April is National Poetry Month! For the whole month, we (two Oregon State students, Sam Sturman and Rachel Tougas) will be posting a poem each day. We hope to share with the OSU community a hand-picked collection of our favorite poems from poets that have inspired our own writing. You can follow us and see our daily posts on the OSU SWLF’s Facebook (Oregon State University-School of Writing Literature and Film), Twitter (@osuswlf), and Instagram (@osuswlf). Share your favorites to spread the word, and have a jolly Poetry Month!

 

April 30, Poem 16

I am Trying to Break Your Heart

By Kevin Young

 

I am hoping

to hang your head

 

on my wall

in shame—

 

the slightest taxidermy

thrills me. Fish

 

forever leaping

on the living-room wall—

 

paperweights made

from skulls

 

of small animals.

I want to wear

 

your smile on my sleeve

& break


 

your heart like a horse

or its leg. Weeks of being

 

Bucked off, then

All at once, you’re mine—

 

Put me down.

 

I want to call you thine

 

to tattoo mercy

along my knuckles. I asassin

 

down the avenue

I hope

 

To have you forgotten

by noon. To know you

 

By your knees

palsied by prayer.

 

Loneliness is a science—

 

Consider the taxidermist’s

tender hands

 

trying to keep from losing

skin, the bobcat grin

 

of the living.

 

April 26, Poem 16

Hide and Seek

By Charles Simic

Haven’t found anyone
From the old gang.
They must be still in hiding,
Holding their breaths
And trying not to laugh.

Our street is down on its luck
With windows broken
Where on summer nights
One heard couples arguing,
Or saw them dancing to the radio.

The redhead we were
All in love with,
Who sat on the fire escape,
Smoking late into the night,
Must be in hiding too.

The skinny boy
On crutches
Who always carried a book,
May not have
Gotten very far.

Darkness comes early
This time of year
Making it hard
To recognize familiar faces
In those of strangers.

 

April 25, Poem 15

Song

By Brigit Kelly

Listen: there was a goat’s head hanging by ropes in a tree.
All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it
Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing
The song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, and then
They lay back down again. In the night wind, the goat’s head
Swayed back and forth, and from far off it shone faintly
The way the moonlight shone on the train track miles away
Beside which the goat’s headless body lay. Some boys
Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.
The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they
Finished the job. They hung the bleeding head by the school
And then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.
The head hung in the tree. The body lay by the tracks.
The head called to the body. The body to the head.
They missed each other. The missing grew large between them,
Until it pulled the heart right out of the body, until
The drawn heart flew toward the head, flew as a bird flies
Back to its cage and the familiar perch from which it trills.
Then the heart sang in the head, softly at first and then louder,
Sang long and low until the morning light came up over
The school and over the tree, and then the singing stopped....
The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named
The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after
The night’s bush of stars, because the goat’s silky hair
Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.
The girl lived near a high railroad track. At night
She heard the trains passing, the sweet sound of the train’s horn
Pouring softly over her bed, and each morning she woke
To give the bleating goat his pail of warm milk. She sang
Him songs about girls with ropes and cooks in boats.
She brushed him with a stiff brush. She dreamed daily
That he grew bigger, and he did. She thought her dreaming
Made it so. But one night the girl didn’t hear the train’s horn,
And the next morning she woke to an empty yard. The goat
Was gone. Everything looked strange. It was as if a storm
Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain
Stripping the branches of fruit. She knew that someone
Had stolen the goat and that he had come to harm. She called
To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called
And called. She walked and walked. In her chest a bad feeling
Like the feeling of the stones gouging the soft undersides
Of her bare feet. Then somebody found the goat’s body
By the high tracks, the flies already filling their soft bottles
At the goat’s torn neck. Then somebody found the head
Hanging in a tree by the school. They hurried to take
These things away so that the girl would not see them.
They hurried to raise money to buy the girl another goat.
They hurried to find the boys who had done this, to hear
Them say it was a joke, a joke, it was nothing but a joke....
But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have
Their fun and be done with it. It was harder work than they
Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the job,
Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.
What they didn’t know was that the goat’s head was already
Singing behind them in the tree. What they didn’t know
Was that the goat’s head would go on singing, just for them,
Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen,
Pail after pail, stroke after patient stroke. They would
Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees
Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder. There
Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,
The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother’s call.
Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song
Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.

 

April 24, Poem 14

Domestic Violence

Eavan Boland

1.

It was winter, lunar, wet. At dusk

Pewter seedlings became moonlight orphans.

Pleased to meet you meat to please you

said the butcher's sign in the window in the village.

Everything changed the year that we got married.

And after that we moved out to the suburbs.

