#PocketPoems 2020: NYPL's Celebration of National Poetry Month

By NYPL Staff
April 30, 2020

Each year, to celebrate National Poetry Month and Poem in Your Pocket Day, the New York Public Library asks poets to contribute a short, pocket-size poem that we share online and hand out in our branch libraries. This year we're not able to physically hand you a poem to tuck away, but we will be virtually handing out a new poem each day from over 30 contemporary poets. We hope you follow along online across the Library’s social media channels—find us on InstagramTwitter and Facebook

Since this year marks The New York Public Library’s 125th anniversary, we asked poets to create a poem in response to an image that inspires them from NYPL's Digital Collection. (Curious about these images? Learn more about them courtesy of NYPL Collections Photographers.) We encourage you to explore NYPL’s Digital Collection and get inspired to write your own Pocket Poem! Share it with us on social media using the #PocketPoems hashtag.

April 30: Poem in Your Pocket Day

On this occasion of Poem In Your Poet Day, read, print, write, and share a pocket full of poems. We have a downloadable "pocket" for you to print as well as some poems (and space to write our own!). 

pocket poem

The Heart is Not by Danusha Laméris

person putting piece of paper in a pocket

The Heart is Not

A pocket. A thing that 

can be turned inside out 

by anybody’s hand. Not 

a place for pebbles or loose 

change. Not to carry old 

receipts. It does not tear 

at the seam. It doesn’t have 

a seam. It cannot be torn.

Find Danusha Laméris' work at the Library, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.


It's low tide on the sound by Rachel Miller

Momoyogusa = Flowers of a Hundred Generations

Momoyogusa = Flowers of a Hundred Generations by Sekka Kamisaka. Image ID: 1269916

It's low tide on the soundI walk out for air, we all walk out for air;

I look at the water and wait, willing up

a prehistoric fish, demanding a back

full of warty nubs and diamond studs

from the olive water. Waiting makes a

room, red curtains closing, opening,

closing, like red lips in twin peaks.

My fish fogs in, fogs out.

You can find Rachel Miller on Twitter and Instagram.

The Fox and the Mask by Robert Fernandez

The fox and the mask

The fox and the mask. Image ID: 409435

The Fox and the Mask


Aesop fable

in which

a fox is


by a mask

and sez

a pity

you are

very fine

but empty

a pity

a mask

a theater

is empty

yet seems


You can find Robert Fernandez' work at the Library and visit his website.


When I am a Fish by Shabnam Nadiya

Ornamental fish

Ornamental fish by George Bickham

When I am a Fish

When I am a fish, my maw—hungry—swallows

mansions, tamarisks, whirlpools, elephantine 

egos, armies of supposition and conjecture

Like a snake, I unhinge. The might of empires 

goes in next; my mouth wider and wider until 

galaxies wait poised on my lips

When I am a fish, I swallow time whole: when you

find me, my eyes will be pebbles from a distant time

Find Shabnam Nadiya's work at the Library and visit her website.


MORE SOON by Izzy Casey

Flexitoon Puppets, Ltd.

Flexitoon Puppets, Ltd., Image ID: TH-13089


Being alive is hardSo I shoot myself

Out of a cannon.

You can find and follow Izzy Casey on Twitter and Instagram.


Isadora by Mary Hickman


Isadora Duncan: studies by Arnold Genthe. Image ID: ISADORA_0001VB



Because pink

ice cubes crackle

                               in this cold sun

and everything

                                upends itself.

                  This life is bright.

                                A lemon 

                                splits its skin

and gold wax drops into your palm.

                You are born 

                 one day in mid-Autumn,                  the surface of a pool so

static you must                   push through it like

wings struggling

through silk. 

                  Red hearts                  swim out onto the lawn.Look—your landscape

sings us into silver

and it is really this pink-pink

                   grassland, it is really

our shadows shined clear as ark light.You can find Mary Hickman's work at the Library.


April 29: Untitled by Sara Beth Joren

Linguaggio del cuore.

