Where There’s a Wall

Joy Kogawa

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Where there’s a wall

there’s a way through a

gate or door. There’s even

a ladder perhaps and a

sentinel who sometimes sleeps.

There are secret passwords you

can overhear. There are methods

of torture for extracting clues

to maps of underground passages.

There are zeppelins, helicopters,

rockets, bombs, battering rams,

armies with trumpets whose

all at once blast shatters

the foundations.

 

Where there’s a wall there are

words to whisper by loose bricks,

wailing prayers to utter, birds

to carry messages taped to their feet.

There are letters to be written —

poems even.

 

Faint as in a dream

is the voice that calls

from the belly

of the wall.

Joy Kogawa, “Where There’s a Wall” from Woman in the Woods. Copyright © 1985 by Mosaic Press Publishers. Reprinted by permission of Mosaic Press Publishers.

Source: Woman in the Woods (Mosaic Press Publishers, 1985).

Dive in: 
  1. In this poem, what are some examples of what the wall can represent metaphorically?
  2. Why might the speaker of this poem search for things to “overhear”in walls?
  3. Notice the shift in tone and in images from the first stanza to the second. What progression is happening in the description of the possibilities contained in the wall between the two stanzas?
  4. “Belly of the wall” is very strange phrase that connects the wall to something human, at least animal. What if the poet wrote “mouth of the wall”? Or “heart of the wall”? How does the use of “belly” shape your understanding of the poem?
  5. This poem has some elements of repetition in it in both single words and phrases. How might that translate into a recitation? Would you say them in exactly the same way each time or would you vary each use slightly?
  6. The poet chose to write about walls, but think of another construction in a building that can also be used metaphorically (e.g., a window, a floor, a door). Write a poem exploring that metaphor in the same style as the current poem. Your can even replace the word “wall” with that element and then see where your imagination takes you. For example, write a poem entitled “Where There’s a Window” or “Where There’s a Door” or “Where There’s a Floor.”

 

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To see how various poets have used a wall in different ways, read these poems:

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