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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.

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If physical contact can be a metric for human connection, these are the markers I remember:

  • The women who take my hand in careful, casual acknowledgement before buying masa at your sister's window
  • Your mother who silently encircles her small arms around my waist the first moment we meet
  • Your children who slowly allow me to hug them at the end of six full days
  • Your grandfather who folds me into a stiff, emotional embrace the following year, when I near the end of my second trip.

Very little kissing, very few words. Rarely do I feel another cheek pressing against mine. Though, the kids ask me to sleep with them early on. Asleep and unconscious, they throw their arms and legs across my body; the little one's dusty feet caress my face in the early morning before the rooster crows.

Almost always, they want a story or song in exchange for stillness and sleep. I sing the children's songs my mother never sang to me. They hum along with an old Teresa Teng I've taught them, the only one I know the words to.

It's the true stories on the tip of my tongue that we have to avoid—the ones they know intimately and savagely well. The 43 young men from a neighboring town rendered to ash and spark, an old VW bug burning in the center of town, the death 48 hours following a single mosquito bite, their father an old memory, their mother an unnameable ghost.

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May I Call You Paloma?

Pigeon just wouldn’t have the same ring
even if your last name were Picasso.
While you dispense the sacrament of dung
with papal precision, I ascribe thoughts to
that man hawking blank balloons
like a cartoon in search of words. You mate
without taking off your haggard coat.
And we who clog the sky with our calls
as if someone might be up there listening,
should we fear your black-gloved shadows
reaching down to us? Humans build
walls far worse than the one you flout.
Ay Paloma, I’m no dove—marching with my army
into another cucurrucucú-less war.

Gucci Mane Teaches Willy Shakes to Roll &

the trap house starts lookin like a sonnet
they sit on creased porch steps, bootleg quatrain
Mr. Zone 6 don’t translate Ebonics
tumbles weed between a couplet ordained
the volta sways with the squeaky screen door
fingers lace collage of swift syllables
index points The Bard to the corner store
if blood be red, freeze cups be biblical
feet follow the subwoofers, oh faith bass
all pentameters point to the bando
they laugh about publishing, pussy, pace
Guwop wraps sixteen, Shakes lights first candles
Trap God says J’s, The Sweet Swan looks for birds
they long in the same pulse, smoke guts the words

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     It's like we stripped the world for parts, or maybe we just stripped the people. Here, even the psychics are desperate to scrape by. Under PSYCHIC: READER & ADVISOR, WALK-INS WELCOME they've added WE UNLOCK PHONES. They also have EYE CONTACTS.
     One day I saw a sign on the highway that said YOU ARE MY FAVORITE, #1, with a smiley face in a thick circle. A few months later I saw a sign that said I QUIT, with THANK YOU 4 ALL YOUR HELP in a thick circle.
     Here, if you tell a man you're sick he doesn't come over with soup. He doesn’t come over with anything. He doesn’t come over. He watches you from a distance like one watches a lone star in a city-night filled with light pollution – distrusting. Who are you to shine out of the miasma? And what if you’re just a blinking plane, all long? The next time you see him, he’s added another brick to the wall of his face.
     Here, when you fall, you expect the coyotes and lot lizards to pick your bones. IF YOU ARE FOUND HERE TONIGHT, YOU WILL BE FOUND HERE TOMORROW. Burials are for churchgoers and I don’t qualify.
     At night, my dreams are either filled with terror or SOMETHING BETTER. A time better. A place better. Anything better. Sometimes I wake up crying. With joy or bitterness, I cannot tell.

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Reliable Waste

No one is really home but the lights turn on anyway—
no one is really sure what compulsions remain—
but there is the click of the cooktop auto igniter
then the sudden and music-less peal of ice in the shaker

erupts and the dishes pile up in the sink and one by one
like the hairs of my head or like things we could do
to turn ourselves out better they disappear.