BOMB Magazine has graciously published three of my poems: “South with Wildflowers,” “Self-Portrait as an Agnes Martin Painting,” and “The Victorian Era.” As for this photo, I took it in the City of New Orleans public park a couple years ago, and this is what inspired the line: “I tend to my fallacies like this field of yellow petals.”
Thanks, as always, for reading.
I wrote this letter three years ago, perhaps misunderstanding our student activist assignment to write letters of protest to oppressive regimes. Reading it now, my words seem so inadequate, especially given the recent news that Liu Xiaobo has died a prisoner of conscience. Did I even send it to the correct address? Likely, not. Was I mostly thinking of myself, my own woes, as I wrote it? Probably so, and struggling with how to reconcile my art with my activism. Reading it now feels a bit like a child’s school report. And yet, writing the letter changed me for the better. Rest in peace, Liu Xiaobo. (1955-2017).
Dear Liu Xiaobo,
I am writing this letter to express my sadness and anger that you have been imprisoned, and also to extend a few humble words of support for your life and work as a poet.
I’m sitting in a café in Greenwich Village with two fellow writers. We met here today to each write letters as part of PEN’s Defending Writers campaign.
I can’t say that I’ve been an activist in my life. And yet, I have made a commitment to a life of poetry. In my mind, that is also a commitment to a life in search of the truth, and bringing that truth out into the light of day.
Wanting to learn more about you, I stumbled upon an essay by Nick Admussen, published in Boston Review a couple years ago. I read the words Lia Xia, your wife: “I have not come to view Xiaobo as a political figure. In my eyes, he has always been and will always be an awkward and diligent poet.”
As I complete my graduate work in the next couple of weeks, I will return to both those words and the poetry you have written. I will strive to be more “awkward and diligent” in my own poetry. I will also draw inspiration from these words, the final stanzas from your poem “Experiencing Death”:
Countless nights behind iron-barred windows
and the graves beneath starlight
have exposed my nightmares
Besides a lie
I own nothing
These lines draw something new into my world. Reading them changes me in some fundamental way I cannot yet understand—the power of lies. To recognize a lie can mean intellectual freedom. It can change a person’s life and a country’s future.
From New York, I send gratitude for your work and urgently call for your release from prison.
New York City
I am trying to remember that feeling of being completely present and alive. Moments of say, turning over a rock and staring at the worm, the roly-poly bug, and just being enthralled. I will admit that I ate junk cereal and watched a lot of cartoons. I loved the Smurfs. Yet like all kids, I had a rich inner life. Some kids are left to their own devices more so than others, and then the imagination flourishes in a kind of benign neglect, like coral reefs that flourished off the coast of Cuba.Read the full story, Go into Yourself: A Conversation with Safia Jama.
We walked all the way downtown,
past the church,
past the policeman’s frown,
’til we neared that cordoned-off,
hollow space, the ashes long
since blown away.
I read a sign that said closed for the day.
And if you wish to visit,
you’ll have to reserve
to mourn your loss
and shed your tears;
a grief neglected
must be paid in arrears.
Now we walk around the edges
through the cracks, and hear
the low rumble
of subway tracks.
The protesters in Zuccotti Park
make a half-hearted cheer;
walking past the firehouse,
I shed 343 tears.
We stand at the memorial’s entrance,
and see the tops of a few trees.
I guess I had hoped
for more than these
hotel bars & blaring TV’s.
I know, I should have called ahead.
Still, I wish there was a place
to go and grieve at odd hours,
without a pass
or an appointment.
September 17, 2012
Muftah Magazine’s Hiba Zayadin writes: “Safia’s poetic style is subtle in nature. There is an unexpected rawness to her otherwise gentle poems that lingers long after you’ve read the last verse.” I invite you to read the full story, which includes a Q & A and five new poems from my book-length manuscript.
Blue whale swallowing the world.
24-hour hotline: Occasional no answer.
We show our wares and want to be well-liked.
This first-born, we place in your blue box.
Walls made of war and Happy Birthday.
Humanity, mashed up with a fork.
This video has no sound.
This sad dog will not go out for walks.
May his tears deepen the intensity of your blue frame.