All Our Children: A Series of Poems 

One thing that's certain though is this: Third World
or one beyond, they're all our children now . . . 
—David Ray, from "Bhopal" 

 

 

For My Daughter on Her Twenty-First Birthday

BY ELLEN BASS

 

When they laid you in the crook
of my arms like a bouquet and I looked
into your eyes, dark bits of evening sky,
I thought, of course this is you,
like a person who has never seen the sea
can recognize it instantly. 

They pulled you from me like a cork
and all the love flowed out. I adored you
with the squandering passion of spring
that shoots green from every pore. 

You dug me out like a well. You lit
the deadwood of my heart. You pinned me
to the earth with the points of stars. 

I was sure that kind of love would be
enough. I thought I was your mother.
How could I have known that over and over
you would crack the sky like lightning,
illuminating all my fears, my weaknesses, my sins. 

Massive the burden this flesh
must learn to bear, like mules of love.

 

From Mules of Love (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2002). (Posted: August 8, 2018)

 

Stealing the Children: After a Big Wind in Wyoming

BY CAROLYNE WRIGHT

 

It's not the kind of country where you can walk
dry-eyed.  An olive-green wind blows
dust up and down the alleys,
gathers dry leaves in its fists for storm.
It's the kind of town where,
if you leave your children unattended,
the wind drives up for them
in its long, black station wagon.
They go so willingly they leave their tricycles
scattered over three backyards.
Later, you roam the feedlots,
poking among freight rails that writhed
like wounded serpents while the twister
passed over.  Your own mind
is blown so dry it can't recall
who they were, those who left in mid-gale,
clambering into the front seat of the wind,
not even waving goodbye as they blew down
the street, leaving only scraps of their voices,
like strewn toys, on your lawn.

 

From This Dream the World: New & Selected Poems (Lost Horse Press, 2017). (Posted: August 8, 2018)

 

Noé, Who Spoke Best When He Did Not Speak

BY ALBERTO RÍOS


His words were not stronger than his nod,
His eyes a better tongue than in his mouth— 

He spoke by pointing with his chin,
By letting his eyes light on some object, 

By indicating with his forefinger,
Sometimes two or three times to be loud. 

Sometimes he spoke by not going somewhere.
Sometimes he went where he was not supposed to go, 

In all cases wearing a look on his face
Nobody could misunderstand. 

Sometimes his quietude was deafening.  But,
On those mornings when he ate what he liked 

The smile on his face said enough,
And meant everything to those who ate with him.

 

(Posted: August 8, 2018)

 

Ghazal for Emilie Parker

BY CAROLYNE WRIGHT

 

(Newtown, Connecticut: December 14, 2012)

He had been teaching her to speak Portuguese
So their last words together were in Portuguese. 

Such simple words that morning: Thank you. Please.
I love you, Daddy
.  All in Portuguese.

Then he rode off to work, past winter trees
And she to school, smiling to herself in Portuguese. 

She fell with her classmates, the other girls and boys,
Folding into herself like snow.  No tongue, no Portuguese, 

No hearts that walk outside their lives in fields
That winter can’t amend.  No Portuguese 

Can call them back, unspeak their parents’ grief
In English, Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, Portuguese— 

Oh Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana.
Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase.

Jesse. James. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline.
Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Alison. Grace.

From This Dream the World: New & Selected Poems (Lost Horse Press, 2017). (Posted: August 6, 2018)

 

Ghost Child

BY DANUSHA LAMÉRIS

 

Sometimes I can almost see him,
skinny legs, a striped shirt,
his black hair tucked under a baseball cap.
He’s running in the backyard
with the other kids—my son—
chasing chickens, throwing a ball
against the fence. 

Only he is not my son. He’s the one
I was expecting that season
my belly grew full and taut, the one
who would take his first steps in summer
on the dry grass behind the house. 

Not the one who lay on a pile of pillows,
scanning the ceiling for years
with his big, dark eyes, as we bent
to spoon puréed food into his mouth. 

