New Poetry by Eliza Griswold

You may know Eliza Griswold from her journalism at The Atlantic, The New Yorker, or The New York Times Magazine. Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz around her first nonfiction work The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam.

Griswold is also a noted poet; FSG published her collection Wideawake Field in 2007. There is an unsurprising overlap between her journalism and her verse: both reflect her itinerant nature and an engagement with other cultures. The three poems presented here are all previously unpublished.

Metamorphosis

The mimosa trees misunderstand
the New Year’s heat, and burst
into mustard tufts across the garden—
their premature buds a birth
forced by the earth’s unnaturalness.
Poor trees, like nine-year-old girls
who have to negotiate breasts.  It’s death
pressing up under the most tender flesh.
In this age, most of us feared ours
were tumors, and we were in season.

Long ago, a girl could become a tree.
Daphne’s fingers sprouted twigs;
root hairs branched from her toes;
her torqued curls gnarled into limbs.
She thickened, as we do, in self-defense.

Libyan Proverbs

The naked man in the caravan has peace of mind.
He who has luck will have the winds blow him his firewood.
He whose trousers are made of dry grass should not warm himself at the fire.
He howled before going mad, and led a lion by the ear.
Like the sparrow, he wanted to imitate the pigeon’s walk but lost his own.
Walk with sandals till you get good shoes. Where the turban moves,
there goes the territory. Him whom you do not see, see his companions.
Men meet but mountains don’t.  Always taking, not giving back,
even mountains will be broken down.
Penny piled on penny will make a heap.
Fish eats fish and he who has no might dies.
The small donkey is the one everybody rides.
My belly before my children.  Sons I have not got,
but I have a mess on my clothes. Only the unlucky coin
is left in the purse. As long as a human being lives
he will learn. Learn to shave by shaving orphans.
He who is to be hanged can insult the Pasha.
In the house of a man who has been hanged
do not talk of rope. Much shouting and crowds
over a hedgehog’s slaughter. The funeral
is big but the corpse is a mouse.
I lick my grindstone and sleep in peace.

Sabaudia

The delicate Italian town
preserves its symbols—
its sheaves of wheat and axes
stamped onto manhole covers.
A balcony presses past a worker’s window
in the same crossed shape
of wheat bound by wheat.
Yet the white, weathered farmers
have fled utopia. This block is let
to gypsies and Africans.
The cash crop is kiwis.
All markets are black.
Without meaning to, I file
these facts to show you,
ambassador to a country
that no longer exists.

See Also:

Tours and events for The Tenth Parallel

Reading “Tigers” from Wideawake Field:

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