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Inspired by this year’s 400th anniversary Shakespeare celebrations, #wordswelivein explores the words we encounter every day and the stories they tell about our lives and communities. The initiative comes to life through live events, social media and text-and-image works by writers from around the world.

Find out how to participate in #wordswelivein.

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I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America

& to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God—
& to God: asleep as Her children kneel in prayer asking to feel the heat with somebody—
& to prayer thrown up in the heat of night’s eternal summer like hands in surrender—
& to hands & hands & hands determined to stop the heat of an AR-15 rifle making them nobody’s child—
& to the rifle flashing its Second Amendment in line at the club—
         community center—
         elementary school—
         movie theater—
         also asking to feel the heat, to dance with somebody who loves—
& to the line of mothers turned rivers by grief of uncertainty—
of waiting for somebody who loves to confirm whether they, like Mary, will outlive their blood—
         whether they will toss out or eat the dinner plastic-wrapped & waiting in the microwave—
& to the blood carried off the dance floor & once segregated bathrooms—
         blood that can’t be given or received—
         blood that must now come from kin that want us dead—
         that wanna dance with somebody who loves only the way they do—
& to the dance we do knowing that being alive has a price—
         that our joy has a price—
         that everything in our bodies, everything our bodies want has a price—
Say you wanna dance until we wake God from this American Dream—
Say you wanna dance until the last song & we begin—
Say you’ll dance with me until we arrive at the door from our suffering—
Say you’ll exit through my mouth or stay with me here, in this moment—
Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

            For Orlando, Florida

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Linguistic Landscape

The first time I said linguistic landscape while thinking of the languages of my childhood, I meant sound, cacophony, an aural geography, but then a linguist friend reminded me of the terrain of signs, typography, written graphs. If I neglect the visual, it is because sound is more fluid, like water, easier to think of as something textural, something that envelops, something to swim through.

In the streets and hills and seas of Hong Kong, I might think of the written language as something through which I wander: a forest of varying echoes and angles, an ocean with waves and currents. Some of the characters recall a sound or swell with meaning, but others are only a wash of familiarity and family, which is to say a feeling as large as anything I can parse. Perhaps the various colors and typefaces layer and weave like the hues and angles of different dialects in my home, strewn with faded ghosts and heftier shadows. While some words come forward and others recede, all together it is a shelter that holds me, a blanket I feel myself wrapped in, a quilt with embroidery and stitching.

In Hong Kong there is the English alphabet as well, a multilingual presence that reminds me even more: how identity and home are boats we weave, how letters and strokes each carry their own emotional atmosphere, how a word is not only its semantic meaning but a feeling, a geometry, a texture, a weather.

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I’m thinking about how I do not want to be dead meat
as my daughter howls Crack it under the unicorn piñata.
Here she and each of her friends step forward into the place where
they can break something beloved wide open.  Crack it, she howls,
until one of them connects and the kids dive to their knees
to catch all that crappy loot hidden on the inside. 
Sometimes when I’m broken, I’ll ask God
or my dead grandmother for a sign. At each threshold,
the same invitation.  You, now:  Open
to the air, the wind chimes, the wallpaper. 
Open to these heavy-headed peonies with their unholy
golden mess inside. To this tenderness, that regret,
a book—Open. Really it’s easier than it looks. Holy hell,
babe, as if by magic, we were made for this—to

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I'm not famous

Once, becoming famous meant a lot. I chased fame like it was a white whale that stole my leg, or a great white sale for sapphire silk sheets at 75% off. Along the way to the present, I lost my mother, father, and brother. If I became a famous writer now, my husband and closest chums would be happy for me, but it wouldn’t be the same. Success won’t win my family’s approval from beyond the grave, like I know fame wouldn’t make most strangers embrace me. Yet loss and humbling are gifts of strong medicine. These free you to better see the big picture. Ever notice how bigheaded people have the worst perspective? An inflated ego has ears and eyes only for itself and shrinks everyone else to insignificance. Like a sick god looking down upon dog fleas. I’m not famous, but I’m grateful my heart surges for this world of countless unsung creatures, for all of us: obscure as nameless stars only more luminous and rare.

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Walking the Baby Our Reflection

Is a cyborg shadow in endless unsentenced circles
Is smeared windows is all buckeye petals is all wavy terrain
Is still soft is In Memory Of is What in the World Is
The World is your chemical cocktails in your brain

Is this baby’s first unlabeled months on Earth
Is a vague desideratum only is no Business Hours From
Is his hand his hand holds is a damp stranger
To him is the deep and the face of the waters is Open! Come

Is the picture of the smell of the lilacs is a pane of Gravity
Waves are audible on Earth in the form of a chirp
Is a bluebird is gravity no a bluebird is the elm is Cable TV
Is a Buried Gas Line is a Part-time dishwisher

Is Fresh Young Chicken is The Fire King 
Is the mimic canvas again this afternoon this morning.

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the last bits of horizon appear webbed
linking somesite to othersite: air

a broken url is no substitute for loss                                       it is said                      
letters form contours that fail to say                                        errors scatter server

through cloud in black then white:                                          
it’s all just zeroes and ones separating                                    this tree. this song. midflight
from a bright thing, a pattern, a pink lining,                             a branch
look up to layers of aerosol                                                     filled sky

where large & small particulate matter gather                         undercloud to othercloud
to glue to one side