How young we were, how ignorant, how ready

to think the only history was our own.

And there was a couple who quarreled into the night,

Their voices high, sharp:

nothing is ever entirely

right in the lives of those who love each other.

              2.

In that season suddenly our island

Broke out its old sores for all to see.

We saw them too.

We stood there wondering how

the salt horizons and the Dublin hills,

the rivers, table mountains, Viking marshes

we thought we knew

had been made to shiver

into our ancient twelve by fifteen television

which gave them back as gray and grayer tears

and killings, killings, killings,

then moonlight-colored funerals:

nothing we said

not then, not later,

fathomed what it is

is wrong in the lives of those who hate each other.

            3.

And if the provenance of memory is

only that—remember, not atone—

and if I can be safe in

the weak spring light in that kitchen, then

why is there another kitchen, spring light

always darkening in it and

a woman whispering to a man

over and over what else could we have done?

              4.

We failed our moment or our moment failed us.

The times were grand in size and we were small.

Why do I write that

when I don't believe it?

We lived our lives, were happy, stayed as one.

Children were born and raised here

and are gone,

including ours.

As for that couple did we ever

find out who they were

and did we want to?

I think we know. I think we always knew.

 

April 23, Poem 13

Peanut Butter

By Eileen Myles

I am always hungry

& wanting to have

sex. This is a fact.

If you get right

down to it the new

unprocessed peanut

butter is no damn

good & you should

buy it in a jar as

always in the

largest supermarket

you know. And

I am an enemy

of change, as

you know. All

the things I

embrace as new

are in

fact old things,

re-released: swimming,

the sensation of

being dirty in

body and mind

summer as a

time to do

nothing and make

no money. Prayer

as a last re-

sort. Pleasure

as a means,

and then a

means again

with no ends

in sight. I am

absolutely in opposition

to all kinds of

goals. I have

no desire to know           

where this, anything

is getting me.

When the water

boils I get

a cup of tea.

Accidentally I

read all the

works of Proust.

It was summer

I was there

so was he. I

write because

I would like

to be used for

years after

my death. Not

only my body

will be compost

but the thoughts

I left during

my life. During

my life I was

a woman with

hazel eyes. Out

the window

is a crooked

silo. Parts

of your

body I think

of as stripes

which I have

learned to

love along. We

swim naked

in ponds &

I write be-

hind your

back. My thoughts

about you are

not exactly

forbidden, but

exalted because

they are useless,

not intended

to get you

because I have

you & you love

me. It’s more

like a playground

where I play

with my reflection

of you until

you come back

and into the

real you I

get to sink

my teeth. With

you I know how

to relax. &

so I work

behind your

back. Which

is lovely.

Nature

is out of control

you tell me &

that’s what’s so

good about

it. I’m immoderately

in love with you,

knocked out by

all your new

white hair

why shouldn’t

something

I have always

known be the

very best there

is. I love

you from my

childhood,

starting back

there when

one day was

just like the

rest, random

growth and

breezes, constant

love, a sand-

wich in the

middle of

day,

a tiny step

in the vastly

conventional

path of

the Sun. I

squint. I

wink. I

take the

Ride.

 

April 20, Poem 12

Disgraceland

By Mary Karr

Before my first communion, I clung to doubt

as Satan spider-like stalked

the orb of dark surrounding Eden

for a wormhole into paradise.

God had formed me from gel in my mother’s womb,

injected by my dad’s smart shoot.

They swapped sighs until

I came, smaller than a bite of burger.

Quietly, I grew till my lungs were done

then the Lord sailed a soul

like a lit arrow to inhabit me.

Maybe that piercing

made me howl at birth,

or the masked creatures whose scalpel

cut a lightning bolt to free me.

I was hoisted by the heels and swatted, fed

and hauled around. Time-lapse photos show

my fingers grow past crayon outlines,

my feet come to fill spike heels.

Eventually, I lurched out

to kiss the wrong mouths, get stewed,

and sulk around. Christ always stood

to one side with a glass of water.

I swatted the sap away.

When my thirst got great enough to ask,

a clear stream welled up inside,

some jade wave buoyed me forward,

and I found myself upright

in the instant, with a garden

inside my own ribs aflourish.

There, the arbor leafs.

The vines push out plump grapes.

You are loved, someone said. Take that

and eat it.

 

April 19, Poem 11

Western Wind

By Anonymous

Western wind when wilt thou blow

the small rain down can rain

Christ if my love were in my arms

and I in my bed again

 

April 18, Poem 10

Still I Rise

By Maya Angelou

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.