It’s been years since he died, though
his mirror other lives on—a phantom outline—
always at the edges of my vision. 

And because he, too, is my child,
I want to love him, but can’t bear
to see him lengthening each season,
oblivious to me—his mother—
and to his brother, scattered in the wind.

 

(Originally published in The Normal School). (Posted: August 3, 2018) 

 

Resurrection 

BY H.C. PALMER

 

For Sergeant Bales 

So Billy uncorked it with his thumbs.  It didn’t make a 
pop.  The champagne was dead.  So it goes.
                                                      —
Kurt Vonnegut

 

In the after-silence, lit by a smoke-filled cone of tactical light, the spent 5.56 calibermetal-cased bullet ascends from the dirt floor, angles for the stone wall, ricochets, then accelerates for the shattered skull of a child fallen into her gush of blood.  The bullet unravels her dark hair, restores a pencil-shaped column of blood, brain and fragments of bone, plunges it through her exit wound, seals the tear on her forehead then spirals into the muzzle of the sergeant’s M-4.   

The girl returns to sleep.  The sergeant leaps backward through a door as it crashes shut and locks.  He back-trails to his basecamp, removes the bullet from his weapon and places it in an ammo canister.   He doesn’t sleep.  At last light he replaces the canister inside a wooden crate at ammo supply.  

Six weeks earlier, two airmen return the crate to a deuce-and-a-half truck and drive in reverse to an airbase where they ramp the container into a C-17 transport.  Negative jet-thrust sucks the C-17 onto a runway and airborne to Dover Air Base, USA, where Pentagon contractors carry the container onto a tractor-trailer and drive backward to an ammo factory in Independence, Missouri. A journeyman returns the canister to a workbench.   A specialist disassembles the cartridge, smelts the brass to chemical elements. 

About the time of the smelting, the American soldier backtracks from a C-130 to a ready room in a hangar at Ft. Lewis, Washington, where he warns his commanding officer his life is a mess and might lose control and do somethingbad if he deploys for a fourth tour—this time to a war in Afghanistan, where, on that very day, the girl and her mother rejoice because Americans drove away the Taliban.  It is safe to go back to school.

 

From Feet of the Messenger (BkMk Press, 2017). (Posted: August 1, 2018)

 

A Young Man

BY JERICHO BROWN

 

We stand together on our block, me and my son,
Neighbors saying our face is the same, but I know
He’s better than me:  when other children move 

Toward my daughter, he lurches like a brother
Meant to put them down.  He is a bodyguard
On the playground.  He won’t turn apart from her, 

Empties any enemy, leaves them flimsy, me
Confounded.  I never fought for so much—
I calmed my daughter when I could cradle 

My daughter; my son swaggers about her. 
He won’t have to heal a girl he won’t let free. 
They are so small.  And I, still, am a young man. 

In him lives my black anger made red. 
They play.  He is not yet incarcerated.

 

(Posted: July 30, 2018) 

 

Waiting for Rain

BY ELLEN BASS

 

Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener 

someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got me through the night. He told me the world goes on 

making and unmaking.  Maybe it’s wrong
to think of better and worse.
There’s no onewho can carry my fear
for a child who walks out the door 

not knowing what will stop her breath.
The rain they say is coming
sails now over the Pacific in purplish nimbus clouds.
But it isn’t enough. Last year I watched 

elephants encircle their young, shuffling
their massive legs without hurry, flaring
their great dusty ears. Once they drank
from the snowmelt of Kilimanjaro. 

Now the mountain is bald. Lucretius knows
we’re just atoms combining and recombining:
star dust, flesh, grass. All night
I plastered my body to Janet, 

breathing when she breathed. But her skin,
warm as it is, does, after all, keep me out.
How tenuous it all is.
My daughter’s coming home next week. 

She’ll bring the pink plaid suitcase we bought at Ross.
When she points it out to the escort
pushing her wheelchair, it will be easy
to spot on the carousel. I just want to touch her.

