Daybreak

Poem for a Tuesday — “Daybreak” by Galway Kinnell

“On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud, faded down
into it and lay still, and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.”

from A Book of Luminous Things, ed. Czeslaw Milosz. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996, p. 35


Born in Rhode Island, Galway Kinnell studied at Princeton University and traveled to Paris with a Fulbright Fellowship. He was committed to the cause of civil rights, serving with the Congress of Racial Equality and registering voters in Louisiana, where he was arrested for his efforts. Hudson Review contributor Vernon Young described Kinnell as “a poet of the landscape, a poet of soliloquy, a poet of the city’s underside and a poet who speaks for thieves, pushcart vendors and lumberjacks with an unforced simulation of the vernacular.” His collection Selected Poems (1980) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. From 1989 to 1993, he was the Poet Laureate for the state of Vermont.


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How I Came to Have a Man’s Name

Poem for a Tuesday — “How I Came to Have a Man’s Name”

by Emma Lee Warrior

“Before a January dawn, under a moondog sky,
Yellow Dust hitched up a team to a straw-filled sleigh.
Snow squeaked against the runners
in reply to the crisp crackling cottonwoods.
They bundled up bravely in buffalo robes,
their figures pronounced by the white of night;
the still distance of the Wolf Trail [Milky Way] greeted them,
and Ipisowahs, the boy child of Natosi [the sun],
and Kokomiikiisom [the moon], watched their hurry.
My momma’s body was bent with pain.
Otohkostskaksin [Yellow Dust] sensed the Morning Star’s
presence so he beseeched him:

‘Aayo, Ipisowahs, you see us now,
pitiful creatures.
We are thankful there is no wind.
We are thankful for your light.
Guide us safely to our destination.
May my daughter give birth in a warm place.
May her baby be a boy; may he have your name.
May he be fortunate because of your name.
May he live long and be happy.
Bestow your name upon him, Ipisowahs.
His name will be Ipisowahs.
Aayo, help us, we are pitiful.’

And Ipisowahs led them that icy night
through the Old Man River Valley
and out onto the frozen prairie.
They made it to the hospital
where my mother pushed me into the world
and nobody bothered to change my name.”

in Reinventing the Enemy’s Language, ed. Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird. W.W. Norton: New York, 1997, p.73.


Emma Lee Warrior is Blackfoot. She was born in Brocket, Alberta and raised on the Peigan Reserve. Her grandparents were keepers of the Blackfoot traditions and language. Warrior remembers, “The main thing I learned from them was to be good to people and animals and to look forward to summer. Animals are our relations. People, animals, and nature were given to us by the Giver of Life.” She survived ten years at a residential boarding school.


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Happiness

Poem for a Tuesday — “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon

“There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.”

in Claiming the Spirit Within, ed. Marilyn Sewell (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996). p. 119.


Jane Kenyon (1947-1995) grew up in Michigan but settled as a young adult in New Hampshire at the family farm of her husband, the poet and academic Donald Hall. Jane published four books of poetry in her too-short life. Her work is celebrated for her exploration of rural life, nature, and living with depression. She received the prestigious Hopwood Award at the University of Michigan and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. At the time of her death from leukemia in 1995, Kenyon was the Poet Laureate of New Hampshire.


“So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” — Luke 15:20


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The new song

Poem for a Tuesday — “The new song” by Sydney Carter

“Be faithful to the new song

thrusting through your

earth like a daffodil.

Be flexible

and travel with the rhythm.

Let your mind

be bent by what is coming:

making is

a way of being made

and giving birth

a way of being born.

You are the child

and father of a carol,

you are not

the only maker present.

How you make

is how you will be made.

Be gentle to

the otherness you carry,

broken by

the truth you cannot tell yet.

Mother and be

mothered by your burden.

Trust, and learn

to travel with the music.

in Sydney Carter. The Two-Way Clock: Poems (London: Stainer & Bell, 2000).

