This year at the American Academy, I first finished my forthcoming non-fiction book,The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line between Christianity and Islam. The book is the product of seven hard years of reportage in Africa and Asia, investigating the place where the world is coming apart between the equator and the line of latitude seven hundred miles to the north, in Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia and the Horn of Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Then I worked on my second book of poems: a collection that has grown out of the gruesome tales of shape shifting in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I also took the opportunity to travel to lands of Africa that Rome once occupied—the ancient and recent—in Libya and Ethiopia, where I worked on poems.
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 beneath the most tender flesh.
In my day, 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 this age of self-defense.
Eliza writes non-fiction and poetry. She is the author of Wideawake Field, a poetry collection. Her non-fiction book, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault-line between Christianity and Islam is forthcoming. Her reportage has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, and The New Republic. Eliza’s first collection of poems focused on the landscapes of war and disaster, through which she traveled as a reporter. The second book will represent a turning inward informed by the idea that there are not four, but five, cardinal directions: north, south, east, west, and the center, or the nadir, the space beneath our feet.