Such is the story made of stubbornness and a little air—
a story signed by those who danced wordless before God.
Who whirled and leapt. Giving voice to consonants that rise
with no protection but each other’s ears.
We are on our bellies in this quiet, Lord.
Let us wash our faces in the wind and forget the strict shapes of affection.
Let the pregnant woman hold something of clay in her hand.
She believes in God, yes, but also in the mothers
of her country who take off their shoes
and walk. Their footsteps erase our syntax.
Let her man kneel on the roof, clearing his throat
(for the secret of patience is his wife’s patience).
He who loves roofs, tonight and tonight, making love to her and to her forgetting,
let them borrow the light from the blind.
There will be evidence, there will be evidence.
While helicopters bomb the streets, whatever they will open, will open.
What is silence? Something of the sky in us.
From Deaf Republic. Copyright © 2019 by Ilya Kaminsky. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press.
On balconies, sunlight. On poplars, sunlight on our lips.
Today no one is shooting.
A girl cuts her hair with imaginary scissors—
the scissors in sunlight, her hair in sunlight.
Another girl steals a pair of shoes from a sleeping soldier, skewered with light.
As soldier wakes and looks at us looking at them
what do they see?
Tonight they shot fifty women at Lerna St.,
I sit down to write and tell you what I know:
a child learns the world by putting it in her mouth,
a girl becomes a woman and a woman, earth.
Body, they blame you for all things and they
seek in the body what does not live in the body.
Copyright © 2018 by Ilya Kaminsky. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 26, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Soldiers collect & number: pigment, hair, jade, roasted meat, timber, cum. The enemy’s flute; the face of an enemy as he holds his young; the enemy’s face the moment it’s harmed. The woods are a class in what they can take. The country is fat. We eat from its side.
Copyright © 2018 by Nomi Stone. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 27, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing
In the Kashmir mountains,
my brother shot many men,
blew skulls from brown skins,
dyed white desert sand crimson.
What is there to say to a man
who has traversed such a world,
whose hands and eyes have
Were there flowers there? I asked.
This is what he told me:
In a village, many men
wrapped a woman in a sheet.
She didn't struggle.
Her bare feet dragged in the dirt.
They laid her in the road
and stoned her.
The first man was her father.
He threw two stones in a row.
Her brother had filled his pockets
with stones on the way there.
The crowd was a hive
of disturbed bees. The volley
of stones against her body
drowned out her moans.
Blood burst through the sheet
like a patch of violets,
a hundred roses in bloom.
Copyright © 2012 by Natalie Diaz. From When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon Press, 2012). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
The heart trembles like a herd of horses.
—Jontae McCrory, age 11
Hold a pomegranate in your palm,
imagine ways to split it, think of the breaking
skin as shrapnel. Remember granada
means pomegranate and granada
means grenade because grenade
takes its name from the fruit;
identify war by what it takes away
from fecund orchards. Jontae,
there will always be one like you:
a child who gets the picked over box
with mostly black crayons. One who wonders
what beautiful has to do with beauty, as he darkens
a sun in the corner of every page,
constructs a house from ashen lines,
sketches stick figures lying face down-
I know how often red is the only color
left to reach for. I fear for you.
You are writing a stampede
into my chest, the same anxiety that shudders
me when I push past marines in high school
hallways, moments after video footage
of young men dropping from helicopters
in night vision goggles. I want you to see in the dark
without covering your face and carry verse
as countermeasure to recruitment videos
and remember the cranes buried inside the poems
painted on banners that hung in Tiananmen Square—
remember because Huang Xiang was exiled
for these. Remember because the poet Huang Xiang
was exiled for this: the calligraphy of revolt.
Always know that you will stand nameless
in front of a tank, always know you will not stand
alone, but there will always be those
who would rather see you pull a pin
from a grenade than pull a pen
from your backpack. Jontae,
they are afraid.
Copyright © 2013 by Jamaal May. From Hum (Alice James Books, 2013). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
In the rebuilt café where the bride exploded with the glass, we order cappuccino to sip with our cigarettes. Across the invisible line, only Arabic coffee. In Gaza they make rockets from lead pipe and nails. We say animals. Is a body worth a body? What if it has wept in the rain? Whispered the ninety-nine names of God and claimed one for itself. In the first light. Before morning.
Copyright © 2011 by Elana Bell. Used by permission of the author.