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Poets and Ambassadors for Conscience
by sam sax

Jan 4, 2020 | Poetry

Hollis Rafkin

sam sax is one of the most dynamic new voices in American poetry. His first book, Madness, was selected by Terrance Hayes for the National Poetry Series, and his second, bury it, garnered the prestigious James Laughlin Award for a second book. Laughlin Award judge Tyehimba Jess writes: “sam sax’s urgent, thriving excavation of desire is lit with imagery and purpose that surprises and jolts at every turn. Exuberant, wild, tightly knotted mesmerisms of discovery inhabit each poem.” sax is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.



after you’ve finished
building your missiles & after your borders
collapse under the weight of their own split
every worm in this
fertile & cursed
ground will be its own country.
home never was a place in dirt or even
inside the skin but rather
just exists in language. let me explain. my people
kiss books as a form of prayer. if dropped we
lift them to our lips &
mouth an honest & uncomplicated apology—
nowhere on earth belongs to us.
once a man welcomed me home as i entered the old city so i
pulled out a book of poems to show him my papers—my
queer city of paper—my people’s ink
running through my blood.
settlers believe land can be possessed—
they carve their names into firearms &
use this to impersonate the dead—we are
visitors here on earth.
who but men blame the angels for the wild
exceptionalism of men?
yesterday a bird flew through an airport & i watched that border
zone collapse under its basic wings.


This poem by sam sax is the ninth installment in The Spectator’s yearlong series featuring leading American poets who address issues of racism, human rights, and exile, among other social themes in their work. The project is curated by Cyrus Cassells, whose most recent book is Still Life With Children: Selected Poems of Francesc Parcerisas (Stephen F. Austin University Press). Used by permission of sam sax.

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