Pick Your Poem: 6 Poems to Transport You into the Natural World

U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón's new poetry anthology 'You Are Here' centers the environments of 52 poets

AS PART OF HER tenure as the 24th U.S. Poet Laureate and in association with the Library of Congress, Ada Limón commissioned fifty-two contemporary American poets to reflect on their place in the natural world. The resulting anthology of original poems grounded in the natural world is as deeply personal as it is beautifully universal. Combined, these words are an enticing invitation to see and feel the environment around you, no matter your surroundings. Because, as Ada writes, “nature is not a place to visit. Nature is who we are.”

Please join us in celebrating the essential You Are Here: Poetry in the Natural World with these six poems. 

 

Victoria Chang José Olivarez Laura Da’
Michael Kleber-Diggs Paisley Rekdal Alberto Ríos

 

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A WOMAN WITH A BIRD

 

A bald eagle called out to another as magpies attacked

their nest. Someone called it romantic. I believed her.

 

The magpies, the ferryman, God, the poets, everything

seemed romantic in Alaska, where people breathed out

 

white birds. When I breathed, nothing came out. The

eagles sat side by side and I wondered why they

 

stayed long after the magpies had gone. At first, I thought

the eagle was watching me. Then I realized the

 

eagle was my life watching me. The distance between my

life and myself had become too far. Because of my

 

desire to find a way out of my life. When that happens,

our breath comes out elsewhere. As if each day, I walked

 

in a door but came out of another door. I wondered what

country my breath came out in. When the male

 

eagle finally flew off to a distant tree, the female didn’t

follow. I felt something in my body attach and heard a

 

clicking noise. I had been holding my breath for decades,

while others painted my breasts, one white, one brown.

 

In Alaska, my life was with me again, attached for now. I

took photos of the birds to remind myself that the

 

unsettled feeling wasn’t caused by me, and could be

solved by traveling somewhere cold.

 

From You Are Here edited by Ada Limón (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2024). Copyright © 2024 by Victoria Chang. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.

Victoria Chang’s most recent collection of poems, With My Back to the World, is forthcoming in 2024. Her latest book of poetry is The Trees Witness Everything. Her book of nonfiction, Dear Memory, was published in 2021. OBIT, her prior book of poems, received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Poetry, and the PEN/Voelcker Award. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Chowdhury International Prize in Literature. She is the Bourne Chair in Poetry at Georgia Tech and current director of Poetry@Tech.

 

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YOU MUST BE PRESENT,

 

i say to myself when the what wheres

all up in the how now—trees! i turn

 

to the trees for relief & they say nah!

don’t look at us. you don’t even know our names.

 

you don’t even know the difference between

an oak tree & a maple tree. it’s true:

 

my relationship with (love) (nature) (money)

(fill in the blank) is like my relationship to weather—

 

i only see it when it’s pouring on my head.

i’m sorry to the trees i grew up with.

 

i didn’t ask. i never learned. or even wondered (about their names).

(their families) (their longings) i only dreamed of (me)

 

climbing onto their shoulders. honestly, i was a ladybug

to them—only heavier & more annoying. those trees i grew up with

 

were generations older than me. they were practiced

at living in a way i will never understand & all i could imagine

 

was the view from their crown. oak trees. they were oak trees

with their own history of migration. rooted in calumet city

 

like me. if i asked them for answers, i wouldn’t have understood:

sunlight. water. sunlight. water. sunlight. water.

 

From You Are Here edited by Ada Limón (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2024). Copyright © 2024 by Victoria Chang. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.

José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants, and the author of two collections of poems, including most recently, Promises of Gold. His debut book of poems, Citizen Illegal, was a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and a winner of the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize. It was named a best book of the year in 2018 by the Adroit Journal, NPR, and the New York Public Library. In 2019, he was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Along with Felicia Rose Chavez and Willie Perdomo, he co-edited the poetry anthology The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNEXT. In response to Olivarez’s latest collection, critic Luz Magdaleno Flores declared: “White people have Emily Dickinson, Mexicans have José Olivarez.” He lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.

