sam sax

i’m interested in death rituals.

maybe that’s a weird thing to say.when i say interested i mean,i’ve compiled a list.on it are mourning practicesgathered across time & continents.it’s long & oddly comfortinghow no one knows a damn thingabout what follows. i won’tshare it with you, only say,evidence suggests neanderthalswere the first hominids to burytheir dead. also, i’ll say theydidn’t possess a written language,which points toward intermentas a form of document. the bodyis ink in the earth. the grave marker,a gathering together of text.the first written languages werepictorial & marked the movementof goods between peoples.i don’t know what to do with thatbut pretend death’s a similar kindof commerce: face stampedinto a coin, what’s left of the bodyin the belly of a bird, two linesthat meet to make a manalive again on paper. i know i know,ashes to ashes & all that dustto irreverent dust. i know everyonei love who’s dead didn’t actuallybecome the poem i wrote about them.their breath a caught fatheredobject thrashing in the white spacebetween letters. contrary to popularbelief elephants don’t actually burytheir dead, lacking the necessaryshovels & opposable thumbs. ratherthey are known to throw leaves& dirt upon the deceased & thisis a kind of language. often the tusksfrom dead elephants are scrivenedinto the shapes of smaller elephants& sold to travelers who might displaythis tragic simulacrum upontheir mantel as a symbol of power& of passage. when i’m gone, make me againfrom my hair. carry me with youa small book in your pocket.

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sam sax is a queer Jewish writer and educator currently living in Brooklyn. He’s the author of Madness, winner of the National Poetry Series, and the two-time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion.

bury it

Middletown, Connecticut

sam sax’s bury it, winner of the 2017 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, begins with poems written in response to the spate of highly publicized young gay suicides in the summer of 2010. What follows are raw and expertly crafted meditations on death, rituals of passage, translation, desire, diaspora, and personhood.

“Reminding us how long, and in what ways, the presumptive rule of heteronormativity has conspired to shame, kill and erase queerness, Sam Sax builds a bridge of sighs to mark the places where boys who love boys have been pushed or driven to jump. Buried inside these turbulent and tragic elegies are the sorrows so often borne in silence by queer or questioning youth. The unearthing and examination of these root causes of untimely death among at-risk kids forms a terrifying necrology, an urgent inquest into the violence perpetrated by a society still harboring hostility toward otherness. What Sax does herein is a holy ceremony, a kaddish that does not mourn but praise.”
—D. A. Powell

“sam sax’s poems are stunning variations on desire and death in our post-postmodern era: desire as death, desire for death, the death of desire. Yet even as he buries our many lost to the ravages of AIDS and cancer and suicide, he resurrects them, in deeply moving elegies that reject sentimental praise, in reliving encounters with them that pulse with the erotic, in language that is at once plain and reverential. We are thus immersed here in the mysteriously human, as even the technologies we seek to explicate ourselves and our world are revealed and embraced as themselves ultimately inexplicable. sam sax has created an astonishing poetry that is at once a grim meditation on mortality and yet a hymn to the glory of being alive.”
—Rafael Campo

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