Willy Oppenheim’s “Azan”

This is an amazing poem by an amazing poet. Willy Oppenheim is the winner of the 2013 Oxonian Review Poetry Competition at Oxford University for his poem Ambition, which you can find here. Willy is an American Rhodes Scholar reading for a DPhil in Education at Pembroke College, Oxford. With his permission I will be posting several of his wonderful poems over the next little while.


This is the good light,
the late light,
the grey-blue dark and cold,
the stone walls and snow
and songs announcing prayer.
This is the narrow frozen path
and the winter we belong to.

Coming back last night
I saw snowy road in headlights
and our silent earth from space
and wanted only to do no hurt.
To take it back,
to send a message
of my prostration.

Instead I returned to the smoke
and woodstove and darkened room
where two days before I watched a girl
bleed out under blankets:
pale face, held hands,
sisters spilling tears
and crying her name.
Dark eyes meeting mine.
The limp body brought out to daylight,
the waiting jeep, dirty hospital down-valley.

I come back to say she will live,
and her mother sings fingers to forehead,
gives praise I accept but don’t deserve.

And so I take what is given.
I look out at old rivers
and what valleys they’ve cut
and at night I see moon through clouds
and undress and lay down
as if it is the only prayer I know to offer,
as if pulling up cold blankets
is the best and last thing I’ll ever do.

Azan was written in Pakistan while Willy was there doing research. It is a poem for which I want to weep after every reading, it is so beautiful.

Besides his current studies, Willy is the founder and current president of omprakash, a platform to connect foreign organizations seeking volunteers with people who want to volunteer abroad. Willy is also an avid rock climber, a passion he is looking forward to pursuing in the upcoming year as his academic pressure has eased with the submission of his thesis, which he will defend in early 2014.

If all this sounds like Willy Oppenheim is the pen name of Clark Kent, I’d almost agree, except for the poetry; Superman couldn’t write this well. Happily, however, for us, Willy can. Check back for more of his work over the next few months. I am very grateful and humbled that a talent of such stature has allowed me to present some of his work to you.

Thank you for reading Willy Oppenheim’s “Azan”. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.


The poem Azan is ©2013 by Willy Oppenheim; all rights reserved.


Filed under Poetry

6 responses to “Willy Oppenheim’s “Azan”

  1. Fantastic. Brilliant and real as a reader; daunting as an aspiring writer.

    • Exactly, so well said! It is one of those breath taking (literally) poems that leads you gently into a vice grip of tension and then gently releases you and you are left wondering, “What the hell just happened?!” And so you read it again and it is just as good, no…better, the next time. Amazing! Thank you so much for drawing my attention to his poetry. I am really inspired by it to try and be a better poet.

  2. Barbara Minor

    Wow…this poem brings me to a very still icy place as my emotions are frozen, holding my breath, not knowing what bad thing happened. I feel like I am in this cold land next to the writer…..so struck by what he saw. Thanks John….for sharing so many insightful poems

    • Barbara, oh I so agree! The tension and release in this poem is near tidal in its force. Willy is a very talented young man, indeed and I am very grateful to be able to bring such a work to my blog!

  3. You were right… I loved it John! What a poem. I am reading Kingsley’s The Water Babies to the girls at the moment – and loving and adoring it!!! It’s so wonderful to be immersed in so much perfection. Happy weekend to you.

    • Am so glad you liked Azan…I keep losing my breath when I read it. The Water Babies…a book I have heard of but never read. I hope the girls enjoy it!