My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way–the stone lets me go.
I turn that way–I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.
by Yusef Komunyakaa
Physician Rafael Campo reads his poetry:
Natasha Trethewey reads a poem about having a cross burned on her family’s lawn:
Rachel Hadas reads her poem “The Red Hat”:
Thylias Moss reads her poetry:
First Family Portrait
Here is a close-up of the moment after
your body slithered in a sudden rush from mine,
white frog on my chest. Giddy laughter
illuminates the room, release from nine
long hours of labor. Sweaty and sunken-eyed,
I look delighted–a surprise, since at the time
I just felt stunned. Your mouth is open wide,
your father’s face alight; we three a pantomime
of the Nativity–but look how many nameless arms
are twined around this mortal scrap, look how
you landed in this woven limb-nest, caught by luck
in the one safety net the human race can offer,
the net you leapt into at birth, far stronger
than your parents, stumbling numb toward love.
by Catherine Jagoe
Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?
After dark, stars glisten like ice, and the distance they span
Hides something elemental. Not God, exactly. More like
Some thin-hipped glittering Bowie-being—a Starman
Or cosmic ace hovering, swaying, aching to make us see.
And what would we do, you and I, if we could know for sure
That someone was there squinting through the dust,
Saying nothing is lost, that everything lives on waiting only
To be wanted back badly enough? Would you go then,
Even for a few nights, into that other life where you
And that first she loved, blind to the future once, and happy?
Would I put on my coat and return to the kitchen where my
Mother and father sit waiting, dinner keeping warm on the stove?
Bowie will never die. Nothing will come for him in his sleep
Or charging through his veins. And he’ll never grow old,
Just like the woman you lost, who will always be dark-haired
And flush-faced, running toward an electronic screen
That clocks the minutes, the miles left to go. Just like the life
In which I’m forever a child looking out my window at the night sky
Thinking one day I’ll touch the world with bare hands
Even if it burns.
He leaves no tracks. Slips past, quick as a cat. That’s Bowie
For you: the Pope of Pop, coy as Christ. Like a play
Within a play, he’s trademarked twice. The hours
Plink past like water from a window A/C. We sweat it out,
Teach ourselves to wait. Silently, lazily, collapse happens.
But not for Bowie. He cocks his head, grins that wicked grin.
Time never stops, but does it end? And how many lives
Before take-off, before we find ourselves
Beyond ourselves, all glam-glow, all twinkle and gold?
The future isn’t what it used to be. Even Bowie thirsts
For something good and cold. Jets blink across the sky
Like migratory souls.
Bowie is among us. Right here
In New York City. In a baseball cap
And expensive jeans. Ducking into
A deli. Flashing all those teeth
At the doorman on his way back up.
Or he’s hailing a taxi on Lafayette
As the sky clouds over at dusk.
He’s in no rush. Doesn’t feel
The way you’d think he feels.
Doesn’t strut or gloat. Tells jokes.
I’ve lived here all these years
And never seen him. Like not knowing
A comet from a shooting star.
But I’ll bet he burns bright,
Dragging a tail of white-hot matter
The way some of us track tissue
Back from the toilet stall. He’s got
The whole world under his foot,
And we are small alongside,
Though there are occasions
When a man his size can meet
Your eyes for just a blip of time
And send a thought like SHINE
SHINE SHINE SHINE SHINE
Straight to your mind. Bowie,
I want to believe you. Want to feel
Your will like the wind before rain.
The kind everything simply obeys,
Swept up in that hypnotic dance
As if something with the power to do so
Had looked its way and said:
by Tracy K. Smith
JC was called the Rack
at the work farm,
aluminum milk pails
dangling from his hands.
Once a sudden fist
crushed the cartilage of nose
across his face,
but JC only grinned,
and the man with the fist
JC sings his work farm songs on the street,
swaying with black overcoat and guitar,
cigarettes cheaper than food.
But today he promises
four sandwiches, two for each of us.
The landlady, a Rumanian widow,
has nailed a death mask
over JC’s bed,
sleeping plaster face
of a drowned girl
peaceful in the dark.
As the girl contemplates water
and pigeons batter the window,
JC spreads the last deviled ham
on two slices of bread,
presses them together,
then slowly tears four pieces.
“Here,” he almost sings,
—by Martín Espada