Poem: Lost in America

“Lost in America” is a poem of powerful juxtapositions. It has the appearance of prose, yet through anaphoric repetition, it creates a rhythmic experience closer to sacred and liturgical poetry. Its litany-like structure invites participation. Readers might find themselves absorbed into the poem’s pattern of thought, filling in lines or naming the repeating atrocities, banalities and insults of American life. Then, once the pattern has been set and law laid down, the poem turns away, breaks its own rules, evades expectations. No more hypnotic spell, no more filling in the blanks. The poem shakes us awake and demonstrates another, more liberatory way of getting lost, enacting and preserving the fugitive possibilities of “healing from the law.” Among becomes against. Selected by Anne Boyer

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

Lost in America

By Nikki Wallschlaeger

Among the killings. Among the permits. Among the dull transparency.
Among the hunger. Among the family beyond my reach. Among the
labor pool. Among that type of bread. Among the registered voters,
among the paperless statements. Among the eye of the beholder. I’m
lost among your ethics. Among New World glossaries. Among the
pages of windows. I’m lost inside your mesosphere on what’s toxic
and what’s not — in America. I am certainly lost at the political match.
Among recurring wars no one dares to injure on the ride home.
Among the ink tracking, MY GOD, new moods helping to reimagine
a world beyond the sunrise. Among the maps they used to leave in our
hair. “Celia got away, bad hip and all.” Among electronic billboards
jammed with the Black faces of runaways, don’t call this toll-free
number if you see her armed and dangerous, healing from the law.
Among marijuana fields owned by the same old same old. Against the
embargo of time.

Anne Boyer is a poet and essayist. Her memoir about cancer and care, “The Undying,” won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction. Nikki Wallschlaeger is the author of three books of poetry, including “Waterbaby” (Copper Canyon Press, 2021). She taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2021-22. Her fourth book of poems, “Hold Your Own,” is expected from Copper Canyon Press in 2024. She lives in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin.

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