segment of steel poetry rail portion

The Betsy Poetry Rail: Where Public Art Meets Poetic Inspiration

Story by:

Out of my life I fashioned a fistful of words.
When I opened my hand, they flew away.
~ Hyam Plutzik (1911–1962)

Suspended above 14th Place next to the iconic Betsy Orb, the Betsy Poetry Rail is an homage to 12 poets who have shaped the literature, culture, and spirit of Miami. It’s a collection of words — carved into steel with water jets — permanently on display for public enjoyment and private contemplation. And it’s a celebration of the diverse voices, past and present, whose ideas continue to influence our city and resonate in the wider world.

Meet the 12 poets of the Poetry Rail.

Muhammad Ali (1942–2016)

Muhammad Ali, a natural beat poet, livened up his press conferences with spontaneous verses — earning him, among many titles, that of boxing’s poet laureate. 

Featured on the Poetry Rail:

Before regaining the title by upsetting George Foreman Oct. 30, 1974:

"You think the world was shocked when Nixon resigned?
Wait 'til I whup
George Foreman's behind.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
His hand can't hit what his eyes can't see.
Now you see me, now you don't.
George thinks he will, but I know he won't.
I done wrassled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale.
Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick.
I'm so mean, I make medicine sick."

Richard Blanco (b. 1968)

Richard Blanco is an American poet, public speaker, author and civil engineer. He is the first immigrant and openly gay poet to read at a United States presidential inauguration, having read the poem "One Today" for Barack Obama's second inauguration in 2012.

Featured on the Poetry Rail:

Some Days the Sea
The sea is never the same twice. Today
the waves open their lions’ mouths hungry
for the shore, and I feel the earth helpless.
Some days their foamy edges are lace
at my feet, the sea a sheet of green silk.
Sometimes the shore brings souvenirs
from a storm, I sift spoils of sea grass:
find a broken finger of coral, a torn fan,
examine a sponge’s hollow throat, watch
a man-of-war die a sapphire in the sand.
Some days there’s nothing but sand
quiet as snow, I walk, eyes on the wind
sometimes laden with silver-tasting salt,
sometimes still as the sun. Some days
the sun is a dollop of honey and raining
light on the sea glinting diamond dust,
sometimes there are only clouds, clouds—
sometimes solid as continents drifting
across the sky, other times wispy, white
roses that swirl into tigers, into cathedrals,
into hands, and I remember some days 

I’m still a boy on this beach, wanting
to catch a seagull, cup a tiny silver fish,
build a perfect sand castle. Some days I am
a teenager blind to death even as I watch
waves seep into nothingness. Most days
I’m a man tired of being a man, sleeping
in the care of dusk’s slanted light, or a man
scared of being a man, seeing some god
in the moonlight streaming over the sea.
Some days I imagine myself walking
this shore with feet as worn as driftwood,
old and afraid of my body. Someday,
I suppose I’ll return someplace like waves
trickling through the sand, back to sea
without any memory of being, but if
I could choose eternity, it would be here:
aging with the moon, enduring in the space
between every grain of sand, in the cusp
of every wave and every seashell’s hollow.

Adrian Castro (b. 1967)

Poet, writer, and artist Adrian Castro was born in Miami, and his work combines Afro-Caribbean myths, history, and rhythms to explore Afro-Caribbean–American identity. The New York Times has praised Castro’s poetry as “a serious and seriously enjoyable contribution to our flourishing Latino literature.”

Featured on the Poetry Rail:

The Sound of One Immigrant Clapping

Let’s say he actually
did not
arrive on a boat—
that the relentless colonel
never found his subtle throat hidden
under the trance of the clave
or thunder hands that spoke
repiques of those crimes
Let’s say he went to Nueva York
on the assumption
Mario Bauzá
Machito or
Tito (Rodríguez or Puente)
could make his legs & hips move
in a constellation of joy
Let’s say he merely
tried
to hear the echo of his arms
flapping through a factory
like a red rag fastened to that fan
Let’s say the cold
often froze his vowels
tan Caribeña 
tan resvalosa y mermelada—
Could the immigrant even
mute the melody of his tongue—
They say it is silence
that makes music
But this will be like
drumming
on a distant tuft of cloud like
the colonel cutting the sound he never found
But it takes years of forgetting
for a stranger
to breathe the saltwater
or glance at a pile of stones
& say
I arrived through this portal
This is now my home . . .