 

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BAD WOLF

 

I husk the houses from the land, each one

as similar in size and shape as the battered

crates behind the shipping store. The lake

wasn’t here with its jagged edges and dikes

 

puffing like keloid scars, so I drink it.

I uninvite to receive more clearly what

the fringed prairie might have been

with its controlled burns and bone games

 

and berries. In language class, I am learning

the story of the wolf who is perpetually punished

for his bullyish pride—made to pursue a hornet nest

and drown in his own reflection, snout

 

gleaming with the honey he was hoping to bite.

I repeat phrases and parse pauses from stresses.

The markers I seek are nearly impossible to find.

What is under this water and what was once water?

 

Here where a trail once crossed, people gathered

then the hop farmers dug axe-heads and projectile

points, still bearing the scar from the plow. Within

five miles the battles of the first treaty wars

 

are under barns and soccer goals and signs

allowing recreational drone flying. At the prairie,

a solitary Douglas fir’s high branches start

well above my head, telling me it was once

 

one of many. I must move the tendons of my chin

and hold my tongue differently to string together

the consonants of my language. To say wolf, I have to

open my lips in a pantomime of alarm.

 

From You Are Here edited by Ada Limón (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2024). Copyright © 2024 by Victoria Chang. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.

Laura Da’ is the author of the collection of poems Instruments of the True Measure, which won the Washington State Book Award. Her first book, Tributaries, won the 2016 American Book Award. Da’ is Eastern Shawnee and a lifetime resident of the Pacific Northwest. A poet and teacher, she has studied creative writing at the University of Washington and The Institute of American Indian Arts. She is the current Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington, and poet planner for King County, Washington.

 

Order your copy of You Are Here today!
 

 

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CANINE SUPERPOWERS

Como Park, Woodland Outdoor Classroom—for Ziggy and Jasper

 

We stroll the grounds and stop at every tree,

at every chicken bone, each new coneflower.

Their noses lead to everything we see.

 

I’d be asleep if it were up to me.

Still slick with dew, this city park seems ours

as we stroll the grounds and stop at every tree.

 

Perils persist—real possibilities.

I scan the grass for things they can’t devour;

their noses notice things that might harm me.

 

Sometimes we’ll spot a fox, surprise a bee,

find trash, broken glass, have a sad encounter

on our daily rounds to check on every tree.

 

Three times we’ve come upon wild coyotes,

sensed before seen through canine superpowers.

All of them have smelled what I’m soon to see.

 

They stare. We stare. There’s no anxiety.

Milliseconds transform into hours.

We stroll the grounds and stop at every tree.

Their noses lead to everything I see.

 

From You Are Here edited by Ada Limón (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2024). Copyright © 2024 by Victoria Chang. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.

Michael Kleber-Diggs is the author of the debut poetry collection Worldly Things, which won the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, the Hefner Heitz Kansas Book Award, and the Balcones Prize for Poetry, and was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award. His essay, “There Was a Tremendous Softness,” appears in A Darker Wilderness: Black Nature Writing from Soil to Stars, and he is currently working on a memoir about his complicated history with lap swimming called My Weight in Water. He is a 2023–2025 Jerome Hill Artist Fellow in Literature, and he teaches creative writing through the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop as well as in the low-residency MFA program at Augsburg University, and at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. Michael lives near a large regional park in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he walks almost every day with his goldendoodles, Ziggy and Jasper.

 

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TAKING THE MAGNOLIA

 

Always, I’d said, of this slow

             upswelling: flames

of white, purple—Royal

 

Purple they called

             this magnolia—

the winds shivered, split

 

to its drought-splintered

            crotch. The tree

will not make it

 

a fifteenth, a twentieth

          winter. I watched it,

once, eased

 

into the ground where

         a neighbor planted it;

now I watch her son

 

take it down, take with it

       all the buds of its

renewing, flowers

 

always on the verge

       of flowering

into a future

 

that will not

      reliably come. Always

is not a word

 

we are allowed

      to use anymore

about anything

 

in the world. We must

      put some part of it

into a category

 

of pure mind now: no

       deepening snow, no

blue-eyed glacier, the dampskinned

 

buds peeled open

       only to rot.

