'Letter Home'

Cover of 'Slow Fire'

"Letter Home" is from Pamela Alexander's fourth collection, Slow Fire. In the introduction to her book Navigable Waterways, a Yale Younger Poets selection, James Merrill wrote, "This poet works elegantly, unpredictably, without teasing... Her subjects — heat, air, sex, trees, the peerless dog Pfoxer — [can be] impeccably democratic."

To mark National Poetry Month, NPR.org is featuring a series of newly published works selected by the Academy of American Poets. Learn more about this and other titles at the academy's New Spring Books list.

"Letter Home"

Pamela Alexander


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.

Books Featured In This Story

Slow Fire

by Pamela Alexander

Paperback, 96 pages |


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Slow Fire
Pamela Alexander

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