National Poetry Month Day 7: Brandon Shimoda





The Bell


it began to rain
and did not stop

it stopped raining
then started again

the rain slid underneath the skin
that held the desert together

and the people, together

it rained for the span of each lifetime
of everyone who was living here,
or found themselves living here,
or unable to live any longer,
but unable to leave
it began to rain      six feet away
from where it was not raining

and did not stop

it smelled like slugs
on the bed   I mean
dogs in the street

the average citizen
did not believe
because they could not see
nor could they feel

and division

through which a perversely sober person might pass
like a sleepwalker through a curtain


then a bell rang
all night It rang all night

No one slept But listened
to the bell

by empty urgency

No one could be saved
by a dream

Everyone plunged into
the least suggestive aether

The bell was murmuring   was a seam
torn open

it was windy The fence flew back and forth

the bell held to the world
by a bookmark, blank,

banging against the skin
of its echoes

The bell stopped   was regrouping

the soul   over the neighborhood
crushed against
the fibers of a nest

bled into the riverbed

and yet without supplication

slipped out of the skin
It blew against

Who is it
Who is at the gate
Who is at the door

Someone who is hungry
who wants me to be hungry

who brought with them death notifications

Who made it back
I cannot believe I made it back
I cannot believe that I went anywhere and made it back

I should not have made it back.
I feel like I should not have made it back


I put water on for tea
for them. I wait for the water
for them

whose face is it in the steam?

is no water, no steam
no tea
for them

no rest no sleep
I keep them awake

in the middle of the night   is morning
for them, they keep asking
in the form of those closest, with voices

happy new year, is it a question?
is how are you doing? a question

to which I keep answering,

one minute   despair,
the same minute   delirium


Photograph of Brandon Shimoda courtesy of Brandon Shimoda.

Brandon Shimoda is a yonsei poet/writer. His recent books include The Grave on the Wall (City Lights), which received the PEN Open Book Award, and The Desert (The Song Cave). His book on the afterlife of Japanese American incarceration received a Creative Nonfiction Grant from the Whiting Foundation, and is forthcoming from City Lights. More from this author →