Christopher Merrill

Christopher Merrill Poems

after practice: right foot
to left foot, stepping forward and back,
to right foot and left foot,
and left foot up to his thigh, holding

A map on which the names have been erased,

A compass pivoting on a black cross,

Sextants dismantled and displayed in a store

Razed and rebuilt in the Jewish Quarter—this is

The screening of the film on genocide,
Designed to build momentum for the final
Lecture at the festival of human rights,
Was marred by the projectionist's refusal

A woman sketching, a man steeped in gin—

Note how the final scene assembling

In the rain shadow of a mountain range

Ablaze from ridge to ridge carries no hint

On the first day the goat climbed to the top branch of the acacia tree and said, The ship sailing to the new world will sink before it leaves the harbor. He stayed there all night, counting the stars in three constellations that he had never seen before, and in the morning he cleaned himself up and said, The fishermen mending their nets will never take to the sea again.

The edifice was complete—the signatures, secret teachings, and sacrificial victims locked in stone, the jewelry, linens, and banners of the vanquished hung from the parapets—when a great wind swept through the city.

When I wake up, I’m still asleep.

And when I get dressed, my clothes are missing.

And when I finish breakfast, I’m always hungry.

And when I walk to school, the street is empty.

How the white horses gallop through the city

At nightfall, when the fog rolls in from the sea

And one by one the street lamps fail to light.


The hammer falls silent, a mourning dove coos in the pigeon house by the olive grove, and in the renovated church the bells ring for vespers

For example, the crack widening in the window of the plane flying over Greenland: crazing is the word used by the safety inspector to describe the mesh of lines spreading from the bullet-sized hole in the plastic through which shine

The canoe had sprung a leak, and so they had to portage to the sea, along a foot path abandoned to marauders from the city. When their guide could not identify the tracks in the mud, the cry of the bird perched in the dead tree behind


There’s no sugar in the Promised Land.

Swear by the olive in the God-kissed land.

I heard your laughter in the jackal’s howl

When the monks chanted in the Psalmist’s land.

O water, be the string to my guitar.

The land's encircled? Follow the evening star.

Christopher Merrill Biography

Christopher Merrill is an American poet, essayist, journalist and translator. Currently, he serves as director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. He led the initiative that resulted in the selection of Iowa City as a UNESCO City of Literature, a part of the Creative Cities Network. In 2011, he was appointed to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. Life and career He was educated at Middlebury College and the University of Washington. He has published four collections of poetry, including Watch Fire, for which he received the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets. He has also published translations, several edited volumes, and four books of nonfiction. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages, and his journalism appears in many publications. For ten years he was the book critic for the daily radio news program The World. He has held the William H. Jenks Chair in Contemporary Letters at the College of the Holy Cross. Awards, fellowships, and prizes Sherman Brown Neff Fellowship, University of Utah (1986–1987) John Ciardi Fellow in Poetry, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference (1989) Pushcart Prize XV in Poetry (1990) Editors’ Award in Poetry, Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry & Prose (1990) Ingram Merrill Foundation Award in Poetry (1991) Readers’ Choice Award in Poetry, Prairie Schooner (1992) The Academy of American Poets Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award (1993) Translation Award, Slovenian Ministry of Culture (1997) Finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Prize (for The Four Questions of Melancholy: New and Selected Poems by Tomaž Šalamun (editor)) (1997) Writers Association of Bosnia-Herzegovina Annual Literary Award, The Bosnian Stecak (2001) Translation Awards, Korean Literature Translation Institute (2003, 2004, 2006) Kostas Kyriazis Foundation Honorary International Literary Prize (2005) Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, French Ministry of Culture and Communications (2006))

The Best Poem Of Christopher Merrill

A Boy Juggling A Soccer Ball

after practice: right foot
to left foot, stepping forward and back,
to right foot and left foot,
and left foot up to his thigh, holding
it on his thigh as he twists
around in a circle, until it rolls
down the inside of his leg,
like a tickle of sweat, not catching
and tapping on the soft
side of his foot, and juggling
once, twice, three times,
hopping on one foot like a jump-roper
in the gym, now trapping
and holding the ball in midair,
balancing it on the instep
of his weak left foot, stepping forward
and forward and back, then
lifting it overhead until it hangs there;
and squaring off his body,
he keeps the ball aloft with a nudge
of his neck, heading it
from side to side, softer and softer,
like a dying refrain,
until the ball, slowing, balances
itself on his hairline,
the hot sun and sweat filling his eyes
as he jiggles this way
and that, then flicking it up gently,
hunching his shoulders
and tilting his head back, he traps it
in the hollow of his neck,
and bending at the waist, sees his shadow,
his dangling T-shirt, the bent
blades of brown grass in summer heat;
and relaxing, the ball slipping
down his back...and missing his foot.

He wheels around, he marches
over the ball, as if it were a rock
he stumbled into, and pressing
his left foot against it, he pushes it
against the inside of his right
until it pops into the air, is heeled
over his head- the rainbow! -
and settles on his extended thigh before
rolling over his knee and down
his shin, so he can juggle it again
from his left foot to his right foot
- and right foot to left foot to thigh-
as he wanders, on the last day
of summer, around the empty field.

Christopher Merrill Comments

Catherine Smith 09 April 2021

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Catherine Smith 09 April 2021

A long ago compatriot of Chris Merrill, I would like to get in touch and say hello.

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Christopher Merrill's poems are gems of poetic literature. We enjoy the verve and the choicest diction of his poems. He moves, motivates and mesmerises. Kudos for his poems here. Dr.Ratan Bhattacharjee

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Christopher Merill's poems are gems of poetic literature. They move and mesmerise any poetic minded readers. They provoke them to thoughts. The choicest diction of the poems show the greatness of the poet's perception and the nice pattern of his poems.

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