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High - 2019

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Still I Rise

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.


Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.


Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?


Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.


You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.


Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?


Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.


Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Speech to the Young: Speech to the Progress-Toward

Say to them,

say to the down-keepers,

the sun-slappers,

the self-soilers,

the harmony-hushers,

"Even if you are not ready for day

it cannot always be night."

You will be right.

For that is the hard home-run.


Live not for battles won.

Live not for the-end-of-the-song.

Live in the along.

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


Work out. Ten laps.

Chin ups. Look good.


Steam room. Dress warm.

Call home. Fresh air.


Eat right. Rest well.

Sweetheart. Safe sex.


Sore throat. Long flu.

Hard nodes. Beware.


Test blood. Count cells.

Reds thin. Whites low.


Dress warm. Eat well.

Short breath. Fatigue.


Night sweats. Dry cough.

Loose stools. Weight loss.


Get mad. Fight back.

Call home. Rest well.


Don’t cry. Take charge.

No sex. Eat right.


Call home. Talk slow.

Chin up. No air.


Arms wide. Nodes hard.

Cough dry. Hold on.


Mouth wide. Drink this.

Breathe in. Breathe out.


No air. Breathe in.

Breathe in. No air.


Black out. White rooms.

Head hot. Feet cold.


No work. Eat right.

CAT scan. Chin up.


Breathe in. Breathe out.

No air. No air.


Thin blood. Sore lungs.

Mouth dry. Mind gone.


Six months? Three weeks?

Can’t eat. No air.


Today? Tonight?

It waits. For me.


Sweet heart. Don’t stop.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

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. 


Urban Girl Writes Another Poem About Her Dead Father

My father is dead.

I notice it most 

During things that haven’t happened 



My Father is dead 

at my wedding. 

He is a slow dance of bullets

an autopsy trying 

to make polite conversation with the guests.

My flower girl is me at every age 

he did not see me turn.

I am throwing things I haven’t seen in years

(My virginity, pig-tails, my diploma, joy and names of old lovers).


My father is dead 

at the birth of my first child 

The doctor asks where is the father

I say murdered out of habit.

The doctor does not specify so neither do I 

Instead we both stare 

at my child who is named after the chill in the room. 


My father is dead 

at my death bed. We play

Blackjack until the light comes.


When it does, he lifts me onto his shoulders

I get the piggy back ride promised to a child

who time had been waiting on.

Excerpt from "America"

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.

America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.   

I can’t stand my own mind.

America when will we end the human war?

Go [  ] yourself with your atom bomb.

I don’t feel good don’t bother me.

I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.

America when will you be angelic?

When will you take off your clothes?

When will you look at yourself through the grave?

When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?

America why are your libraries full of tears?

America when will you send your eggs to India?

I’m sick of your insane demands.

When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?

America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.   

Your machinery is too much for me.

You made me want to be a saint.

There must be some other way to settle this argument.   

Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.   

Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?   

I’m trying to come to the point.

I refuse to give up my obsession.

America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.

America the plum blossoms are falling.


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

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.


I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,


Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?


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.


It has rained for five days


the world is

a round puddle

of sunless water

where small islands

are only beginning

to cope

a young boy

in my garden

is bailing out water

from his flower patch

when I ask him why

he tells me

young seeds that have not seen sun


and drown easily.

If We Must Die

If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursèd lot.

If we must die, O let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain; then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

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!


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.


They say I mope too much

but really I’m loudly dancing.

I eat paper. It’s good for my bones.

I play the piano pedal. I dance,

I am never quiet, I mean silent.

Some day I’ll love Frank O’Hara.

I think I’ll be alone for a little while.


Today, I’m taking my father

for more tests, his eyes


failing even as we walk

out into the knee deep drifts.


Like his father before,

he takes two shovels from their hooks,


the particles of his hands

sewn somewhere in mine,


so much of him

silent in me as we walk


the bright hemorrhage of white.

He starts at one end,


I start the other, each scoop

unmaking the snow, which has taken


over porches, stoops, skeletal trees

hedging the road. Soon,


he won’t be able to make out the handle

he’s gripping. We don’t speak,


piling the crude heaps,

first him, then me, the black


grammar of railroad ties

announcing the perimeter.


The weatherman   calls for more–

seven inches by nightfall–


but the old Chevy rattles

as I rev the engine,


my father leaning to scrape

the windshield clear of ice


until he’s certain I can see.

What Do I Care

What do I care, in the dreams and the languor of spring,

That my songs do not show me at all?

For they are a fragrance, and I am a flint and a fire,

I am an answer, they are only a call.


But what do I care, for love will be over so soon,

Let my heart have its say and my mind stand idly by,

For my mind is proud and strong enough to be silent, 

It is my heart that makes my songs, not I.