Chenjerai Hove (1956–2015)

Chenjerai Hove was a Zimbabwean poet, novelist and essayist whose work offers an intense examination of the psychic and social costs to the rural population of the war of liberation in Zimbabwe.

Featured on the Poetry Rail:

One Person
 all those eyes
in one person;
all those hearts,
the moons,
the stars
in one face.

maybe I am young again
this summer.

Langston Hughes (1901–1967)

Langston Hughes, who claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences, is particularly known for his insightful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. 

Featured on The Poetry Rail:

DREAMS

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow

Donald Justice (1925–2004)

Donald Justice was an American teacher of writing and poet who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1980. Known as a “poet's poet”, his finely crafted verse frequently illuminated the pain of loss and the desolation of an unlived life.

Featured on The Poetry Rail:

Variations on a Text by Vallejo

Me moriré en Paris con aguacero ...
I will die in Miami in the sun,
On a day when the sun is very bright,
A day like the days I remember, a day like other days,
A day that nobody knows or remembers yet,
And the sun will be bright then on the dark glasses of strangers  
And in the eyes of a few friends from my childhood
And of the surviving cousins by the graveside,
While the diggers, standing apart, in the still shade of the palms,  
Rest on their shovels, and smoke,
Speaking in Spanish softly, out of respect. 

I think it will be on a Sunday like today,
Except that the sun will be out, the rain will have stopped,  
And the wind that today made all the little shrubs kneel down;  
And I think it will be a Sunday because today,
When I took out this paper and began to write,
Never before had anything looked so blank,
My life, these words, the paper, the gray Sunday;
And my dog, quivering under a table because of the storm,  
Looked up at me, not understanding,
And my son read on without speaking, and my wife slept. 

Donald Justice is dead. One Sunday the sun came out,  
It shone on the bay, it shone on the white buildings,
The cars moved down the street slowly as always, so many,  Some with their headlights on in spite of the sun,  
And after awhile the diggers with their shovels  
Walked back to the graveside through the sunlight,  
And one of them put his blade into the earth  
To lift a few clods of dirt, the black marl of Miami,  
And scattered the dirt, and spat,
Turning away abruptly, out of respect.

Campbell McGrath (b. 1962)

Campbell McGrath was born in Chicago and grew up in Washington, D.C. He is the author of eleven collections of poetry, and his honors include a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress.

Featured on The Poetry Rail:

Hemingway Dines on Boiled Shrimp and Beer

I’m the original two-hearted brawler.
I gnaw the scrawny heads from prawns,
pummel those mute, translucent crustaceans,
wingless hummingbirds, salt-water spawned.
As the Catalonians do, I eat the eyes at once.
My brawny palms flatten their mainstays.
I pop the shells with my thumbs, then crunch.

Just watch me as I swagger and sprawl,
spice-mad and sated, then dabble in lager
before I go strolling for stronger waters
down to Sloppy Joe’s.  My stride as I stagger
shivers the islands, my fingers troll a thousand keys.
My appetite shakes the rock of the nation.
The force of my fiction makes the mighty Gulf Stream. 

Geoffrey Philp (b. 1958)

Geoffrey Philp is a Jamaican author of poetry, short stories, novels and children's books. Philp teaches creative writing at Miami Dade College and has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Miami.

Featured on The Poetry Rail:

A Prayer for My Children

When you find yourself in a faraway land
surrounded by men, animals that mutter strange
sounds, do not be afraid: neither you, your parents, 

nor your ancestors have ever been alone.
So trust the earth to bear you up, follow
the wind as it leads you through valleys 

clustered with trees heavy with fruit –
some that seem familiar enough to eat,
but you still aren’t sure they are the same 

as the ones you left on the other side
of the river that you’ve now forgotten.
Eat. Feast on the bounty. Feed the fire 

that burns away the knot in your stomach,
sets ablaze the horizon, all that your eyes
can see – that has been promised to you 

since your cry pierced the morning air:
your parents bathed you with kisses,
baptized you with caresses,
swaddled you in care before you uttered
your first words to the moon, sun, stars,
wobbled your first steps into unknowing –

all the while rising into your inheritance.
And if you awaken under the branches of a cotton tree,
cradled in its roots, draw a circle around yourself 

and all those whom you love, cross
yourself three times before you step
over the threshold. Welcome the ancestors, 

all the kindly spirits who have followed you,
your parents across many seas, oceans,
and deserts; entertain them with strong drink 

and soft food: rice, yams, bananas, the ever
present rum to bless the hands that have lifted
you up, and sanctified the place you now call home.