Linguaggio del cuore. Image ID: 1600898

i keep a box 

of the rare moments 

where you aren’t perfect. 


when you don’t shine 

like a perfect sliver of sun,

finding my face.


i collect them to open later 

when your box of mine fills up. 

APRIL 28: Field Hospital by Micah Bateman

Old frame house on Fair Oaks battlefield

Old frame house on Fair Oaks battlefield, pierced by hundreds of bullets, and used as a hospital by Hooker's division. Image ID: G92F147_010F

Field HospitalTo make a house a hospital

Doesn't take much:

An open-air belligerent;

An inhabitant made patient

By a different quotient of respiration,

Or merely by waiting; a thin

Yesterday's broth; a salve of adhering water to cloth;

A cure made just by closing off.

Find Micah Bateman's work at the Library, visit his website and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

APRIL 27: What Shall We Name the Baby? by Rachel Mannheimer

What shall we name the baby?

What shall we name the baby? Twenty-five hundred first names of girls and boys, whith their meanings, origins, nicknames, etc. Image ID: 1103820

What Shall We Name the Baby?

It was the year of Mona, Lorenzo, and Hattie.   

Elena, William, and Ruth. A friend was on bed rest.  

A friend miscarried. I asked Mona’s mother     

what to send Hattie. I walked to the post office,  

up through the cemetery. It was the year   

we’d planned to marry, the year the fabric of the world  

seemed ripped apart and so I hoped my dead mom might return. 

I never stopped. My list of names just grew.

Visit Rachel Mannheimer's website and follow her on Twitter.

APRIL 26: Caves of the Ice King under Kauterskill Falls (MFY Dennis Coll 91-F90) by Christian Schlegel

Caves of the Ice King under Kauterskill Falls.

Caves of the Ice King under Kauterskill Falls. Image ID: G91F090_022ZF

Caves of the Ice King under Kauterskill Falls (MFY Dennis Coll 91-F90)

“The Catskills provoked me into [ceaseless] 

study, nearly three decades beyond the comple

tion of the dissertation,” writes Michael Ku

dish (The Catskill Forest: A History [2000])

(ii). “Future ... historians may locate all

the bark roads, ... the sawmills, all the

quarries, all the isolated groves of balsam

fir, and all the bogs” (iv).


Find Christian Schlegel's work at the Library and visit his website to learn more.

April 25: Hair in the Water by Emily Hunt

Traveller tree Singapore

Traveller tree Singapore. Image ID: 4044504

Hair in the Water

the Traveller Tree stores

in each royal leaf sheath.Shredded daily by windthe high ends of them

twist for more sun.


Find Emily Hunt's work at the Library, learn more at her website and follow her on Instagram.

April 24: CITY OF WINGS by Margarita Engle

American butterflies

American Butterflies. Image ID: 806450


Rooftop garden high in the sky

butterflies help me feel like I

am the one whose dreams

can fly!

Find Margarita Engle's work at the Library, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.


April 23: THIS FAMILY— by Dilruba Ahmed


This family from Arkansas had one thousand dollars when they arrived in California. There are eleven children in family. They bought a forty acre piece of land on which they still owe one thousand dollars. Image ID: 57795443


their house made smaller

          by California's expanse of green,

eleven children hungering 

          inside a caravan 

of American desires. The wind-swept 

          trek ends here, with federal loans to irrigate 

their dreams. The year is '38.

          On the newly-bought plot that emptied 

the strongbox, the oldest invokes 

          a single wish

with a scattering of seeds.

Find Dilruba Ahmed's work at the Library and visit her website


April 22: my Japanese mother as Orpheus, with dementia by Lee Ann Roripaugh

New York City Ballet production of

New York City Ballet production of "Orpheus" showing lyre designed by Isamu Noguchi, choreography by George Balanchine upside down here (New York). Image ID: swope_776026

my Japanese mother as Orpheus, with dementia

she calls to ask if my dead father 

has called me on the phone / no, I say

while a tiny flicker of electricity fireflies

up my spine / did he call you?

yes, she says, and then she looked for him –under the covers, behind the mirror –

she looked and looked, and he wasn’t there

he disappear, she says / (he disappear)


Find Lee Ann Lee Roripaugh's work at the Library.