 

From, Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). (Posted: July 27, 2018)

 

Ganymede

BY JERICHO BROWN

 

A man trades his son for horses.
That’s the version I prefer.  I like
The safety of it, no one at fault,
Everyone rewarded.  God gets
The boy.  The boy becomes
Immortal.  His father rides until
Grief sounds as good as the gallop
Of an animal born to carry those
Who patrol our inherited
Kingdom.  When we look at myth
This way, nobody bothers saying
Rape.  I mean, don’t you want God
To want you?  Don’t you dream
Of someone with wings taking you
Up?  And when the master comes
For our children, he smells
Like the men who own stables
In Heaven, that far terrain
Between Promise and Apology.
No one has to convince us.
The people of my country believe 
We can’t be hurt if we can be bought.

 

(Posted: July 25, 2018)

 

Words for My Daughter

BY JOHN BALABAN

 

About eight of us were nailing up forts
in the mulberry grove behind Reds' house
when his mother started screeching and
all of us froze except Reds—fourteen, huge
as a hippo—who sprang out of the tree so fast
the branch nearly bobbed me off. So fast,
he hit the ground running, hammer in hand,
and seconds after he got in the house
we heard thumps like someone beating a tire
off a rim   his dad's howls  the screen door
banging open   Saw   Reds   barreling out
through the tall weeds towards the highway
the father stumbling after his fat son
who never looked back across the thick swale
of teazel and black-eyed susans until it was safe
to yell fuck you at the skinny drunk
stamping around barefoot and holding his ribs.

Another time, the Connelly kid came home to find
his alcoholic mother getting raped by the milkman.
Bobby broke a milkbottle and jabbed the guy
humping on his mom.  I think it really happened
because none of us would loosely mention that
wraith of a woman who slippered around her house
and never talked to anyone, not even her kids.
Once a girl ran past my porch
with a dart in her back, her open mouth
pumping like a guppy's, her eyes wild.
Later that summer, or maybe the next,
the kids hung her brother from an oak.
Before they hoisted him, yowling and heavy
on the clothesline, they made him claw the creekbank
and eat worms.  I don't know why his neck didn't snap. 

Reds had another nickname you couldn't say
or he'd beat you up: "Honeybun."
His dad called him that when Reds was little.

                                                                           *

So, these were my playmates.  I love them still
for their justice and valor and desperate loves
twisted in shapes of hammer and shard.
I want you to know about their pain
and about the pain they could loose on others.
If you're reading this, I hope you will think,
Well, my Dad had it rough as a kid, so what?
If you're reading this, you can read the news
and you know that children suffer worse.

                                                                           *

Worse for me is a cloud of memories
still drifting off the South China Sea,
like the 9-year old boy, naked and lacerated,
thrashing in his pee on a steel operating table
and yelling "Dau. Dau," while I, trying to translate
in the mayhem of Tet for surgeons who didn't know
who this boy was or what happened to him, kept asking
"Where?  Where's the pain?" until a surgeon
said "Forget it. His ears are blown."

                                                                           *

I remember your first Hallow'een
when I held you on my chest and rocked you,
so small your toes didn't touch my lap
as I smelled your fragrant peony head
and cried because I was so happy and because
I heard, in no metaphorical way, the awful chorus
of Soeur Anicet's orphans writhing in their cribs.
Then the doorbell rang and a tiny Green Beret
was saying trick-or-treat and I thought oh oh
but remembered it was Hallow'een and where I was.               
I smiled at the evil midget, his map-light and night            
paint, his rubber knife for slitting throats, said,                 
"How ya doin', soldier?" and, still holding you asleep          
in my arms, gave him a Mars Bar.  To his father                 
waiting outside in fatiques I hissed, "You, shit,"              
and saw us, child, in a pose I know too well. 

I want you to know the worst and be free from it.
I want you to know the worst and still find good.
Day by day, as you play nearby or laugh
with the ladies at Peoples Bank as we go around town
and I find myself beaming like a fool,
I suspect I am here less for your protection
than you are here for mine, as if you were sent
to call me back into our helpless tribe.

