cover image Pilgrim Bell

Pilgrim Bell

Kaveh Akbar. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-64445-059-8

In this rich and moving collection, Akbar (Calling a Wolf a Wolf) writes poems of contradiction and ambivalence centered on religious belief and ethnic and national identity. Evocative and polyphonic, surprising but never artificially shocking, Akbar’s poems flit from the divine to the corporeal in the same breath. In “Vines”: “when I saw God/ I trembled like a man”—and a few lines later, “I live like a widow// every day a heave of knitting patterns and sex toys.” In “The Miracle,” the poet confesses to himself: “Gabriel isn’t coming for you. If he did/ would you call him Jibril, or Gabriel like you/ are here? Who is this even for?” Within that question lies a tension between cultures, religions, loyalties, and ways of being in and looking at the world. As an Iranian-born American, Akbar does not feel that either of these nationalities can fully encompass his identity. “Some nights I force/ my brain to dream me/ Persian by listening/ to old home movies/ as I fall asleep,” he explains. This impressive, thoughtful work shimmers with inventive syntax and spiritual profundity. (Aug.)