A n n e   W a l d m a n :   K e e p i n g   T h e   W o r l d   S a f e   F o r   P o e t r y

N a p a l m   H e a l t h   S p a :   R e p o r t   2 0 1 5 :   S p e c i a l   E d i t i o n






Not Your Neighborhood

for Anne Waldman,

poet of poets.


It’s not your neighborhood at first but a street

across town where balconies of flowers

become grotesque fragments

trampled in choking dust. Another family’s children

maimed or dead. Another searching

for shelter. Where are they? Right there and then

everywhere as the last slivers of silence disappear.


Your side of the city falls, landscape of rubble, work

and school are lost, then water and food.

And now you are walking, walking

with what you can carry

and every day you carry less.

Direction your only friend, its destination

enveloped in something you once called hope.


The rest of the world—those families who still have

clean rooms with televisions parsing

the nightly news—sees the face of a small girl

with large eyes, her curls reach mid-thigh

of the adult beside her, who is beyond the frame.

They are moving north and west. You are

moving but not as fast


and the small girl with large eyes is not what it takes

to wake a complacent world. So another

picture tries: a man gently lifting

the body of a dead child from the sea.

In minutes the image gets a million likes,

instagram attention from those

who watch in warmth from rainproof homes.


Tens of thousands crowd rubber dinghies or creaking

boats, follow rail tracks, storm borders,

escaping countries dissolving in blood and dust,

carrying those who cannot walk, pushing

wheelchairs, pulling carts. Few are photogenic

or speak sufficient English

to muster sympathy on the six o’clock news.


As all sides fight on, countries lose the definition

of country and the thugs remain convinced

they must fight harder, kill more,

destroy memory along with those who live

in its fragile wake. Fight to the finish is a dictate

designed to make sure

everything dies, even the beloved stories.


Twenty-first century paints itself in colors

rent by razor wire, money demanded

by those always ready to profit from misery,

obscure words to be learned,

new tastes to swallow as arms reach out

with woolen gloves and teddy bears.

Exhaustion devours what used to fit perfectly.


Most of the faces aren’t engaging enough,

most of the eyes not large and round.

Most of the bodies are bent, never the best

camera angle, most cannot speak English.

The small girl who is still alive

and the dead child’s body washed ashore

share a heavy load. They labor beyond their years.