Sydney Carter (1915-2004) was an English poet, writer, and musician. He graduated from Balliol College, Oxford, in 1936. Carter’s commitment to pacifism led to his controversial stance as a conscientious objector during World War II. He was among 1,300 Quaker volunteers who served as drivers in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, spending his war years in Greece, Palestine, and Egypt. Sydney Carter was best known for writing Lord Of The Dance in 1963, as an adaptation of the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts. He once said that he saw Christ as “the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ, I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other lords of the dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.”

(quote from Carter’s obituary in The Guardian, March 16, 2004)

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Unexpected Manna

Poem for a Tuesday — “Unexpected Manna” by Gary H. Holthaus

“Those ancient Greeks

Who had a word for everything

Were more articulate than I.

Those Israelites

Who could not spell

The name of God

Are closer kin to me.

Some thing too highly prized

Or close; those that skirt

The edge of pain

Will always be unnamed.

So you,

Falling on my days

Like unexpected manna,

Alter every image

And rearrange my mind

So wholly

I am rendered silent

Gathering in my self

So quietly

That what you do for me

Remains unnamed.”

in The Gift of Tongues, ed. Sam Hamill. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 1996. p. 129.


Gary H. Holthaus has been one of Alaska’s most important thinkers and writers. He came to Alaska in 1964 to teach in Naknek with a special interest in helping Alaska Native students remain in school. He was the first director of the state’s bilingual education program. The Founding Director of the Alaska Humanities Forum, Holthaus spent nearly twenty years developing programs, including The Alaska Quarterly Review, one of America’s premier literary magazines and a source of powerful new voices. He is a past recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the author of eight books of poetry and three works of narrative non-fiction, and a Unitarian Universalist Minister.


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God speaks to each

Poem for a Tuesday — “Gott spricht zu jedem” by Rainer Maria Rilke

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

got to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

/

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist. He was the only son of an unhappy marriage. His mother mourned the death of an earlier daughter. During Rilke’s early years, she sought to recover the lost girl through the boy. According to Rilke, he had to wear “fine clothes” and “was a plaything [for his mother], like a big doll.” He attended military school and trade school before studying literature, art history, and philosophy in Prague and Munich. He was a mystic, proto-modernist, and early proponent of psychoanalysis. He traveled extensively throughout Europe and Russia before settling in Switzerland. At the time of his death from leukemia, his work was largely unknown to the reading public, but his posthumous followers have been many. He is now considered the most lyrical and influential of the German early modernists.

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I Yield Thee Praise

Poem for a Tuesday — “I Yield Thee Praise” by Philip Jerome Cleveland

For thoughts that curve like winging birds

Out of the summer dusk each time

I drink the splendor of the sky

And touch the wood-winds swinging by —

I yield Thee praise.

For waves that lift from autumn seas

To spill strange music on the land,

The broken nocturne of a lark

Flung out upon the lonely dark —

I give Thee praise.

For rain that piles gray torrents down

Black mountain-gullies to the plain,

For singing fields and crimson flare

At daybreak, and the sea-sweet air —

I yield Thee praise.

For gentle mists that wander in

To hide the tired world outside

That in our hearts old lips may smile

Their blessing through life’s afterwhile —

I give Thee praise.

For hopes that fight like stubborn grass

Up through the clinging snow of fear

To find the rich earth richer still

With kindliness and honest will —

I yield Thee praise.

from A Sacrifice of Praise, ed. James H. Trott. Nashville: Cumberland House, 1999.


Philip Jerome Cleveland (1903-1995) was a Congregational minister. His diverse ministry included service as a prison chaplain, a newspaper editor, a radio pianist, and a Sears and Roebuck Santa Claus. He pastored churches in Nova Scotia, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. He had several bestselling novels about church life, including It’s Bright in My Valley, Three Churches and a Model-T, and End of Dreams. After his death, a portion of his manuscripts, articles, and papers were acquired by The University of Southern Mississippi — de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection


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Requiem

Poem for a Tuesday — “Requiem” by Kwame Dawes

“I sing requiem
for the dead, caught in that
mercantilistic madness.

