daybreak, spokane, september 2001 :: joe wilkins

They’re tearing down the Olympia Beer sign
from atop the Empire Hotel.

The geese wing south again,

above the char color of the city,
through the still dark house of the sky.

Last week a woman threw herself in the river.


I dream winter—wind leaning hard
down the mountains, blown snow

and ice—reading James Wright
for the first time.

How sad and lovely,

because in his poems everything and everyone
was always dying,

yet looking up from the page
I had never before wanted so wholly to live.


Across the black river, I watch
bricks fall from the hotel without sound,
flowers of smoke blossom above the coal stacks,

and now the first sun break shivers me
in my dew-soaked shoes.

It is time to grieve, to believe in the world again.

From BOXCAR Poetry Review, January 2009

for julia, in the deep water :: john m. morris

The instructor we hire
Because she does not love you
Leads you into the deep water,
The deep end
Where the water is darker—
Her open, encouraging arms
That never get nearer
Are merciless for your sake.

You will dream this water always
Where nothing draws nearer,
Wasting your valuable breath
You will scream for your mother—
Only your mother is drowning
Forever in the thin air
Down at the deep end.
She is doing nothing,
She never did anything harder.
And I am beside her.

I am beside her in this imagination.
We are waiting
Where the water is darker.
You are over your head,
Screaming, you are learning
Your way toward us,
You are learning how
in the helpless water
It is with our skill
We live in what kills us.

Courtesy M.M.; for C.A. & K.D.

first they came… :: martin niemöller

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

There are multiple versions of this poem, but I found this version in the posthumous editorial of assassinated Sri Lankan journalist, Lasantha Wickramatunge.

inaugural poem :: elizabeth alexander

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

Alexander is the fourth poet in American history to read at a presidential inauguration, a tradition that began with Robert Frost reading a poem at the inauguration for John F. Kennedy in 1961, followed by Maya Angelou and Miller Williams at President Bill Clinton’s inaugurations.

some trees :: john ashbery

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far as this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.