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.



Four: 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 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.

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