A thousand candles,

 

thousand mouths

      widen their pinks

atop what the arborist calls

 

unhealable wound.

        I need to slip

this tree inside

 

myself: crystallize

      its images

into words which,

 

if never

      made real, are still

reproducible.

 

What purpose, otherwise,

       is grief?

Otherwise

 

why watch this tree

       wither to ground,

why follow it to its final

 

abandonment? Here

      is my small

replenishing: each year

 

making the flowers

      in mind more

vibrant, plentiful.

 

It feeds

      some kind of denial, yes,

but without which

 

no past, no

      future left

to choose from.

 

The tree inside me

      grows. I hold

its thousand tongues, thousand fires

 

alight. They will

      never burn you, no—

though no one

 

will ever put them out.

 

From You Are Here edited by Ada Limón (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2024). Copyright © 2024 by Victoria Chang. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.

Paisley Rekdal is the author of four books of nonfiction and seven books of poetry, including Nightingale, Appropriate: A Provocation, and most recently West: A Translation. She is the editor and creator of the digital archive projects West, Mapping Literary Utah, and Mapping Salt Lake City. Her work has received the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, Pushcart Prizes, the Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, and various state arts council awards. The former Utah Poet Laureate, she teaches at the University of Utah where she is a distinguished professor.

 

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TWENTY MINUTES IN THE BACKYARD

 

The house sparrow flies to the ground

To get the seed that has fallen from the feeder.

 

In doing so, it flies through a bit of spiderweb

Which works as something like a phone call

 

To the spider, who then answers with a hello,

Careful and very quiet, but nobody is there.

 

This happens a lot to spiders.

It makes them grumble about the neighbors

 

Who walk across the spider’s curious lawn.

But the complaint is hollow—sometimes

 

Someone is indeed there, a fly, a moth,

Any number and manner of very small beast.

 

They try to run away but are tripped up

By the long, thin fingers of the web.

 

The small thing quivers, asks politely, please,

To be let go, followed by a sincere apology.

 

But a spider does not have ears. This explains

Why it does not hear the house sparrow

 

Swoop up into the air, high enough

To reach the spider. Few leaves rustle,

 

While the whole world simply moves forward.

This is the Saturday business of the immense

 

Backyard conglomerate at work.

If one listens, one might hear

 

The great, bustling city of it all,

The small sirens and screams,

 

The caterpillars backing up,

The geckos at their mysterious work.

 

From You Are Here edited by Ada Limón (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2024). Copyright © 2024 by Victoria Chang. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.

Alberto Ríos, Arizona’s inaugural Poet Laureate and a recent chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, is the author of twelve collections of poetry, most recently Not Go Away Is My Name, preceded by A Small Story about the Sky, The Dangerous Shirt, and The Theater of Night, which received the PEN/Beyond Margins Award. Published in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Ploughshares, and other journals, he has also written three short story collections; a memoir, Capirotada, about growing up on the Mexican border; and a novel, A Good Map of All Things. Ríos is also the host of the PBS programs Art in the 48 and Books & Co. University professor of letters, regents’ professor, Virginia G. Piper Chair in Creative Writing, and the Katharine C. Turner Chair in English, Ríos has taught at Arizona State University since 1982. In 2017, he was named director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. He lives in Chandler, Arizona.


Ada Limón is the twenty-fourth U.S. Poet Laureate and the author of The Hurting Kind, as well as five other collections of poems. These include The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, and Bright Dead Things, which was named a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Award. Limón is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship, and her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the American Poetry Review, among others. Born and raised in California, she now lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

 

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