civilization itself.


The library is the book of books,

Its concrete and wood and glass covers


Keeping within them the very big,

Very long story of everything.


The library is dangerous, full

Of answers. If you go inside,


You may not come out

The same person who went in.

Who Has Seen the Wind?

Who has seen the wind? 

Neither I nor you: 

But when the leaves hang trembling, 

The wind is passing through. 


Who has seen the wind? 

Neither you nor I: 

But when the trees bow down their heads, 

The wind is passing by.


The fog comes 

on little cat feet. 


It sits looking 

over harbor and city 

on silent haunches 

and then moves on.

The Surface of the Water

has properties, tension, behaves differently

from the rest of the water. If you fell


onto it from a height, you would bounce.

The surface would reject you, say


I’m a solid too – we can’t both be here, 

but then the rest of the water would accept you,


take you into itself, pull you down

away from the surface, saying I’m sorry,


I want you, come in. 


i must confess that waltzes

do not move me.

i have no sympathy

for symphonies.


i guess i hummed the Blues

too early,

and spent too many midnights

out wailing to the rain.

April Is a Dog’s Dream

april is a dog's dream

the soft grass is growing

the sweet breeze is blowing

the air all full of singing feels just right

so no excuses now

we're going to the park

to chase and charge and chew

and I will make you see

what spring is all about

Bed in Summer

In winter I get up at night   

And dress by yellow candle-light.   

In summer, quite the other way,   

I have to go to bed by day.   


I have to go to bed and see          

The birds still hopping on the tree,   

Or hear the grown-up people’s feet   

Still going past me in the street.   


And does it not seem hard to you,   

When all the sky is clear and blue,   

And I should like so much to play,   

To have to go to bed by day?

My Shadow

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,

And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.

He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;

And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.


The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—

Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;

For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,

And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.


He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,

And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.

He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;

I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!


One morning, very early, before the sun was up,

I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;

But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,

Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing,

   Up in the air so blue?

“Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing

   Ever a child can do!”


“Up in the air and over the wall,

   Till I can see so wide,

Rivers and trees and cattle and all

   Over the countryside--


“Till I look down on the garden green

   Down on the roof so brown--

Up in the air I go flying again,

   Up in the air and down!”

Room with a View

I live in a room by the sea,

where the view is great and the food is free.

Some of the tenants come and go.

Some I eat, if they're too slow.

One end of me is firmly locked.

The other end just gently rocks.

I live in a room by the sea.

It's perfect for an anemone. 

Whenever you see a tree


how many long years

this tree waited as a seed

for an animal or bird or wind or rain

to maybe carry it to maybe the right spot

where again it waited months for seasons to change

until time and temperature were fine enough to coax it

to swell and burst its hard shell so it could send slender roots

to clutch at grains of soil and let tender shoots reach toward the sun

Think how many decades or centuries it thickened and climbed and grew

taller and deeper never knowing if it would find enough water or light

or when conditions would be right so it could keep on spreading leaves

adding blossoms and dancing

Next time

you see

a tree





it holds

Mother Doesn't Want a Dog

Mother doesn't want a dog.

Mother says they smell,

And never sit when you say sit,

Or even when you yell.

And when you come home late at night

And there is ice and snow,

You have to go back out because

The dumb dog has to go.


Mother doesn't want a dog.

Mother says they shed,

And always let the strangers in

And bark at friends instead,

And do disgraceful things on rugs,

And track mud on the floor,

And flop upon your bed at night

And snore their doggy snore.


Mother doesn't want a dog.

She's making a mistake.

Because, more than a dog, I think

She will not want this snake.

Since Hanna Moved Away

The tires on my bike are flat.

The sky is grouchy gray.

At least it sure feels like that

Since Hanna moved away.


Chocolate ice cream tastes like prunes.

December's come to stay.

They've taken back the Mays and Junes

Since Hanna moved away.


Flowers smell like halibut.

Velvet feels like hay.

Every handsome dog's a mutt

Since Hanna moved away.


Nothing's fun to laugh about.

Nothing's fun to play.

They call me, but I won't come out

Since Hanna moved away.

How Poems Are Made / A Discredited View

Letting go

In order to hold one

I gradually understand

How poems are made.


There is a place the fear must go.

There is a place the choice must go.

There is a place the loss must go.

The leftover love.

The love that spills out

Of the too full cup

And runs and hides

Its too full self

In shame.


I gradually comprehend

How poems are made.

To the upbeat flight of memories.

The flagged beats of the running



I understand how poems are made.

They are the tears

That season the smile.

The stiff-neck laughter

That crowds the throat.

The leftover love.

I know how poems are made.


There is a place the loss must go.

There is a place the gain must go.

The leftover love.

Dogs and Weather

I’d like a different dog

     For every kind of weather--

A narrow greyhound for a fog,

A wolfhound strange and white

     With a tail like a silver feather

To run with in the night,

When snow is still, and winter stars are bright.


In the fall I’d like to see

     In answer to my whistle,

A golden spaniel look at me.

But best of all for rain

A terrier, hairy as a thistle,

To trot with fine disdain

Beside me down the soaked, sweet-smelling lane.

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox


and which

you were probably


for breakfast


Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound

The robin makes a laughing sound.

It makes me stop and look around

to see just what the robin sees—

fresh new leaves on twigs of trees,

a strong, high branch on which to rest,

a safe dry ledge to hold its nest.

The robin makes a laughing sound.

I stop. I always look around.


The pig is bigger

Than we had thought

And not so pink, 

Fringed with white

Hairs that look

Gray, because while

They say a pig is clean,

It is not always; still,

We like this huge, cheerful

Rich, soft-bellied beast---

It wants to be comfortable,

And does not care much

How the thing is managed.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,

Because a fire was in my head,

And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,

And moth-like stars were flickering out,

I dropped the berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trout.


When I had laid it on the floor

I went to blow the fire a-flame,

But something rustled on the floor,

And someone called me by my name:

It had become a glimmering girl

With apple blossom in her hair

Who called me by my name and ran

And faded through the brightening air.


Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done,

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

Earth Day

I am the Earth

And the Earth is me.

Each blade of grass,

Each honey tree,

Each bit of mud,

And stick and stone

Is blood and muscle,

Skin and bone.


And just as I

Need every bit

Of me to make

My body fit,

So Earth needs

Grass and stone and tree

And things that grow here



That’s why we

Celebrate this day.

That’s why across

The world we say:

As long as life,

As dear, as free,

I am the Earth

And the Earth is me.