Changing Places in the Fire by Li-Young Lee
What’s The Word! she cries
from her purchase on the iron
finial of the front gate to my heart.
The radio in the kitchen
is stuck in the year I was born.
The capitals of the world are burning.
And this sparrow with a woman’s face
roars in the burdened air — air crowded with voices,
but no word, mobbed with talking, but no word,
teeming with speech, but no word —
this woman with the body of a bird
is shrieking fierce
in the swarming babble, What’s The Word!
is the year of my birth.
The country has just gained its independence.
Social unrest grows rampant as the economy declines.
Under a corrupt government of the army and the rich come
years of mass poverty, decades of starving children
and racially-fueled mayhem. Word is
armed squads raping women by the hundreds. Word is
beheadings, public lynchings, and riots. Word is
burning, looting, curfews, and shoot-to-kill orders.
And word is more deadly days lie ahead.
Today, tomorrow, and yesterday, the forecast calls
for more misery, more poverty, more starvation,
more families fleeing their homes,
more refugees streaming toward every border.
(this is part of the poem's first section. The entire poem can be read or
listened to on the Poetry Foundation website.