April 21: Onward She Fights by Cara Dellatte

Belva Ann Lockwood, 1830-1917

Belva Ann Lockwood, 1830-1917. Image ID: 1581273

Onward She Fights

Our ship is ready to set sail

Food for our children to eat

Makeup to soften our appearance

Tools to educate our souls 

Yet we are stuck on dry land

Our ship will not move

Our rights are stagnant 

Onward we shall go, Womans Rights, Womans Rights!

April 20: Pocket Poem by Dunya Mikhail

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow by John L. Ridgway. Image ID: 821518


Pocket Poem


The cage owner reminds the sparrow:

life outside is inferno.

One day the sparrow flies away

and there in the heights,

overlooking the ruins of the world,

the sparrow discovers the cage owner was right.

It sings about the ruins,

a beautiful song with no walls.

Find Dunya Mikhail's work at the Library, visit her website, Twitter and Instagram.

April 19: Anti-Prophecy by Joy Ladin

a Prophecy

Europe: a Prophecy [Frontispiece] by William Blake. Image ID: 1158113


I don't want a god who reaches down,

shaggy, sinewed, hair in his mouth,

bent on creating perfect circles

instead of one imperfect Earth,

pocked, peopled, salted-washed continents adrift 

on melted rock. I want the God 

who melts that rock. Who births; seeds; loves 

what is instead of what should be.

Find Joy Ladin's work at the Library, visit her website or Twitter.

April 18: When I am ready to leave this place, by Brenda Morisse

Soleil couchant.

Soleil couchant by Samuel Putnam Avery. Image ID: 1149394

When I am ready to leave this place,

When I am ready to leave this place,

I will have memorized its sunset. How the indigo

pours into the orange. How the sky crushes down

on the light, how the gold spreads across the horizon. 

When I am ready to leave, I will have surrendered 

my awe. I will have hardened my compassion. I will say,

“I am dying. I must pray for forgiveness. 

Don’t bother me.” 


April 17: Fee-Fi-Fo-Fun by Shannon Keller

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade by Percy Loomis Sperr. Image ID: 731239F



Giant balloons enjoyed by everyone

Lest they escape

and ruin the cityscapeBut stilla smile

on every child's face

Shannon Keller is the Helen Bernstein Librarian for Periodicals and Journals. You can find her blog posts for the Library here.

April 16: WHAT MOVES ACROSS A BORDER? by Franny Choi

Immigrants undergoing medical examination.

Immigrants undergoing medical examination by Edwin Levick. Image ID: 416754


Money. Trade negotiations. People with the right 

papers. Pathogens. Car parts in truckfuls, streaming rights,

seasonal workers. Seeds. Certain birds. Religion and dialect. 

Music, at the right volume. Human remains. Wireless signals,

calls to action, calls to prayer. Sisters separated for decades, 

whose faces are as foreign to each other as the faces 

of the dead. River water. Drones. Dictators in motorcades. 

And longing—longing, most of all. And families. And storms.

Find Franny Choi's work at the Library including Soft Science, a selection from NYPL's Best Poetry Books of 2019.  Learn more at her website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

April 15: Hypatia of Alexandria (370-415 CE) by Rebecca Lehmann

Phare de l'Egypte

Phare de l'Egypte: Pharus Aegypti Alexandrina, miraculum mundi septmum. Image ID: 79758

Hypatia of Alexandria (370-415 CE)

Tremble, like the taut sails of imperial ships, 

sent to maintain order; like riotous monks

burning temples; like the lighthouse flamingits hot warning. No stars anoint my night. 

No unctuous spirit chariots me away. 

Only the pierce of jagged oyster shells, 

the astrolabe dropped in the dust, 

library ablaze in the impossible distance.

