A Poem in Under a Warm Green Linden

I invite you to read my poem in the latest issue of Under a Warm Green Linden, an online journal with a long and lovely name that plants trees. My poem is titled “This Old House” and it was partly inspired by a certain 1980s TV show on PBS that was hosted by Bob Vila. Well, at least, that is the conceit. I don’t want to perpetuate gender stereotypes here, but based on my anecdotal experience sharing it on Twitter, I’ve noticed that this poem resonates most with dudes. Whatever your gender, thanks for reading. Click on the little button and you can hear me read the poem rather dramatically as well. -Safia

P.S. Did you know that Linden trees are edible and soothe a sore throat? I just learned that.


Three Poems by Safia Jama in BOMB Magazine

field of petalsBOMB 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.



Letter to Liu Xiaobo


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). 

Liu Xiaobo

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.

Yours truly,

Safia Jama


New York City



My Conversation with Howlarium

about childhood

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.cropped-lady.jpgRead the full story, Go into Yourself: A Conversation with Safia Jama.

Eleven Years Late

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

a space

to mourn your loss

and shed your tears;

a grief neglected

must be paid in arrears.


Now we walk around the edges

and peer

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