poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

Recorded for Poem-a-Day February 25, 2019.
About this Poem 

“I was trying to capture the feeling of being complicit in ongoing US military action, particularly in the Middle East, which has been the backdrop of most of my life. I wanted to write about how it felt to be a citizen of a nation seemingly always at war when the war is distant and on a screen, and the ringing distortion I felt while being financially comfortable for the first time and living in isolation in Western New York.”
—Donika Kelly

I Never Figured How to Get Free

The war was all over my hands.
I held the war and I watched them
die in high-definition. I could watch
 
anyone die, but I looked away. Still,
I wore the war on my back. I put it
on every morning. I walked the dogs
 
and they too wore the war. The sky
overhead was clear or it was cloudy
or it rained or it snowed, and I was rarely
 
afraid of what would fall from it. I worried
about what to do with my car, or how
much I could send my great-aunt this month
 
and the next. I ate my hamburger, I ate
my pizza, I ate a salad or lentil soup,
and this too was the war.
 
At times I was able to forget that I
was on the wrong side of the war,
my money and my typing and sleeping
 
sound at night. I never learned how
to get free. I never learned how
not to have anyone’s blood
 
on my own soft hands. 

Copyright © 2019 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2019 by Donika Kelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Donika Kelly

Donika Kelly

Donika Kelly is the author of the chapbook Aviarium (fivehundred places, 2017), and the full-length collection Bestiary (Graywolf Press, 2016), winner of the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for poetry, and the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize.

by this poet

poem
I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs
 
and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead
 
on the harbor beach: one mostly buried
2