  

From, Locusts at the Edge of Summer (Copper Canyon Press, 1997). (Posted: July 23, 2018)

 

Winter, White

BY STEVE PAUL

 

My first grade teacher
   Was named Mrs. Thing
   or Thyng—I don’t
   remember if I ever
   saw her named spelled
   out 

But I do remember the
   winter I was sick and
   had to make up missed
   school at her
   dining room table. 

Her hair was white, like
   the white hair of teacher
   memories 

New England small town—I
   was lucky to last and become
   as old as I imagine my teacher was in those
   days. Snow in my
   beard as white as
   those winters. 

The sun shone brightly when
   the luck of the living ran out for
   Emilie and her first-grade friends
   years later in another
   New England town.
   For some—woods gave escape and protection,
   like the skyscraper pines
   at the end of my street. 

Let us all praise hero teachers who’ll
   never see white hair or winter again
   or the scratches of
   their innocent young charges,
   those who remain,
   writing their futures on this
   side of the clouds.

                      —12/16/2012, after Newtown

 

(Posted: July 20, 2018)

 

El Trabajo

BY ALBERTO RÍOS

 

Where they crossed does not exist on any map.
People will only say that it is impossible.  

That boy, Juan, Rene, Eddie, Raul—
That boy works to make sure his footprints are erased. 

He uses old tire shreds, tying them to his shoes
As if they were skis, sliding instead of stepping. 

Being invisible will be his work even after he stops walking.
Being quiet will be his life, Marco, Picho, Ulises,

His mother says, he is a good boy.
He works hard.  He has made himself and his family unseen.

However old he becomes, he has done such a good job
No one will ever see him.  Paco, Bobby, Moisés, 

Thin as wind, gone as fast.
Pablo, Ricardo, Kiki, Nando, Ladislao. 

Erasing their movement, he has dragged
An old ocotillo-branch screen

Behind where his family has walked,
Has stopped, has caught what breath there is to catch,

All of it summer fire.  Carlos, Flaco, Wicho
Laughs with his mother and his sisters.

They cry, but they laugh harder: It is all so close,
Everything.  So close, which is now another way to say so far.

Every step taken creates one more step that needs to be taken—
Such are the rules of this world.

A scholar, an architect, a doctor, a race car driver
At work in the mesquite scrub and hard dark of the desert.

Trumpet player, inventor, teacher, believer: Somewhere,
He will be all of these.  Arturo, Memo, Benny, José.

 

(Posted: July 18, 2018)

 

Newborn

BY DANUSHA LAMÉRIS

 

The woman at the party slipped him in my arms
so she could fix herself a plate of food. Sometimes,
this happens—a mother with brown skin, an island voice
will see in me her own mother, her sister,
a tributary of the blue river that runs through her veins.
But this baby was so new—His eyes still bloodshot from birth,
the red spreading like a stain through the sclera’s milky white.
I held his swaddled body while he stretched those thin,
alien fingers, then clenched them back into the flannel caul.
From time to time he squinted up at me, this woman
in whose arms, for a moment, his life rested.
He did not cry, though now and then
his mouth moved in that familiar gesture of hunger.
And I did not dare sit, for fear he would disapprove,
my knees remembering the boat-like bobbing
that the new-to-land prefer. I looked down
at his squinched face, the whispered trace of eyebrows,
delicate folds of his lids, black hair, curls fine
as the whorled loops of a fingerprint,
and I wanted to whisper into his intricate ear
tell him the lie I couldn’t make true:
that this is a world where he will always be safe
in the arms of a stranger. Even as he grows tall
in the darkness of his skin, he can walk down
any street, day or night, feet scuffing the rough ground,
hands in his pockets, his heart, whole, in his chest.

