Pamela Alexander

from Slow Fire


I can't write you because everything's
wrong. Before dawn, crows swim
from the cedars: black coffee calls them down,
its bitter taste in my throat as they circle,
raucous, huge. Questions with no
place to land, they cruise yellow air
above crickets snapping
like struck matches. My house on fire, crows

are the smoke. You've never left me.
When you crossed the river you did not
call my name. I stood in tall grass
a long time, listening to birds
hidden in reeds, their intricate songs.

The grass will burn, the wrens,
the river and the rain that falls on it.
I can go nowhere else: everything
I cannot bear is here.

I must listen deeper. Sharpen my knife.
Something has changed the angles
of trees, their color. Do not wait to hear
from me. I cannot write to you
because this is what I will say.


Letís build a house.
Letís build a bigger house.
Letís build a hundred very big houses
in rows. No, closer. Okay, letís

sell them to each other, build
another bunch. If we turn
outdoors inside out,
weíll be in. Did you
say something?

Outdoors needs doors.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan.
A manís home is his palace, I mean
a personís house is his/​her palace.

The outdoors is great. Look at it
through this window.
It goes well with the rug doesnít it?
Do you think we need to change

What did you say?
I thought I heard something.
I thought we had a deal.
Youíre not sold on this one?

Wait. The voice is louder.
Voices. Do you think they
want to buy? Maybe--
not. Theyíre saying something
that sounds like earth,
something that sounds like war.

Selected Works

Slow Fire
Slow Fire's poems are both deeply human and attuned to the earth itself.
Witty and profoundly serious, Inland looks at human life and wildlife with scrupulously accurate imagery.
Commonwealth of Wings: An Ornithological Biography
Combining the best of poetry, nature writing, and biography, Pamela Alexander in her book-length poem brings to life John James Audubon and a world not yet aware of nature's limits.
Navigable Waterways
Selected by James Merrill for the prestigious Yale Younger Poet series, this book is unfortunately out of print.

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