National Poetry Month Day 25: Kaveh Akbar






In 1975, the People’s Liberation Army attacked the city of Shadian, home to China’s largest population of Hui Muslims. One-thousand Hui were killed and over four-thousand homes were destroyed.

I knew them when they were just
geraniums when they
were still blood-pink ears in a pulsing
womb     grief  requires
only a tongue and a crown ask
anyone ask a bell it’ll answer in
three long wails each louder
than the last      all
breath is a treasure whether
passing through a pipe or singing
surahs in Mandarin especially
that second one

                   the mosque
loudspeaker groans down to the
children or at least groans to
their beds empty today and
perfectly made     it hasn’t
been the present for some
time      the soldiers pawned
their guns for cigarettes
soupbones model
trains      there is dust
where there should
have been halal
barbeque      air
where there
should have been
men      they forced him
to wear a pig’s head
around his neck
will be judged according
to intention
               they forced
him to wear a pig’s
head around his neck


Photograph of Kaveh Akbar © Marlon James.

Kaveh Akbar's poems appear in the New Yorker, Poetry, Paris Review, Best American Poetry, New York Times, and elsewhere. He is the author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James 2017) and a chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, published by Sibling Rivalry. The recipient of a Levis Reading Prize and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, Kaveh is the founding editor of Divedapper, a home for interviews with major voices in contemporary poetry. Born in Tehran, Iran, he teaches at Purdue University and in the low-residency MFA programs at Randolph College and Warren Wilson. More from this author →