Today's poem is by Quan Barry

Loose Strife

Somebody says draw a map. Populate it with the incidents
of your childhood. Mark the spot where the lake receded
after a winter of light snow. The stairs on which someone
slapped you. The place where the family dog hung itself
by jumping over the back fence while still on the dog run,
hours later its body like a limp flag on a windless day.
Draw a map, someone says. Let yourself remember.
In the refugee camp a hundred thousand strong
draw the stony outcrop from which you could no longer see
the plume of smoke that was your village. Draw a square
for the bathroom stall where Grandpa hid each day
in order to eat his one egg free from the starving eyes
of his classmates, an X for the courthouse where you and he
were naturalized, a broken line for the journey. Draw a map,
Jon says. Let it be your way into the poem. Here is where
that plane filled with babies crashed that I was not on.
Here is where I was ashamed. On the second floor
at Pranash University the people wait their turn. Have you
drawn your map, Jon asks. He has rolled up his sleeves.
Forty-five minutes to noon the Prince stands up and says
that the monks must be excused. We watch them file out,
saffron robes as if their bodies have burst into blossom.
Draw a map. Fly halfway around the globe. Here is the room
next to the library where you realize how poor your tradition is,
the local people with poetic forms still in use that date back
to the time of Christ. Tell us about your map. Explain
how these wavy lines represent the river, this rectangle
the school-turned-prison where only seven
escaped with their lives. This is my map. This star the place
where I sat in a roomful of people among whom not one
was not touched by genocide. Every last map resplendent with death
though nobody knows where their loved ones lie buried.
How many times can I appropriate a story that is not mine to tell?
The woman stands up and says she is not a poet, that she
doesn't have the words. She points to a triangle on a piece of paper.
Here is the spot where she found human bones in the well
of her childhood home, and how her mother told her
don't be afraid because it was not the work of wild animals.

Copyright © 2014 Quan Barry All rights reserved
from Loose Strife
University of Pittsburgh Press
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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