 

From The Moons of August (Autumn House Press, 2014). (Posted: July 16, 2018)

 

Landscapes

BY JANET BURROWAY

 

                               I

If it were, say, Satan loping among the rocks.
Everyone understands if a man sweats snakes
And scorpions breed in his armpits. You can get
Ahold of a forked tail, even if it’s wet. 

I mean that you do not lie. I don’t mean you lie.
There is no dishonesty so lays me flat
As when you say what you mean, and my reply
Is a lie, and must be a lie, and another lie.

 

                               II

Really, here is a meadow in May light,
My son half-dazzled, your skin brown and bright
And boys’ things: how to build a castle, snare
A toad, tussling and tossing him in the air.

I mean, you are innocent. Please for all our sakes
Know that I know that you would not touch his hair
With the minutest harm, for all our sakes.
It is I who sit in the buttercups sweating snakes.

 

                               III

A wart-faced old man under an oak in the mist.
The wicked are those who will not share a crust
With his hunger. The pure in spirit do, from whence
The warts drop off, and the toad becomes a prince.

I can tell hunger. You are starving for a child.
Must I deliver out the dazzling prince?
Let toads be toads for once, and die in the wild.
I am famished too. I will not share this child.

 

(Posted: July 11, 2018)

 

Letter to the Children

BY ALICE FRIMAN

 

In the new cold of late September
the prongs of Queen Anne’s lace that held
their doilies up like jewels
rise then stiffen, crushing toward center,
making wooden enclosures to die in
like the ones the Celts built to hold their enemies
then set aflame.  The goldenrod leans,
licks at their cages.  And all that’s left of daisies
are burnt-out eyes.

I walk these back fields
past the swish of cattails in their silver
grasses, the old ones
showing the woolly lining of their suede jackets
while the thistle, dried to gray,
bends her trembling head
and spills her seed.

It is the time—the great lying-in of Autumn—
and I am walking its wards.
And I remembr it was now, late September
then on into the deep gully of fall—when the hackberry
groans and the black oak strains in its sockets, the winds
pushing in the long forest corridors—
that I too was born and gave birth.

And you are all Autumn’s children, all
given to sadness amid great stirrings,
for you were rocked to sleep in the knowledge
of loss and saw in the reflection outside your window,
beyond the bars of your reach, your own face
beckoning from the burning promise
that little by little disappeared.  What can I give you
for your birthdays this year, you who are the match
and the flaming jewel, whose birthright consumes itself
in the face of your desire?

If you were here with me now
walking down this day’s death,
I would try to show you two things: how the last light
plays itself out over the thistle’s labors,
over the wild cherry heavy with fruit, as if comfort
lay in what it had made.  And how that black bird
with flame at his shoulders
teeters for balance on a swaying weed.

From Inverted Fire (BkMk Press, 1997). (Posted: July 9, 2018)

 

Bhopal 

BY DAVID RAY

 

I've often wondered how it is at times 
Good people do what are as bad as crimes.

                                   —Clough

 

Eyes open, glazed like isinglass, the fire
behind gone out, this child of Bhopal lies
in his shallow grave of cinders­—no time
for weeping as when we lost our son Sam
and stood, hands joined, to wish him well in some
life beyond. In fact he might have gone on
to Bhopal just in time to die again
at just three months. Not likely, but who knows?
One thing that's certain though is this: Third World
or one beyond, they're all our children now,
though borne by millions in brown arms and black,
and not much mourned by those who think their own
are wonders, others somehow less. And thus
I'll say good-bye to this son too, and yours.

 

From Sam’s Book (Wesleyan University Press, 1987). (Posted: July 6, 2018)

 

Song of Ira

BY CYNTHIA WHITE

 

It was years ago I learned the job
of caring for him, Ira of the deep
brown eyes and impish curls,
whose name means mighty or watchful,
whose body, at twelve, couldn’t walk,
speak, return
my look. I would change
his diaper, feed him lunch from a bottle.
His mother could be bitter
about the birth. The shunt. His father cracked
jokes to draw blood. Ira, who came to us
impeccably dressed, the latest
in surf shirts and sweats. Some mornings,
I’d get to the house and discover him
overspilling his mother’s lap, a living pietà.
I was still a student, unversed
in children. But it seemed right  
that she should hold him and sing,
old folk tunes, lullabies
in other tongues. He would know
her vibration, her smell if nothing else,
and maybe something more, an else,
a grace I can hardly conceive of. Ira
the adored, Ira the mourned.

