Kenji Liu’s poem about the 2014 conflict in Gaza is especially poignant to listen to as news of the Palestinian Authority joining the International Criminal Court spreads. Read along as Liu recites “Each Breath Despite the Air” accompanied by accordionist Marië Abe.

Kenji Liu reads “Each Breath Despite the Air” accompanied by accordionist Marië Abe

Each Breath Despite the Air

Kenji Liu

For Gaza, July–August 2014

The explosions you can’t leave behind because they come home inside you.

For peace, a vast prison— anthems as insatiable as missiles;

a concrete room becomes the alias for target. Be a thing.

They are a reduction of they, and you a reduction of you.

A ritual double. A xeroxed spell, pledged to our republics of ravenous.

The autopsy of we, redacted. The official book upheld as if no others exist.

They write love letters at night while white phosphorus embraces neighbors.

War is against being over— the kingdom of perfect, indefinitely closed.

The prison, a toothed vessel for wounds to collect in. Come—heal and destroy.

Shut the windows. Hang black sheets over the sky.

The savagery in hips, knees, soft bone of ear. Forefingers.

It would be easier if we were antonyms. Why do I despise my own hands?

All day and night, the ground swells, raises burn clouds with waists cut.

No sugar in the crook of my neck. Sparrows fall to the sidewalk, stunned.

Myriapods drop from the field guide, defend their decayed point of view.

Human is divided into husk and fly. We were not made to mean anything.

Among the gilled viscera, moisture in the furrows. My hand traces bodies from afar.

In all our dreams, is this the only country?

Kenji C. Liu’s ( writing appears in The Los Angeles Review, Asian American Literary Review, Barrow Street Journal, CURA, RHINO Poetry, Split This Rock’s poem of the week series, and the anthologies “Dismantle” (Thread Makes Blanket Press) and “Orangelandia” (Inlandia Institute). A recipient of fellowships from VONA/Voices, Djerassi Resident Artist Program, and Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, he holds a master’s in cultural anthropology and social transformation from California Institute of Integral Studies. He lives in Los Angeles.

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