 

April 17th, Poem 9

The Traveling Onion

By Naomi Shihab Nye

“It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an object of worship — why I haven’t been able to find out. From Egypt the onion entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.” — Better Living Cookbook

When I think how far the onion has traveled

just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise

all small forgotten miracles,

crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,

pearly layers in smooth agreement,

the way the knife enters onion

and onion falls apart on the chopping block,

a history revealed.

And I would never scold the onion

for causing tears.

It is right that tears fall

for something small and forgotten.

How at meal, we sit to eat,

commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma

but never on the translucence of onion,

now limp, now divided,

or it’s traditionally honorable career:

For the sake of others,

disappear.

 

April 16th, Poem 8

Bruise in a Brush Wash

By Kevin Devine

I've got a newspaper problem

Swimming laps through my head

Past the abstract excuses I've passed off as facts to the people I've met

My brother's piece in the paper says it all

We excuse asshole and bastards, to detail their defects in beautiful songs

And I wonder is it a free pass I'm banking

I, a bruise in a brushwash

Nail marks from a featherbed

A reflex hammer cracks porcelain

And the doctor's don't do anything

So you've got a reputation

And it's mean enough to follow me around

So I'm bad at being careful, so you should be careful for yourself

 

And I've been working all day to make the rest of my body behave like my brain

If it pans out I plan to keep it that way

And I think we kiss like dry dirt

A dusty string of filthy words

A dribble out between spurts of carnival barks and symphonic stirs

You're the lesson I never could learn

 

You, a bruise in a brushwash

Nail marks from a featherbed

A reflex hammer cracks porcelain

And the doctor's don't fix anything

So you've got a reputation

And it's mean enough to follow you around

And you're bad at being careful, so I should be careful with myself

 

You're still the name I say first

And I'm trying to figure out just what that's worth

 

I, a bruise in a brushwash

Nail marks from a featherbed

A reflex hammer cracks porcelain

And the doctors don't fix anything

So I've got a reputation

And it's mean enough to follow me around

And I'm bad at being careful, so you should be careful for yourself

 

April 13th, Poem 8

Love After Love

By Derek Walcott

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other's welcome,

 

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

 

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

 

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

 

April 12th, Poem 7

Oranges

By Gary Soto

The first time I walked

With a girl, I was twelve,

Cold, and weighted down

With two oranges in my jacket.

December. Frost cracking

Beneath my steps, my breath

Before me, then gone,

As I walked toward

Her house, the one whose

Porch light burned yellow

Night and day, in any weather.

A dog barked at me, until

She came out pulling

At her gloves, face bright

With rouge. I smiled,

Touched her shoulder, and led

Her down the street, across

A used car lot and a line

Of newly planted trees,

Until we were breathing

Before a drugstore. We

Entered, the tiny bell

Bringing a saleslady

Down a narrow aisle of goods.

I turned to the candies

Tiered like bleachers,

And asked what she wanted -

Light in her eyes, a smile

Starting at the corners

Of her mouth. I fingered

A nickle in my pocket,

And when she lifted a chocolate

That cost a dime,

I didn’t say anything.

I took the nickle from

My pocket, then an orange,

And set them quietly on

The counter. When I looked up,

The lady’s eyes met mine,

And held them, knowing

Very well what it was all

About.

Outside,

A few cars hissing past,

Fog hanging like old

Coats between the trees.

I took my girl’s hand

In mine for two blocks,

Then released it to let

Her unwrap the chocolate.

I peeled my orange

That was so bright against

The gray of December

That, from some distance,

Someone might have thought

I was making a fire in my hands

 

April 11th, Poem 8

Infidelity

By Stanley Plumly

The two-toned Olds swinging sideways out of
the drive, the bone-white gravel kicked up in
a shot, my mother in the deathseat half

out the door, the door half shut--she’s being
pushed or wants to jump, I don’t remember.
The Olds is two kinds of green, hand-painted,
and blows black smoke like a coal-oil fire. I’m
stunned and feel a wind, like a machine, pass
through me, through my heart and mouth; I’m standing
in a field not fifty feet away, the
wheel of the wind closing the distance.
Then suddenly the car stops and my mother
falls with nothing, nothing to break the fall . . .

One of those moments we give too much to,
like the moment of acknowledgment of
betrayal, when the one who’s faithless has
nothing more to say and the silence is
terrifying since you must choose between
one or the other emptiness. I know
my mother’s face was covered black with blood
and that when she rose she too said nothing.
Language is a darkness pulled out of us.
But I screamed that day she was almost killed,
whether I wept or ran or threw a stone,
or stood stone-still, choosing at last between
parents, one of whom was driving away.