 

(Posted: July 5, 2018)

 

Portal                                                   

BY JOHN BALABAN

 

The sun's up in El Paso
rising over the red volcanic plain,
igniting the dry Rockies, setting ablaze
the eastern walls of our towered city
at the edge of the other world.
Where Rockies become the worn Chihuahuas
and the muddy Rio Grande churns by fencing
strung with razor wire.  Where the sun
glints off a watertruck bumping through
the tarpaper barrios in Juarez, flares off
the International Bridge already jammed
with old Fords and Chevys, with packed pickups,
jornaleros on foot with their bundles,
the lame, the illiterate, the bent and weary,
walking to Texas for a day's pay.

A boy, fifteen, wispy moustache, straw hat,
stops amid the traffic on the bridge.
Holds in hand a card of the Madonna
in princess gown, tiara, attendant angels.
He whispers to the picture.  Shuffles on.

 

from, Locusts at the Edge of Summer (Copper Canyon Press, 1997). (Posted: July 2, 2018)

 

Indigo

BY ELLEN BASS

 

As I’m walking on West Cliff Drive, a man runs
toward me pushing one of those jogging strollers
with shock absorbers so the baby can keep sleeping,
which this baby is. I can just get a glimpse
of its almost translucent eyelids. The father is young,
a jungle of indigo and carnelian tattooed
from knuckle to jaw, leafy vines and blossoms,
saints and symbols. Thick wooden plugs pierce
his lobes and his sunglasses testify
to the radiance haloed around him. I’m so jealous.
As I often am. It’s a kind of obsession.
I want him to have been my child’s father.
I want to have married a man who wanted
to be in a body, who wanted to live in it so much
that he marked it up like a book, underlining,
highlighting, writing in the margins, I was here.
Not like my dead ex-husband, who was always
fighting against the flesh, who sat for hours
on his zafu chanting om and then went out
and broke his hand punching the car.
I imagine when this galloping man gets home
he’s going to want to have sex with his wife,
who slept in late, and then he’ll eat
barbecued ribs and let the baby teethe on a bone
while he drinks a cold dark beer. I can’t stop
wishing my daughter had had a father like that.
I can’t stop wishing I’d had that life. Oh, I know
it’s a miracle to have a life. Any life at all.
It took eight years for my parents to conceive me.
First there was the war and then just waiting.
And my mother’s bones so narrow, she had to be slit
and I airlifted. That anyone is born,
each precarious success from sperm and egg
to zygote, embryo, infant, is a wonder.
And here I am, alive.
Almost seventy years and nothing has killed me.
Not the car I totalled running a stop sign
or the spirochete that screwed into my blood.
Not the tree that fell in the forest exactly
where I was standing—my best friend shoving me
backward so I fell on my ass as it crashed.
I’m alive.
And I gave birth to a child.
So she didn’t get a father who’d sling her
onto his shoulder. And so much else she didn’t get.
I’ve cried most of my life over that.
And now there’s everything that we can’t talk about.
We love—but cannot take
too much of each other.
Yet she is the one who, when I asked her to kill me
if I no longer had my mind—
we were on our way into Ross,
shopping for dresses. That’s something
she likes and they all look adorable on her—
she’s the only one
who didn’t hesitate or refuse
or waver or flinch.
As we strode across the parking lot
she said, O.K., but when’s the cutoff?
That’s what I need to know.