We have not built lasting
monuments of severe stone
facing the sea, the watery tomb,

so I call these songs
shrines of remembrance
where faithful descendants

may stand and watch the smoke
curl into the sky
in memory of those

devoured by the cold Atlantic.
In every blues I hear
riding the dank swamp

I see the bones
picked clean in the belly
of the implacable sea.

Do not tell me
it is not right to lament,
do not tell me it is tired.

If we don’t, who will
recall in requiem
the scattering of my tribe?

In every reggae chant
stepping proud against Babylon
I hear a blue note

of lament, sweet requiem
for the countless dead,
skanking feet among shell,

coral, rainbow adze,
webbed feet, making as if

to lift, soar, fly into new days.”

from Requiem by Kwame Dawes, Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 1996.


Poet, professor, and Pulitzer Prize winner Kwame Dawes was born in Ghana and raised in Jamaica. Dawes’s work in reporting on the HIV AIDS crisis in Haiti after the earthquake for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting won the National Press Club Joan Friedenberg Award for Online Journalism. He says that his spiritual, intellectual, and emotional engagement with reggae music is a central influence in his poetry. He is a foremost scholar of the work of Bob Marley. Dawes is the Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska.


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Passage

Poem for a Tuesday — “Passage” by Elizabeth Alexander

“Henry Porter wore good clothes for his journey,

the best his wife could make from leftover

cambric, shoes stolen from the master. They

bit his feet, but if he took them off he feared

he’d never get them on again. He needed

to look like a free man when he got there.

Still in a box in the jostling heat,

nostrils to a board pried to a vent,

(a peephole, too, he’d hoped, but there was only

black to see) there was nothing to do

but sleep and dream and weep. Sometime the dreams

were frantic, frantic loneliness an acid

in his heart. Freedom was near but un-

imaginable. Anxiety roiled inside

of him, a brew which corroded his stomach,

whose fumes clamped his lungs and his throat.

When the salt-pork and corn bread were finished

he dreamed of ice cream and eggs but the dreams

made him sick.  He soiled himself and each time

was ashamed.  He invented games tried to

remember everything his mother

ever told, every word he hadn’t

understood, every vegetable he’d ever

eaten (which was easy: kale, okra, corn,

carrots, beans, chard, yams, dandelion greens),

remember everyone’s name who had ever

been taken away.  The journey went that way.

When he got there, his suit was chalky

with his salt, and soiled, the shoes waxy with blood.

The air smelled of a surfeit of mackerel.

Too tired to weep, too tired to look through

the peephole and see what freedom looked like,

he waited for the man to whom he’d shipped

himself: Mister William Still, Undertaker,

Philadelphia.  He repeated the last

words he’d spoken to anyone: goodbye

wife Clothilde, daughter Eliza,

 best friend Luke.  Goodbye, everyone, goodbye.

When I can, I’ll come for you. I swear,

I’ll come for you.”

in Furious Flower, ed. Joanne V. Gabbin. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004.


Elizabeth Alexander is a Black writer, poet, and educator. Born in Harlem and raised in Washington, DC, Alexander studied at Yale, Boston University, and the University of Pennsylvania. She is a gifted educator, who has taught at Haverford College, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and Smith College. Her father served as the United States Secretary of the Army. Her mother was a distinguished professor of African American Women’s History. She was just a toddler when her parents took to the March on Washington in August 1963. In 2009, she recited her poem “Praise Song for the Day” at President Barack Obama’s first Presidential Inauguration.


Facing It

Poem for a Tuesday — “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa

“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.”

in Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)


Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He served as a war correspondent and managing editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam war, earning him a Bronze Star. His poetry reflects the cadences and influence of jazz and his grandparents, who were church people: “the sound of the Old Testament informed the cadences of their speech.” He takes on complex moral issues: the Vietnam War, his experience as a black man, and the underside of life in America. He lives in New York City where he is Distinguished Senior Poet in NYU’s graduate creative writing program.


Vietnam War Memorial — Washington, DC