I use a trick to teach students
how to avoid passive voice.
Circle the verbs.
Imagine inserting “by zombies”
after each one.
Have the words been claimed
by the flesh-hungry undead?
If so, passive voice.
I wonder if these
sixth graders will recollect,
on summer vacation,
as they stretch their legs
on the way home
from Yellowstone or Yosemite
and the byway’s historical marker
beckons them to the
site of an Indian village—
Where trouble was brewing.
Where, after further hostilities, the army was directed to enter.
Where the village was razed after the skirmish occurred.
Where most were women and children.
Riveted bramble of passive verbs
etched in wood—
breaking up from the dry ground
to pinch the meat
of their young red tongues.
From Tributaries (University of Arizona Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Laura Da’. Used with the permission of the author.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
This poem originally appeared in Waxwing, Issue 10, in June 2016. Used with permission of the author.
People have been trying to kill me since I was born,
a man tells his son, trying to explain
the wisdom of learning a second tongue.
It's the same old story from the previous century
about my father and me.
The same old story from yesterday morning
about me and my son.
It's called "Survival Strategies
and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation."
It's called "Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons,"
called "The Child Who'd Rather Play than Study."
Practice until you feel
the language inside you, says the man.
But what does he know about inside and outside,
my father who was spared nothing
in spite of the languages he used?
And me, confused about the flesh and soul,
who asked once into a telephone,
Am I inside you?
You're always inside me, a woman answered,
at peace with the body's finitude,
at peace with the soul's disregard
of space and time.
Am I inside you? I asked once
lying between her legs, confused
about the body and the heart.
If you don't believe you're inside me, you're not,
she answered, at peace with the body's greed,
at peace with the heart's bewilderment.
It's an ancient story from yesterday evening
called "Patterns of Love in Peoples of Diaspora,"
called "Loss of the Homeplace
and the Defilement of the Beloved,"
called "I Want to Sing but I Don’t Know Any Songs."
From Behind My Eyes by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2008 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton. All rights reserved.