Published on Academy of American Poets (

I Never Figured How to Get Free

The war was all over my hands.
I held the war and I watched them
die in high-definition. I could watch
anyone die, but I looked away. Still,
I wore the war on my back. I put it
on every morning. I walked the dogs
and they too wore the war. The sky
overhead was clear or it was cloudy
or it rained or it snowed, and I was rarely
afraid of what would fall from it. I worried
about what to do with my car, or how
much I could send my great-aunt this month
and the next. I ate my hamburger, I ate
my pizza, I ate a salad or lentil soup,
and this too was the war.
At times I was able to forget that I
was on the wrong side of the war,
my money and my typing and sleeping
sound at night. I never learned how
to get free. I never learned how
not to have anyone’s blood
on my own soft hands. 


Copyright © 2019 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I was trying to capture the feeling of being complicit in ongoing US military action, particularly in the Middle East, which has been the backdrop of most of my life. I wanted to write about how it felt to be a citizen of a nation seemingly always at war when the war is distant and on a screen, and the ringing distortion I felt while being financially comfortable for the first time and living in isolation in Western New York.”
—Donika Kelly


Donika Kelly

Donika Kelly is the author of the chapbook Aviarium (fivehundred places, 2017), and the full-length collection Bestiary (Graywolf Press, 2016), winner of the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for poetry, and the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize.

Date Published: 2019-02-25

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