Claudel and the Sunday Soaps; Brigadista in Retirement; Sleep Ritual; Rebirths; & Mendacity


Brigadista in Retirement


Every nation teaches itself the myths

of its survival. Fantasy, harnessed,

feeds the impulse to die for la patria,

and then the war is over. In the after-

glow of dizzying celebration, a purpling

sky at dusk, or the soft glow of low-

powered street lights, the product 

of communal sharing is a kind of comfort.

But the body will not wait. It will

grow and swell, and the babies

will come howling into the world. 

So, on days when the mundane weighs

her down, Alicia, former bodyguard

of the Commander of the Eastern March,

silences her home, ties her red scarf

around her head, and watches the rally 

of warriors chanting into the sky—

it is enough to be transported

to the sensual elation of triumph

by the chants. She is silent, it is

true, while the baby on her lap

gurgles, fingers her lips and cheeks.

But look into her eyes and see the glow

of desire. It never leaves the body,

never disappears from the soldier’s heart.






A man called Walter Benjamin said in 1936

that these are the true storytellers: the farmer

seeding the earth with myths of belonging,

and the seafaring, port-hopping whoremonger

trading in tales from dull lands demanding

the exoticism of storytellers to other dull lands.

Ah, poor man, he did not know the pathology

of storytelling is the intoxication of lies;

the helixes in our cells will always imagine

beginnings and invent futures. This is

the art of stories. Or better put, they are

about our hunger to be loved, a hunger

we assuage by creating the myths 

of necessary presence—I stand here 

with a mouthful of tales which

I will share like slivers of succulent

fruit until they turn to dreams

of me deep in the night. All beauty will

be marked by the first and last meals—

the fruit of knowledge and the bread

and assuaging wine of betrayal. 

We forget this sometimes to survive,

but it stays under our skins; it stains

everything. This is the envelope I mail

out each day—it is full of the sweet lies

of my deepest, most alarming truths;

and they will be read each day. They will

stay inside our cells, in the way

that only contagions can stay, like the farmer’s 

seed of belonging, like the exotic 

futures of the old seafarer.


Kwame Dawes is the author of twenty-two books of poetry, most recently Nebraska (University of Nebraska Press, 2019), as well as numerous books of fiction, criticism, and essays. He is Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and teaches at the University of Nebraska and the Pacific MFA Program. He is also director of the African Poetry Book Fund and artistic director of the Calabash International Literary Festival. His many honors include an Emmy, the Forward Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the Windham-Campbell Prize for Poetry. In 2021, Dawes was named editor of the nationally syndicated “American Life in Poetry” column.