Carlos Pintado  (b. 1974)

Carlos Pintado is a Cuban American writer, playwright, and award-winning poet who immigrated to the United States in the early 1990s. His book Autorretrato en azul received the prestigious Sant Jordi International Prize for Poetry, and his book El azar y los tesoros was a finalist for Spain’s Adonais Prize in 2008.

Featured on The Poetry Rail:

The Moon

Translated by Hilary Vaughn Dobel from Spanish

In a dream, I touched the faces of the moon: the fire-bringing moon
of Istanbul; the moon of Shakespeare, changeable and old as every
moon; the moon as blind Eastern weavers reach for it in shock; the
moon sung by the Fates; the moon as it appears in old engravings;
the moon of Borges, saved by blindness from silver and dream; the
moon pouring ghostly shapes in mirrors; the primitive moon Rome
and Carthage shared for a night; the moon that was before the sea,
before the sun, before the word moon; the Greek moon they call Ar-
temis; the moon that alchemists pursued, but never caught, in metals;
the tarot Moon that is the deepest arcanum; Galileo’s moon, refut-
ing the crystal-smooth moon of Aristotle; the black moon discov-
ered by a girl in an Aztec temple; the moon that traveled with Verne
and Cyrano de Bergerac; the moon Quevedo clapped within a fine
and bloody epitaph; Lorca’s moon with its bustle of tuberoses, sink-
ing into the forge; the haiku moon, unable to compete with a river
rock’s false gleaming. These moons are dearer and more familiar
than that lone moon hanging, solitary and perfect, like some inven-
tion of the night.

Hyam Plutzik (1911–1962)

Born in Brooklyn, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Hyam Plutzik is the father of Betsy owner Jonathan Plutzik and was a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Plutzik’s work examines nature and the paradoxes of time, the relationship between poetry and science, and delves into questions of Jewish history and identity. 

Featured on The Poetry Rail:

The Last Fisherman

He will set his camp beside a cold lake
And when the great fish leap to his lure, shout high
To three crows battling a northern wind. 

Now when the barren twilight closes its circle
Will fear the yearning ghosts come for his catch
And watch intently trees move in the dark. 

Fear as the last fire cringes and sputters,
Heap the branches, strike the reluctant ashes,
Lie down restless, rise when the dawn grays. 

Time runs out as the hook lashes the water
Day after day, and as the days wane
Wait still for the wonder.

Gerald Stern (b. 1925)

Gerald Stern has been called an “American original,” “a sometimes comic, sometimes tragic visionary,” and, by his friend Stanley Kunitz, “the wilderness in American poetry.” Over dozens of books, and decades of teaching and activism, Stern has emerged as one of America’s most celebrated poets.

Featured on The Poetry Rail:

In Beauty Bright

In beauty-bright and such it was like Blake’s
lily and though an angel he looked absurd
dragging a lily out of a beauty-bright store
wrapped in tissue with a petal drooping,
nor was it useless—you who know it know
how useful it is—and how he would be dead
in a minute if he were to lose it though
how do you lose a lily? His lily was white
and he had a foolish smile there holding it up like
a candelabrum in his right hand facing the
mirror in the hall nor had the endless
centuries started yet nor was there one thorn
between his small house and the beauty-bright store.

Julie Marie Wade (b. 1979)

Julie Marie Wade is the author of 12 volumes of poetry and prose including the limited-edition, hybrid-forms chapbook, P*R*I*D*E  (Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2020), which won the inaugural Hunger Mountain Chapbook Prize. She currently teaches in the creative writing program at Florida International University. 

Featured on The Poetry Rail:

Grammar

Here, on the Atlantic, sunrise 
the reversed syntax of my Seattle youth:

I marvel, still young, at what
it means to have been younger;

to see at last the parent
in parenthesis;

to read—for the first time—
whole chapters of my life

as an aside.