 

April 10th, Poem 7

The Racer’s Widow

By Louise Gluck

The elements have merged into solicitude,

Spasms of violets rise above the mud

And weed, and soon the birds and ancients

Will be starting to arrive, bereaving points

South. But never mind. It is not painful to discuss

His death. I have been primed for this --

For separation -- for so long. But still his face assaults

Me; I can hear that car careen again, the crowd coagulate on

 asphalt

In my sleep. And watching him, I feel my legs like snow

That let him finally let him go

As he lies draining there. And see

How even he did not get to keep that lovely body.

 

April 9th, Poem 6

Homage to my Hips

By Lucille Clifton

these hips are big hips

they need space to

move around in.

they don't fit into little

petty places. these hips

are free hips.

they don't like to be held back.

these hips have never been enslaved,   

they go where they want to go

they do what they want to do.

these hips are mighty hips.

these hips are magic hips.

i have known them

to put a spell on a man and

spin him like a top!

 

April 6th, Poem 5

Category of Unabashed Gratitude

By Ross Gay

Ross Gay - "Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude"

April 5th, Poem 4

The Room of My Life

By Anne Sexton

Here,

in the room of my life

the objects keep changing.

Ashtrays to cry into,

the suffering brother of the wood walls,

the forty-eight keys of the typewriter

each an eyeball that is never shut,

the books, each a contestant in a beauty contest,

the black chair, a dog coffin made of Naugahyde,

the sockets on the wall

waiting like a cave of bees,

the gold rug

a conversation of heels and toes,

the fireplace

a knife waiting for someone to pick it up,

the sofa, exhausted with the exertion of a whore.

the phone

two flowers taking root in its crotch,

the doors

opening and closing like sea clams,

the lights

poking at me,

lighting up both the soil and the laugh.

The windows,

the starving windows

that drive the trees like nails into my heart.

Each day I feed the world out there

although birds explode

right and left.

I feed the world in here too,

offering the desk puppy biscuits.

However, nothing is just what it seems to be.

My objects dream and wear new costumes,

compelled to, it seems, by all the words in my hands

and the sea that bangs in my throat.

 

April 4th, Poem 3

The Blue Terrance

By Terrance Hayes

If you subtract the minor losses,

you can return to your childhood too:

the blackboard chalked with crosses,

the math teacher’s toe ring. You

can be the black boy not even the buck-

toothed girls took a liking to:

this match box, these bones in their funk

machine, this thumb worn smooth

as the belly of a shovel. Thump. Thump.

Thump. Everything I hold takes root.

I remember what the world was like before

I heard the tide humping the shore smooth,

and the lyrics asking: How long has your door

been closed? I remember a garter belt wrung

like a snake around a thigh in the shadows

of a wedding gown before it was flung

out into the bluest part of the night.

Suppose you were nothing but a song

in a busted speaker? Suppose you had to wipe

sweat from the brow of a righteous woman,

but all you owned was a dirty rag? That’s why

the blues will never go out of fashion:

their half rotten aroma, their bloodshot octaves of

consequence; that’s why when they call, Boy, you’re in

 

April 3rd, Poem 2

Meditation at Lagunitas

By Robert Hass

All the new thinking is about loss.

In this it resembles all the old thinking.

The idea, for example, that each particular erases

the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-

faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk

of that black birch is, by his presence,

some tragic falling off from a first world

of undivided light. Or the other notion that,

because there is in this world no one thing

to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,

a word is elegy to what it signifies.

We talked about it late last night and in the voice

of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone

almost querulous. After a while I understood that,

talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,

pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman

I made love to and I remembered how, holding

her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,

I felt a violent wonder at her presence

like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river

with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,

muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish

called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.

Longing, we say, because desire is full

of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.

But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,

the thing her father said that hurt her, what

she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous

as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.

Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,

saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

 

April 2nd, Poem 1

Minimum Wage

By Matthew Dickman

My mother and I are on the front porch lighting each other’s cigarettes

as if we were on a ten-minute break from our jobs

at being a mother and son, just ten minutes

to steal a moment of freedom before clocking back in, before

putting the aprons back on, the paper hats,

washing our hands twice and then standing

behind the counter again,

hoping for tips, hoping the customers

will be nice, will say some kind word, the cool

front yard before us and the dogs

in the backyard shitting on everything.

We are hunched over, two extras on the set of The Night of the Hunter.

I am pulling a second cigarette out of the pack, a swimmer

rising from a pool of other swimmers. Soon we will go back

inside and sit in the yellow kitchen and drink

the rest of the coffee

and what is coming to kill us will pour milk

into mine and sugar into hers.