“Broken Sonnets with Apology for Simile” by Sophie Kaiser Rojas

Sophie Kaiser Rojas


after Ilya Kaminsky

Forgive me when I tell you I survive
the year in review. You can’t tell who is
under the stitching of her purpled cheek—
the body a patchwork of all that’s been
torn in her nation. You can’t tell in which
nation a bomb ripped a bite out of her
apartment building, deleting the street
with children still playing in it, crumpled
with the ease of a newspaper. The whole
block reduced to dirt and debris. The road
you can’t tell from the soldier run over
so many times, he’s made part of the earth,
the body a path to everything torn
in his nation. Forgive me: I close the
tab like a door I’ve no fear will be blown
open and switch to my journal, review
my own year. In an entry from camping
abroad, I wrote of the still-familiar
bleed of foreign sunset, of a tent shared
with strangers—how, lying in the dark, we
are no more than the exchange of our air.
I forgot to cross a t, so it reads
like “lent,” which the attempt at religion
in me knows as a sacrifice, or a
promise. A body in sleep is the rise
of a chest. A chest is the cage around
a breath. Is breath what’s promised, or given
up? Forgive us: let their bodies breathe like           bodies.

from Poets Respond
December 31, 2023


Sophie Kaiser Rojas: “It’s the last week of 2023, and the New York Times posted their 2023 Year in Pictures. As I scrolled through their review of a year colored by global conflict, I was shocked by how, without the captions, it’s hard to tell from which of the many wars the images were taken. I also found myself needing to take a break from the article, which left me reckoning with the ease at which I clicked out of the tab. Having recently read Ukrainian poet Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic (essential reading, especially now), I’ve been thinking about the way figurative language has the potential to both embody and reduce an experience. I wrote a villanelle that I converted into a pair of sonnets, which are in dialogue with Kaminsky’s work, as well as with the specific photos and captions by Nicole Tung, Lynsey Addario, and Tyler Hicks. Their pictures document the war in the Ukraine, and they resound hauntingly in the images of the war in Gaza and other violence around the world.”

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