Well Versed

For National Poetry Month, we present some Reed poets who explore identity and social justice.

April 26, 2021

This year marks the 25th anniversary of National Poetry Month, the largest literary celebration in the world. To celebrate the occasion, we invite you to read and listen to this selection of poems by Reed alumni whose work explores topics of identity and social justice.


I see my mother, at thirteen,
in a village so small
it’s never given a name.

Monsoon season drying up—
steam lifting in full-bodied waves.
She chops bắp chuối for the hogs.

Her hair dips to the small of her back
as if smeared in black
and polished to a shine.

She wears a deep side-part
that splits her hair
into two uneven planes.

They come to watch her:
Americans, Marines, just boys,
eighteen or nineteen.

With scissor-fingers,
they snip the air,
point at their helmets

and then at her hair.
All they want is a small lock—
something for a bit of good luck.

Days later, my mother
is sent to the city
for safekeeping.

She will return home once,
only to be given away
to my father.

In the pictures,
the cake is sweet
and round.

My mother’s hair
which spans the length
of her áo dài

is long, washed, and uncut.

—Cathy Linh Che ’02
From Split (Alice James Books, 2014)

■ ■ ■


May we not be detained before we exchange
our many wearied feet for the paper of wings.

Instead of a wall let there be a chrysalis, emergent
shell our bodies make so we may safely eclose.

A barrier by any name scars the liminal, milkweeded ground
where our dead dissolve and the river eats our thirst.

Do not come with your slice of machines, your monster
of unscalable steel morphing in our hammock of trees.

Let our liquid imaginal cells become the possibilities
of color unfolding as we reassemble what makes us whole.

Let not the land be divided, nor the silken clutch of our
bodies, nor our hearts that hang and twist in the fight.

After the border wall construction at the site of the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, in February 2019. The Center is home to 240 species of butterflies and is situated across the threshold of the U.S./Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley along with several other sacred sites and endangered wildlife habitats.

—Brittney Corrigan ’94
From Breaking (WordTech Editions, 2021)

■ ■ ■

Only the footed teapot’s shadow

on the wall dismantles its truth, its rigid
stance and military-medal-silver
muted in the bounty of the skylight
flecked with pheasant foot-stains from nightly rain.
Its handle forms the shape of a perfect
heart, if there is such a thing, and between
breath of Konya and bloodbath of empire,
furs of sable, mink and squirrel, and the
soft grasp of a baby around the planet’s future,
there are names for the divine in every tongue.

—Shadab Zeest Hashmi ’95
Excerpted from “A Glass of Tea, a View of the Atlas” (2018)

■ ■ ■

Party Poem

Celebration is a peculiar thing when the darkness
comes swirling in like a cosmic soft serve.

I don’t know what birds will call to my sons
or how they will know an omen from a climate refugee.

Perhaps, in the end, migrations are the only signs
worth reading. I spend every meteor shower wishing

they will see a path unfolding. I take them
to the woods to practice. See here, the faint trail,

lined with fiddleheads. Fiddleheads, I tell them,
are ancient. They have been here almost forever.

We are throwing parties as if they were
bread crumbs for the way home. As if doom

wasn’t the sure end to our feeble, human story.
I can’t stop loving glitter, no matter what

the science says. My teenage brain remembers
too well the ecstasy-rendered world. I must

keep my joy where I have it. My heart wanders
and returns. It outruns coyotes and owls. It rides

out a thunderstorm in a gulley. It knows
where to come when it is hungry. I feed it

descending arpeggios and your steady,
sailboat faith. After all, we were only animals.

Forgive us, boys, we were caught in our own

—Ambalila Hemsell ’09
From Wildness: Eco Folio (April 2020)

■ ■ ■

May the Tree of Life Synagogue Always Keep Their Doors Open to Refugees

Standing here in Boston Common
Happy kids’ voices trickling over from the playground

The imam tells us not to fear each other
The reverend tells us she will poke holes in the darkness

I am aware of how vulnerable we are
Despite the police flanking the Parkman Bandstand

Anyone here could be like that
madman in the shul in Pittsburgh

But we came anyway
We who believe this country

may someday yet live up to its ideals
We came here

We said kaddish together
We sang together

Darkness cannot drive out darkness
Only light can drive out the darkness

Some days we seek out light made by others
Some days we must make the light ourselves

—Eve Lyons ’95
From Tikkun Olam: Repairing the World (Turning Point, 2020)

■ ■ ■

A Ghost Tale of Two Cities

“A Ghost Tale of Two Cities” 

—Ken Yoshikawa ’12
From Nailed (November 19, 2018)
 Monster Colored Glasses (Lightship Press, 2019)

Tags: Alumni, Books, Film, Music, Diversity/Equity/Inclusion