This week in the PEN Poetry Series, guest editor Cathy Park Hong features a poem by Roger Reeves, who includes the following author note: “The speaker of this poem is a lynched man. As his body decays, pigs, birds, wolves, and wind carry the body to different parts of the world, and through these flights and departures, he, the speaker, experiences and meditates upon the world from these different vantage points—Gaza in the summer of 2014, Boko Harum, the hanging of Emmett Till’s father. What isn’t carried away seeps into the earth and travels back in time as it mixes with the soil. The body constantly transforms and speaks to this transformation. Because he is at the edge of afterlife, he, often, contemplates the rules, boundaries, and limitations of paradise and death.  


from On Paradise

276 ravens fight at the top of a hairless pine for its tip,
To master the bottom of the sky. Their black tumbles
And tumbles into a type of second moon or sun,
A speculation of vision absented revealed then absented
In a circular whirring that knocks and knocks at a door
I open and open to find 276 girls missing in Nigeria.

I should just tell you what I see: 276 Nigerian girls
At my doorstep asking me to braid their hair
Though they know I cannot, and without wiping their feet
At the mat, they enter my yellow house, and I do not
Ask them to remove their dirt or their shoes or the vacancies
They whisper about: Your silence will not save you.

We have not asked for you to speak for us.
Our disappearing speaks for us…
The pine tree’s fat needles
Brush the window to my right. The shadow of its flowers
Javelin down the sun and the ravens flaking off
Into dark scabs below the pine. Even in death,
I am only as useful as pond to moon—an unasked for reflection.

                                   In Gaza, the bombs knock on the roof before they enter.
                                                Allahu Akbar            Then they ax their way in
                                                            Like a wolf without manners
                                                                        Or, rather, with the manners of hunger,
                                                            Which are impartial as spit or blood.                        

        There is no medicine for imperial fatigue.
                                                          Just ask the buildings in Gaza
                                  Or the mothers underneath them.
                                              I’ll wait…
                      What did you learn of fatigue?
                                  What house can hold that missing?
                      This is not a war with caskets.
                                              The dead will not be queued into plots
                                  For the kind dissection of maggots       
                      Though the maggots will kindly find them and provide them
                                     A final justice or maybe the first—mathematic, clean,
         Impartial as spit, blood, bite pressure.
                                     They, the dead, will stumble across our newsfeeds
                                                           And morning cups of coffee,
                                              In the curved tongue of a teaspoon 
                                     Knocking against the skin and walls of the dishwasher. 
                      The dead in the morning crow flying into our window
                                                           With a boy’s toe in his beak, no it’s a just twig.
                                              Everything in and of war in war.
                                                           Every flight and branch and wing,
                                      A body of war: a woman brushing a boy’s hair—
                                                           War—the wild turkey napping in the shade—
                                      War—In what shall we trust? What will resist
                                              Even this declaration of war? Certainly not the houses
                                                           Or the crow obliterated against the window.
                                      Or the white cat carrying all manner of scrap
                                                           And wing to our porches and pillows,
                                      And there again, the dead, with their one question
                                               And there one official statement
           About war: It is in our blood and bones.
                       It takes a genius to forget these things.

          What should be read between the shelling,
                       When walking from one exile to another?
                                   What do we do with Darwish’s horses
                       That have fallen over the edge of poems,
                                   The cypress trees, the fog peeled
                                                  By an orange,
                       Thucydides and Homer burning into a gauzy thread
                                   That circles the minarets and fingers of Gaza
                                                  Then disappears?
                                                             The marriages—of ass to field,
                                                  Of thorn to tongue—disappear
                                    Into wells dug by bombs. The Galilean woman,
                                                  The fugitive missile, the jeeps passing between
                                                            The burning date trees
                                    Reluctantly measure the space between limb and severed limb,
                                                            Place and no place.
                                                  The walls of the city have lost their arrogance.
                                                                           Even they tremble.
                                                  Now, watch the sun wash its dry face in the ashes.
                                    How have the children dead in the streets offended my brother?
                                                            Around their lips, black haloes.
                                                  What might these ringed mouths beg for—
                        A finger dipped in water for their tongues,
                                                            The gold flesh of a peach,
                                                  Paper, or the tree before the blade?
                                    Would they ask to return?           
                        Or would they plead leave us here alone in this new desolation,
                                    Wherever it is? Read to us what the dry drinking glass remembers of water.

                         Perhaps you have wept
                                      Because you have tried to open an umbrella of pines
                                                 As shelter over a child’s sleeping face,
                                                                                                   But the noise of men,
                                                              Their cement mixers and calls to prayer—
                                      Their petitions to protect the storehouses of paper money
                                                              From locust or age or the tiaras of lightening
                                      Battering the spires and minarets of the city rinsed in the breath of the dead—
                                                                             Yips like a legion of small dogs
                                                              In the ear and neck of that same child. Perhaps you have been
                                                This sort of bomb, I mean, balm. Honey
                                                              Spilled onto the counter rather than into a cup of tea,
                                                                             The ants scrambling over each other
                                                              To taste a mistake,
                                                                             One that will eventually lead to them drowning
                                                                                          Or crushed
                                                Beneath a rag and the pressure of a cleaning bone. Have you been
                                                              This sort of sated tongue, willing, speared, crushed?
                                                                             Perhaps you have wept for the counter.
                                       Perhaps you have been that weeping body
                                                                                          That climbs to the roof and presses
                                                               A wet face to the screen of the sky,
                                                                             And yet the bombs pierce your umbrella
                                                 And the pines, and the small dogs carry your sleeping child
                                                                                          Out past of the walls of this city
                                       Into a stand of burning date trees and eat.

                         As if exile could be amnestied with a plot of dry land,
                                                Wrestled from the whip and bang
            Of a bird whose twitter growls with the smell of expired milk,
                                       Pecker-fretted apples that cause a mouth to itch.
                                                               What were you to do
                                                                            But eat
                                                What grew in exile?
                                                               Allergies require the privilege of a homeland.
                                                               SLAVES HAVE NO MORTAL BODIES.
                                       If the cow’s body bleeds its white body,
                                                Then drink
                                                               Even if you must vomit up the house
                                                And field and boat
                                       And lash and thorn and mule and ditch of dead water.
                                                               Are we allowed to be here?
                                                                            What will our Lord brandish or burn upon our heads
                                                For wandering this far away
                                                                                      From our black work
                                       Of making the silver shine? Never
                                                               Call my exile traveling. Maybe
                                                Translation, cow and maggot yoked together on this paper joist
                                                               And how they both churn milk,
                                       Cultivate decay, tunnel through and through
                                                                            Until their bodies, a kind of imagination,
                                                               Lit and light in another.
                                                                                      What mountain have I mistaken for an ox
                                                Trampling a farmer’s son beneath his plough? Look,
                                                                            There in the sky, the ox shot by an angry father
                                                               Or, a crab. Excuse me,
                                                I’ve just learned how to read the heavens
                                                               Which means I am a man
                                                Who takes his erection into a sea
                                                As if driving a tent spike through his own fool head.


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