August 12: “An Anthology of Rain”

For this you may see no need,
You may think my aim
Dead set on something

Devoid of conceivable value:
An Anthology of  Rain,
A collection of voices

Telling someone somewhere
What it means to follow a drop
Traveling to its final place of rest.

But do consider this request
If you have pressed your nose
Of any shape against a window,

Odor of metal faint, persistent,
While a storm cast its cloak
Over the shoulder of every cloud

In sight. You are free to say
Whatever crosses your mind
When you look at the face of time

In the passing of one drop
Gathering speed, one drop
Chasing another, racing to reach

A fork in the path, lingering
Before making a detour to join
Another, fattening on the way

Until entering a rivulet
Running to the sill.
So please accept this invitation:

You are welcome to submit,
There is no limit to its limit,
Even the instructions are a breeze

As long as you include
Nothing about yourself
Except your name. Your address

Remains unnecessary, for the rain
Will find you — if you receive it
It receives you (whether or not

You contribute, a volume
Is sent). And when you lift
The collection you may hear,

By opening anywhere, a drop
And its story reappear
As air turns to water, water to air.

— Phillis Levin

July 28: “Let America be America Again”

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

— Langston Hughes

July 27: “After Before and After”

I’ve been freed from
inside the Fall of Rome,
my contract disrupted.
Civilization will
not descend without
my bet against it rising,
a weather balloon
that hangs against a vast
usurped sky. A carrier
pigeon, to be,
carries me. And from here
I can find the edge
of the cunning, supposedly
clear window that
divides us from the world
of Michael Kors, that
divides a kiss from
its aftertaste.
A coda is a beginning.
After before and
after, humane enclosures
air whips through
with a taste for blood
oranges and secret
unpoliced
temporal lace
have been spread out
imagining possible
goddesses in
bed. What’s free
about a woman’s stubble,
what’s enhanced
delivering an urgent note
across a field of blue.

— Trace Peterson

May 27: “The Heart is a Foreign Country”

Ours is a partial language part pantomime,
part grimy guesswork: adulterated speculation
as to meaning & motivation.

Translated, heart suggests a familiar, universal
device but internal chemistries vary—
though components be the same & not uncommon.

The world owes us nothing. It promises less.
Call it: freedom. Free will. Or Wednesday.

— Rangi McNeil

April 24: “Mint”

It looked like a clump of small dusty nettles
Growing wild at the gable of the house
Beyond where we dumped our refuse and old bottles:
Unverdant ever, almost beneath notice.

But, to be fair, it also spelled promise
And newness in the back yard of our life
As if something callow yet tenacious
Sauntered in green alleys and grew rife.

The snip of scissor blades, the light of Sunday
Mornings when the mint was cut and loved:
My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.

Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless
Like inmates liberated in that yard.
Like the disregarded ones we turned against
Because we’d failed them by our disregard.

— Seamus Heaney

April 12: “Starfish”

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night
the channel was full of starfish
. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you were born at a good time. Because you were able to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

— Eleanor Lerman

April 10: “Yet We Desire It Above All”

Freedom does not mean happiness right away
the free world hides more traps than tyranny
mastiffs let loose from chains passions exceeding the horizon
steps entangled in the ropes of old bonds
that try to pull tight again
Freedom both for scoundrels and those
who sacrificed themselves for it
freedom for those who feel as pure as a diamond
and want to cut deeply surrendering passionately
to a new slavery—of hatred
from which the earth cracks like under dynamite
changing the course of rivers

— Julia Hartwig