Jim Shaw, “Dream Object (Digestive tract sculpture)” (2007), mixed media, on view at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (photo by Elisa Wouk Almino/Hyperallergic)

Never Again Is Now

never again is now is never again is never is now. & again is never is now is never again is now is now.
is now again is never again again again is now. & now is never again is never & never is never is now.


never bloodwork. never registry. never passport.
never agree to let them search your home.
never go out at night alone. never record them
so they can see a phone recording.
never sign anything without reading first.
never sign anything.  never agree to speak
even if all they feed you is meats that offend your god.
never ask to use the bathroom or have a body
that requires a song.
never give them a reason.
never believe reason has any place here.
never attend the demonstration with your face exposed.
never wear a mask. never trust your neighbor
or believe it’s going to be alright.
at least the worst is behind us they sang on their way to the camps.
never let your suffering isolate you from the suffering of strangers.
never believe history is a finished thing that it doesn’t live
in your very breathing.
everything’s fine—everything business as usual.
never believe a word they say


again laws are passed following an invented crisis
again a nation is manufactured from salt
again riot cops arrive with their faces removed
again a line is drawn by militarized uniforms

again camps are built between two imaginary countries
again our suffering is the garnish on the meat of empire
again it’s business as usual
again a president says the best thing to do now is shop

again my grandmother cannot bear to read the news
again my grandmother shakes her head and crows fly from it
again i write the lawyer’s number on the meat of my arm


is this my country? is this my mother? is this my mouth?
is this my mother tongue? my mother’s tongue?

is this isthmus or ishmael? is this an island i’m trapped on
separated from my people? is this land mine? is this a landmine?

is this israel? is it real? is it really? is israel a state or song
you carry inside you? is it now? is there camps there too?

is this a test? is there a wall or a fence inside me? is this
assimilation? is this the reason police didn’t break up

our demonstration? is this what my grandparents dreamed
of when they fled their country? is the field narrowing?

is it so wrong? is this truth self-evident? is all men created?
is that a light at the end of the tunnel or is that the barrel of a gun?


now’s the hour. now thunder. now is the time for all good men.
now against the wall. now with both hands behind your back.
now write down the names of your next of kin, where they pray.
now is the time. now sign your name on the dotted line. now put
this blindfold on. now go out and shop. now business. now pray
cops. now remember your crossing. now remember your cross.
now call your government mother. now that’s what i call love. now
don’t give your neighbor a reason not to love you back. don’t throw
a brick now. don’t use your body to block a government building.
don’t riot for anything but sport. don’t flood the streets with rage
horses. now history. now history begins. now here at the beginning
of history. now is history beginning again—


sam sax is a queer, jewish, writer & educator. The author of Madness, winner of the National Poetry Series, and ‘Bury It’ winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. He’s the two-time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion with poems published in the New York Times, Poetry Magazine, and Buzzfeed. He’s the poetry editor at BOAAT Press, a 2018 + Ruth Lilly Fellow from the Poetry Foundation and currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

Wendy Xu is the author of the poetry collections Phrasis (Fence, 2017), winner of the 2016 Ottoline Prize, and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013). The recipient of a Ruth...