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Poets’ Basement



On the tenth anniversary
some firms from the upper floors
of the World Trade Center advertised their losses
with a list of the dead.

Names catalogued alphabetically:
secretaries next to CEOs,
custodians and law partners brushing letters
with no regard for propriety or consequence.

When alive, many of these folks never spoke,
except perhaps,
to give or receive instructions.

They didn’t divulge arguments with spouses,
activities on weekends, how their parents died,
but instead, subsisted on a diet of small talk,
enforced by the stringent requirements
of social necessity.

They worked
in impersonal cubicles, supply closets
or luxurious corner offices,

They lived
walled into their job descriptions,
dense fortresses of words;  illusion merging
with circumstance.

Only in death are they side-by-side.
names touching names,
our eyes and brains making them one,
truly united now
for the very first time.

Train Through Vietnam

The train shakes like beans in a rattle
but sleep doesn’t come,
the restless grasses, the dark plain,
an evening dotted with cooking fires;
shacks line the tracks, the people sit on broken logs
handmade chairs of wood or molded plastic,
leer, frown, wave or impassively ignore us
as we lumber past.

The night is warm but not soft,
the eternal summer of the tropics enfolds us
in strong, damp hands.

Here, the heavens are always weeping
and those living closest to the earth
have become familiar with tears.

Some of the landmines are still live
the trails around the rice paddies, full of danger.

But now, even the smattering
of Eurasian children
left behind by soldiers
have grown into lives of their own.

Throughout the Third World, countries blend and merge into
one endless track-way, a dusty road, a crossing of
narrow streets, and overgrown fields,
shanties of corrugated iron,
splintered wood or crumbling adobe,
a torn awning, a plastic chair, a corner store
with a few cans of tepid cola.

The train rolls past homes, hobo camps,
fields of death and magnificent temples
at each station disembodied hands reach into windows
to acquire a prize, a memento, a souvenir of another world
just beyond their grasp.

Only the most ancient, lined faces
remember the “American War”
their napalm-infused memories
burned in their brains.

We rumble by rivers where people bathe,
children swim and women wash clothes,
and often these are the same rivers
where sewage from the village pours in.

Some women carry water in buckets
balanced on rods behind their shoulders,
then return to wide-eyed, stick-thin children
with deep and hollow eyes.

Most no longer notice the train
some are looking down at tonight’s meal
others seem to gaze outward toward an
intangible point on the distant horizon.


Our chanting, swallowed by the early hours,
we sang or tossed and turned
on rooftops, on marble floors, on cement
with exhilaration, with trepidation,
each ideal sculpted with determination;
stark, resolute, expansive
beneath a soft, black sky.

Days telescoped, one into the other;
into the boundless energy of inspiration
some nights the past arrived draped in foreign clothing,
on others, it came as an old friend
familiar as our own names.

We huddled together beneath the monument,
the freedom tower,
in the hallowed halls,
the square or the rotunda.

We shouted solidarity! or allah hu akbar!
treasured each new night as our last
and held fast as necessities dissolved
leaving us only a legacy
of imagination.

We shared what little we had,
cared for each other in the ways we knew,
took notes, videos, photographs
to prove that we were here,
and this is how it happened.

For those nights,
we were rewarded beyond belief.
For those nights,
we paid with our lives.

We invented a world without limits,
absorbed the strength of darkness,
haggard and puffy-eyed,
with all our plans laid bare,
we faced the sunrise,
and began again, we did not falter,
we did not sleep.

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Joan Annsfire has lived in the Bay Area for more than thirty years. She now makes her home in Berkeley. 

Her work has appeared: The Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly, Sinister Wisdom: (many issues), The SoMa Literary Review, The 13th Moon, Bridges ,and The Evergreen Chronicles, Lavender Review and others as well as the following anthologies: “The Other side of the Postcard” edited by devorah major,  The “Queer Collection,” 2007, edited by Gregory Kompes, “The Cancer Poetry Project Anthology” edited by Karin Miller,“The Venomed Kiss,” edited by Anita M. Barnard and Michelle Rhea and “Milk and Honey,” edited by Julie Enszer.

Her short stories have appeared in “Identity Envy,” edited by Jim Tushinski and Jim Van Buskirk and the online publication of ReadTheseLips: in both Volume 4 (4 Play) and Volume 5 (Take 5) edited by Evecho and Linda Lorenzo.

In her blog, lavenderjoan, somewhere under the rainbow… the personal meets the political.  

Editorial Note: (Please Read Closely Before Submitting)

To submit to Poets’ Basement, send an e-mail to CounterPunch’s poetry editor, Marc Beaudin at with your name, the titles being submitted, and your website url or e-mail address (if you’d like this to appear with your work).  Also indicate whether or not your poems have been previously published and where.  For translations, include poem in original language and documentation of granted reprint/translation rights.  Attach up to 5 poems and a short bio, written in 3rd person, as a single Word Document (.doc or .rtf attachments only; no .docx).  Expect a response within one month (occasionally longer during periods of heavy submissions).

Poems accepted for online publication will be considered for possible inclusion of an upcoming print anthology.

For more details, tips and suggestions, visit and check the links on the top right. Thanks!

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