In his writing, Philip Metres probes the violence of empire and the work of justice on entangled scales, from self to family to world. In “Fatherhood, Insomnia, Imperial Tears,” Metres draws together parenthood, invasion, and empire—illuminating their crossings until it becomes impossible to trace a discrete source. The sonnet—a form which has historically been used to exalt the idealized body of the beloved—is here repurposed, putting the very question of idealization up for grabs. By the poem’s end, we are returned to a familiar story such that it feels strange: Has that brutality been here the whole time?

– Claire Schwartz


Fatherhood, Insomnia, Imperial Tears

This child’s cry slithers its splintering need
-les into my every nerve and widens

like the final moan of a battered amp
when the show’s over. To love a baby

is to restrain the urge to bury it 
inside a wall, to throw it through windows— 

anything to stop its invasion. No 
rocking, no breast milk, no walking will stop

the infant barbarian’s imperial tears.
Fatherhood. Insomnia. Fear. She wants

to burrow inside again—by voice alone, 
she does. As in the tale, the prince awakens

in woods, bell-headed, the whole golden realm 
fallen into someone else’s tiny hands.



Philip Metres is the author of Shrapnel Maps (2020), The Sound of Listening (2018), Pictures at an Exhibition (2016), Sand Opera (2015), etc. Metres is a two-time recipient of the NEA and a three-time recipient of the Arab American Book Award.