Discover Rebecca's work at the Library, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.

April 14: Un chien tourné vers la droite by Jennie Xie

Un chien tourné vers la droite

Un chien tourné vers la droite by Stefano Della Bella. Image ID: 5529818

Un chien tourné vers la droite

He turns to the right, sensing

I may spill ink over his creatureliness.

Wants no part in any theater.

Nothing of aulic language nor dulcet tones.

Need displeases when one touches 

the middle of one’s life.

He pushes his taut gaze against 

mine, then retracts.

A kind of address I have spent 

a lifetime returning.


Find  Jenny Xie's work at the Library, learn more at her website and follow her on Twitter.

April 13: Logs Left by Ian Fowler

black and white photo of cut trees

Logs left in the woods by logging operations, illustrating the great waste of timber accompanying private ownership and exploitation by Russell Lee. Image ID: 57834397

Logs Left


Wasteland of intention

Left rotting

Signed “best”

In closing


April 12: The Kills by Moonlight by Marguerite Maria Rivas, Staten Island Poet Laureate

The Kills by moonlight.

The Kills by moonlight by Isaac Almstaedt, Image ID: G91F288_008ZF

The Kills by Moonlight

We stand, feet planted

on the upper deck,

as we glide across dark waters 

into a silvery band of spring 

moonbeams. Our faces—

blue light and deep shade—

turn island-ward 

toward home.

You can find Marguerite Maria Rivas at her website.


April 11: émigré by Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones

photo of woman sitting in a chair smoking

Cuban woman sitting in a chair and smoking a cigarette by Paul Reboux. Image ID: 1267522


I leave seastars, tortoiseshells at her altar

like someone who knows what they lost, pour  

melao on Yemayá’s feet in a white petticoat. The to-co-co-ró of a white-bellied bird 

who pecks at my throat, as if it knew. We are

two spent brides in the half-light. Still,

at daybreak, through the smoke of a prayer

I can almost make out the shape of an island.

Find  Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones' work at the Library and learn more at her website.

April 10: Just a Minute by jayy dodd

Maude Russel

Maude Russel and her Ebony Steppers - 1929 Cotton Club show "Just A Minute." Image ID: 5062801

                                                                                                                  Just A Minute

Girls gather for gratuitous gawking,

the review includes a parade. Flash

of jazz, colorstruck crowd of

cacophony clamoring. In Harlem,

Black Steppers on the second floor,

scantily clad cuties. Jive among jeers & the jungle sets for

tourist-patrons salivating at

something “savage”. Gyration is a

measure of time & rhythmania is



Find jayy dodd's work at the Library, visit her website  and find her on Twitter and Instagram.


April 9: Sonar, So Far by Jenny Inzerillo

Common Bat

Common Bat; Vampire Bat; Common Bat; Dog Headed Bat; Horseshoe Bat; Fruit Eating Bat, Image ID: 822029

Sonar, So Far 

Have you read the news?

This is really batty.

Can you hear the mews?

They are really catty.

That’s right, I’m stuck at home

With my work and kitty,

Scribblin’ out a poem

And keepin’ it itty-bitty.


Check out Jenny Inzerillo's website, find her on Twitter  and listen to her morning show.

April 8: Elysium of Dogs by Charles Cuykendall Carter

Biography of a Spaniel

Biography of a Spaniel by William Hopwood, Image ID: 1711938

Elysium of Dogs

Shades of dead dogs congregate to air

grievances of my betrayals here,

despite the airlessness, on the moon.

The re-impounded carpet-staining hound,

the sheepdog who knocked Dad to the ground:

I let them down. The tumored schnauzer swoons.

The boxer, enlarged-hearted, casts the lone

defense: He loved us till we were gone.

