American Sonnet for an American Fool

by Anya Razmi

I participated in Hanif’s workshop during Writers’ Fest and it was incredible. One of the main activities he led was an “empathy tree” – in which we discussed characters we found sympathetic or unsympathetic. Not just in terms of whether or not we liked a book – it was characters we honestly had problems with – real, moral problems.

And then we had to write three sonnets (14 lines, 15 minutes), all to the same character and all with the same title, trying to bridge the gap between ourselves and our subject. I chose to write about Huckleberry Finn. Here are my pieces:


Child from the South I guess it is easy for you

to peel skin away like wet cardboard I guess you can only slice

the heel of your arch on beer bottles so many times –

look I know the string was cut

from your grubby hands

afloat like Banksy’s red balloon,

like the way the bones are bleached and strewn across the counter

for the art students to carve.

Sweet fool probably you aren’t sorry.

Probably you’d ride that raft straight into Cotton Kingdom until it drowns, too.

Probably that’s alright. I’ve left an ugly home only to find dust between my toes again

and again and again and again and again and here we are:

child from the South child from your country’s mouth child from the shadow

of your father’s last laugh


There’s something to be said about faking your own death

twice. Something to be said about staking your life

on the bread thrown to the river

to track your bloated corpse, or maybe how you danced to cannon fire:

I can hear it still. Ballads.

You cracked in two on the river bank

You lie like it is scraped from your throat, like you are tattered

and pinned to the dissecting table

You can’t dance with your own skull. I tried, once. Now I don’t quite fit

against the frame of my ribs: living is killing the both of us.

You painted pig blood

on the walls of your tongue –   

I am sorry it didn’t melt

like sugar.


You live in the shadow of Tom Sawyer’s burning house.

You rake your fingernails down his spine: his back always toward

the both of us.

You can’t fill a corpse that is already bleached

of its own blood. He glues stones to his spine

and you think he will keep his raft afloat?

We are alike, you and I. We are the waterlogged.

A tree cracked my playground in two the other day and I blamed it on my sister’s ghost.

I think we are the ghosts. I think we are the tree, and the forest is empty, and when we fall, I am sure we will hear each other crash.

We are the house. We are the flame.

We carry stones in our pockets

and walk into the river,


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