Neil Aitken is the author of The Lost Country of Sight which won the 2007 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and was published by Anhinga Press in Fall 2008.  His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times and has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, The Drunken Boat, Ninth Letter, Poetry Southeast, Sou'wester, and elsewhere. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Neil grew up in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and various places in the western parts of United States and Canada. He holds an undergraduate degree in computer science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of California-Riverside.  He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Southern California.  When not writing poetry or designing websites, Neil serves as the editor of Boxcar Poetry Review ( an online literary journal he founded in 2006 which is focused on publishing poetry and showcasing reviews and interviews pertaining to first books of poetry.

In the Long Dream of Exile

You are counting the dark exit of crows
in the rear view mirror, or from the top of an overpass
looking back into the last flames of cloud.
Your car, steel to the world of flint, rests listless
with its windows wide, the stars slipping in
and settling down for the night.

Now, what you could not leave rides in boxes
heavy with numbers and places you've already
turned into poems. There is nothing left
in your pockets, your clothes worn down
to this list of miles taking you out of the known earth.

Outside your open window, the dark repeats
like the wind in late fall, twisting the names
of familiar back roads into a long rope of sighs.
You could lower yourself down with such longing.
It could be a woman or a young girl, the way the light
clings to that body like a sheet of immaculate heat,
invisible to the eye, but something, you are certain,
something that must be on the verge of love.

first appeared in The Drunken Boat  (

Forgetting to Fill Up in Saskatoon

We ran on empty for an hour,
three boys in a borrowed car,
miles away from anywhere
but these dead farm towns
without street lamps or oil.

Just burnt out gas stations
and the low moans of cattle
shifting in the dark.

Dry as December, we coasted
all the way home, whispering prayers
and holding our breath as if to lighten
the load till the faint lines of the city
rose at the edge of our view,
like the far off fires of a familiar shore,
and we pulled ourselves in
as weary men, tired of the sea.

first appeared in Prairie Poetry (

All the Names of Children
and Homes We May Never Know

In her blue-skinned letter, folded in thirds,
she wants to know why the world unfolds
in a way that leaves us on opposite coasts
stuttering in inked pages and uncertain hope,
with the wide back of America between us.
And though she tells me of her brother
born again upstate, in this time for robbery,
and her father found, thought dead for years,
now living outside their old village by the Mekong
with a new wife and six kids I want only to hold her
closer than this, to wonder at her anger and awe
that burns like a brand against the skin. Give it time,
I want to whisper in the ear of the one I might love.
Even the bamboo has forgotten the napalm at last.
Each arch of a word on the page is only a small temple,
or perhaps, at best, a makeshift boat of plank and reed
in an endless surge of ink. Held against the light,
I want to believe some trace of her fingers remains
caught between these lines. Something I can gather
like stones from a river, whatever love carries
in its small unyielding tides, the earth breaking wide
from the moon. The trees bent at the water's edge.

first appeared in MiPoesias (
Poet Neil Aitken

2008 Neil Aitken

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