April 7: ABDICATION by Safia Elhillo

Ex-King of Kano

Ex-King of Kano. Image ID: 1257562


who have you been     my fathers      my abdicated root

dressed in white & vanished     

& like my mothers before me i wrap you in white 

i marry & mourn & am haunted in the unwatched night

i cleanse the air with smoke       i avoid my eyes

in any mirror      animal oils in my hair     i mark the map

with caesurae       mark the map with names of men

Check out Safia Elhillo's work on at the Library, her website, Twitter and Instagram. 

April 6: Dream Keeper Redux by Willie Perdomo


Pedestrian by Walter Silver, Image ID: 5146999

Dream Keeper Redux

I'll love you

this poem

from the top

of my dome.

One dream

after another,

I’m almost



Willie Perdomo's book, The Crazy Bunch, was included in NYPL's Best Poetry Books of 2019. Find his books at the Library and visit his website, Twitter and Instagram. 

April 5: Eating Persimmon Acrobatically by Chantal Lee

Eating kaki acrobatically

Eating kaki acrobatically by Gyōsai Kawanabe. Image ID: 5894682

Eating Persimmon Acrobatically 

While Tantalus reaches for the fruit

that hangs from a retreating branch

of a tree that belongs to an angry god,

these Japanese monks wait 100 years, tantalized 

by the sweetening persimmons 

slowly ripening from on high. 

The doting gods bless the monks, stretching 

their arms and legs  

so that they can eat this fruit of many names 

(Jove’s Fire, Divine Fruit, God’s Pear). 

Enchanted, the monks slip on cinnamony juice.

You can find Chantal Lee on Instagram.

April 4: Accidental Elegy by Rob Schlegel

The pontic rhododendron.

The pontic rhododendron by James Caldwall. Image ID: 1152356

Accidental Elegy


Intuition is important, if only for its imperfections 

disguised as leaves, pale green 


in a period-piece about a period 

about to happen. You develop in silence 

new ways of speaking, but what will you kill 

in order to see? You can almost feel 

the rhododendron's slightly malicious 

intelligence. Who will remember 

your face? The dead dry leaves are more than a feeling,

they're the air you breathe to change.


You can find Rob Schlegel's books at NYPL and through his website. You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram.

April 3:  Suppose by Alison C. Rollins

son of a sharecropper

Southeast Missouri Farms. Son of a sharecropper dressing in a combination of bedroom and corn crib, 1938 by Russell Lee. Image ID: 1260164



We are all heads of corn 

In God’s hands. Our ears green

With naiveté, we listen to the sun

Sing yellow through the window. 


Suppose on Tuesdays God wears a tie. 

Suppose God was the son of a share-

Cropper. Suppose the bed we make 

Is not a lie, but a quilted fabrication.

Check out Alison's book, Library of Small Catastrophes, chosen as one of NYPL's Best Poetry Books of 2019, and visit her website, Twitter and Instagram.


April 2: Recognition (To the planet Mars, 1877) by Julie Swarstad Johnson

The Planet Mars

The planet Mars: Observed September 3, 1877, at 11h. 55m. P.M., by E.L. Trouvelot, Image ID: TROUVELOT_008

Recognition (To the planet Mars, 1877)

Light catches beyond us and we 

see flame, see a bee above a bud’s tight curl

or we feel the rustle of motion behind a door

shut tight, distance on the edge of collapse 

for that figment of our minds glimpsed

in the eyepiece, the glass unmoved

against our lashes’ fluttering, a pulse

hammering deep in your luminous throat.


Find Julie Swarstad Johnson at her website or on Instagram.


April 1: PENELOPE by Yanyi


Momoyogusa = Flowers of a Hundred Generations by Sekka Kamisaka. Image ID: 1269883


I never meant to leave from love.

But this bedpost made in Ithaca

has not been moved. Is even stronger.

Your hands are shaped the same

but smaller. My sheets are dark

from honey whet with sun.

I unweave your hair.

The moon is dark when I lift it up.

Check out Yanyi's website or find him on Instagram and Twitter. Yanyi's book, The Year of Blue Water, was included in NYPL's Best Poetry Books of 2019.