As we approach the yahrzeit of the 11 people murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, I am once again seeking models for remembering and documenting that build more just futures. Daniel Borzutzky does just that. The son of Chilean immigrants, Borzutzky was born in Pittsburgh, where he grew up attending the Tree of Life synagogue. Borzutzky’s “Written After a Massacre in the Year 2018”—one of several poems he’s written with that title—extends the possibilities of creation in the wake of brutality. This poem draws together state violence and performances of civility in contexts of violence, exposing them as two sides of the same coin. Meanwhile, the repeated “you” charges the reader with forging an alternative.

– Claire Schwartz



Written After a Massacre in the Year 2018 

You are mended in the locker rooms of the stadiums they dump you in when your body refuses to die

You are mended in Chicago on a beach that refuses to die

You are mended in Cuba on a beach that refuses to die

You are mended in California on a beach that refuses to die

You are mended in Guatemala on a beach that refuses to die

You are mended in Chile on a beach that refuses to die

The corpses of the Americas die their solar-powered deaths every night you refuse to die

You are frozen in the blocks of ice or melted in the sand-holes on the border

The morphine drips through your body      eases the pain in your liver

The life-giving nutrients are jammed into your nostrils

A bureaucrat writes a dream song about the gentleness of the drugs they make you take so the blood will flow sweetly through your body  

The privatized vitamins are jammed into your mouth and your lips are numb from the needles that grow in the garden

This is the state where the dead are restored to their death

This is the shithole song of the anesthetic

This is the shithole song of the corpse that refuses its own body

A bureaucrat walks by      holding a cage for a baby

Which department or agency does the cage belong to

What cage manufacturer has signed the most lucrative contract with the municipality

It is unclear if the baby becomes a corpse before or after it is put in the cage

In the scope of the universe      before or after does not matter

Once it might have mattered but in the blankest of times the laws of the desert and the laws of the ice block are the same

The laws of the bomb and the laws of the armistice are the same

You walk through the pitch black darkness of the surgery room and search for the end of your body

You carry a bag of stones around your neck and the stones are the state that raised you

You carry a corpse around your neck and the corpse is the state that raised you



Daniel Borzutzky is a poet, essayist, and translator. He is the author of, most recently, Lake Michigan, finalist for the 2019 Griffin International Poetry Prize, and The Performance of Becoming Human, which received the 2016 National Book Award. He teaches in the English and Latin American and Latino Studies Departments at the University of Illinois at Chicago.