 

(Posted: June 29, 2018)

 

Thrown voices

BY DENNIS FINNELL

 

One day duff under the conifers
swelled up here and there, as though people
underground were making fists
below, next day a big white mushroom
materialized on the red
wrought-iron café table waiting
always in the shade of the spruces
(we have iced drinks there
in summer), day after that I pretended
the big white mushroom was a skull
saying things, like I'm just the first,
plenty of us below tunneling head-first,
bringing pain and its analgesic,
children eating through dirt, squeezed
beings at the isthmus, we're not the first,
be our conductor to true north

Then gobs of big mushrooms poked up
through spruce needles, I left them
to what devours.  They darkened,
shriveled, eating it turns out themselves.

 

(Posted: June 27, 2018)

 

For My Father

BY JUDY RAY 

 

Sturdy English oak, deep-rooted
in the Wealden clay,
now ivy is slowing down your pacing
still in muddy fields
to sow, mend hedges, count cattle
or grow an oasis of vegetables and roses
in a wilderness of stinging nettles.
You take pride in your honesty
yet know that acorns are the food of pigs.
The brown eyes, observing England
for eighty-three years now,
have dimmed, yellowed like the leaves
in autumn. 
Through two World Wars, when brothers
and nephews wore uniforms, 
and bombs left smooth craters even 
in the quiet Front Meadow,
you went on supplying milk and sugar beet.
But when an angry cow attacked,
you threw the toddling daughter down
beneath you in the ditch
and took goring horn in your own back.

 

From Fathers (anthology, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997). (Posted: June 26, 2018)

 

Larsa

  an excerpt

By DUNYA MIKHAIL

You yawn,
so I harvest stars from your sleep
and stick them in the notebook:
may they bring you joy
when I’m not here.

You start walking
and follow the moon
while I follow you.
Behind us: the mirage of a country
you were not born in.

You wave your hand
and I know
you’re mixing rivers
and lakes
and continents
with a teaspoon or a straw.
You bear the Euphrates and Atlantic, together,
to school.
You spray colors,
dark and light,
at temperatures,
high and low,
and all sides make peace
because you, Larsa, are beautiful.
and like snowballs rolling to a halt,
the countries, for a moment, stop fighting
because you, Larsa,
are beautiful.

You open your arms
and I know just how much I love you:
I love you from here to Baghdad;
I love you more than all the words;
I love you higher
than the smoke in the city;
I love you louder
than the explosions;
I love you deeper than the wounds,
Iraqi and American,
from a bomb;
I love you sweeter than a lily
unfolding in the morning;
I love you warmer than a nest
that lacks only birdsong
and a single piece of straw;
I love you wider than the fear
that brims in a time of war;
coming and going
from here to Baghdad
I love you. 

 

Translated by Kareem James Abu Zeid, from The Iraqi Nights (2014, New Directions). (Posted: June 22, 2018)

 

That Boy

BY KELLY CHERRY

 

Halfway around the world, that boy who wore
blood in his hair and sat obligingly
because he could not comprehend Assad’s
reign of evil is, I now believe,
the son I would have had, if only I
were younger and if only I could have
had a child and if he did not belong
already to a family in Aleppo.

I too can’t comprehend Assad’s black reign
of evil. Does it cheer him up to fling
small boys into a cauldron of hurtling fire?
I think it must. Yet all a little boy
wants is a toy or two and his parents
and if he has a sibling, then he wants
his sibling. Pita bread would also be
good, but there is no pita bread.

From New Letters vol.  84 no.1. (Posted: June 20, 2018)

 

Kansas City Literary Events

Cote Smith

Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Wichita, Kan.

News

Winners Announced: New Letters Literary Awards

New Letters is pleased to announce the 2018 winners of the $2,500 Conger Beasley Jr. Prize for Nonfiction, the $1,500 New Letters Prize for Fiction, and the $1,500 Prize for Poetry. See the winners, judges, and finalists here.

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Clarion Awards Selection CD Special

Jamaica KincaidJim ShepardGloria Vando & Anika ParisLuis Alberto Urrea, and Alex George, normally $7.99 per episode, this cd collection comes with over $15.00 in savings. Downloads of these programs have been reduced and are available through our archives.