Featured Poem: “The Morphology of Compassion & Indifference”

The Morphology of Compassion & Indifference

Gusts of wind rough up the white hibiscus on the lawn.
Petals tear. The sky looks sad enough to rain.

Leaves rustle requiems for flimsy bird bones
& under a sleeping pigeon’s wing huddles a sliver of silence.

Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo: There is peace
even in a storm. The heart of man, like the sea, hides storms, tides & pearls.


Why does the sea beat itself senseless on rock? Eternity drips
like a leaky faucet. God & little blossom trees bravely try

to manufacture beauty—whether fine art or
cheap mimicry. But look at van Gogh, Pound, Plath:

passion is dangerous business & can induce lunacy.
Akira Kurosawa said, In a mad world, only the mad are sane.

Shadow soils the air’s gown. Is there no soap
strong enough to wash out darkness? The moon,

like an Afghan woman, wraps up in thin blue veils.
If the sun covered her face like that, it would always be night.


Prayers burn deep inside the throat like votives.
Identity is a peg on which we hang our time.

Plumber Juan Ruiz was arrested in Spain for charging
to keep the devil out of people’s sinks & drains.

Souls bend easily like coat hangers. Dreams are pollen,
their weight nearly imagined. People collect love

like lint, then throw love out, even if it sticks.
Bodies can’t stop playing dress-up with dust.


Is there a language untouched by hate?
Who hears the apology of the rain,

the pizzicato of spider feet playing cobweb harps
up in heaven near the ceiling?

Who notices that grasshoppers pray summer sacred
or that pebbles are soft like a child’s wrist?


The sun’s lips kiss earth goodbye so fervently they bleed.
The moon rises, a dispassionate saint.

Chinese poet Li Po, journeying by boat, tried to kiss
the moon’s perfect reflection, fell overboard & drowned.

Unflinchingly, the lepidopterist sticks pins through butterflies.
Clouds keep mounting each other, procreating like rabbits.

Dwell on the beauty of life, said Marcus Aurelius. Watch
the stars & see yourself running with them.

But though stars sparkle with glory, they are dead
& don’t know anyone’s story.

Paradox operates on the same finely crafted hinges
as books & butterfly wings, opening inside out.


This poem first appeared in Carrying the Branch: Poets in Search of Peace, Glass Lyre Press, 2017.

Nynke Passi was born and raised in the Netherlands. She is creative director of an undergraduate creative writing program and director of the Luminous Writer literary center. Her work has been published in various literary magazines and anthologies, including The Gulf Coast Review, The Anthology of New England Writers, and River of Earth and Sky. Together with Rustin Larson and Christine Schrum, she edited the poetry collection Leaves by Night, Flowers by Day. Her story “The Kiss” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her essay “Oom Ealse and the Swan” was a finalist in The Missouri Review’s Editor’s Prize ’14.