"Every Hard Bulb Stirs": A Poem by Eliza Griswold

Today I share a poem by Eliza Griswold, one that knocked my socks off not long ago when I stumbled across it in Poetry.  And I don't love it just because it's set in Rome.

Inside the Colosseum

Griswold is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary poets.  This poem's killer last line is beautifully set up by all that comes before it, the juxtaposition of the hopeful, the prosaic, the unthinkable:


A spring day oozes through Trastevere.
A nun in turquoise sneakers contemplates the stairs.
Ragazzi everywhere, the pus in their pimples
pushing up like paperwhites in the midday sun.

Every hard bulb stirs.

The fossilized egg in my chest
cracks open against my will.

I was so proud not to feel my heart.
Waking means being angry

The dead man on the Congo road
was missing an ear,
which had either been eaten
or someone was wearing it
around his neck.

The dead man looked like this.  No, that.

Here's a flock of tourists
in matching canvas hats.
This year will take from me
the hardened person
who I longed to be.
I am healing by mistake.
Rome is also built on ruins.

A closer look

In addition to being a poet, Griswold is a Guggenheim-fellowship-winning journalist.  Her reportage and poetry come together in her new book, I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan.  It features her translations of folk couplets composed and passed on by mostly-illiterate Pashtun women.  Griswold was moved to collect and translate these poems by the story of a teenage girl who was forbidden to write poetry, and who set herself on fire in protest.  

*The gorgeous photo of Trastevere at the top of this page was lifted from this website.  I don't know who took it, but I'd give the photographer credit if I could.


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