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'We Expect You Back': A Friend's Poem For James Foley

Daniel Johnson (R) and his friend James Foley at a friend's wedding in Sept. 2001. Foley was captured and killed by Islamic militants in Syria. (Courtesy Daniel Johnson)
Daniel Johnson (R) and his friend James Foley at a friend's wedding in Sept. 2001. Foley was captured and killed by Islamic militants in Syria. (Courtesy Daniel Johnson)

Poet Daniel Johnson has long tackled difficult subjects.

But his recently published poem “In the Absence of Sparrows” took on a much more personal note.

It’s a poem he penned for and about his friend James Foley, who was killed in Syria by Islamic militants, where he was working as a freelance reporter.

“I turned to poetry as a way to speak to him directly,” Johnson told Here & Now’s Robin Young.

“In the Absence of Sparrows” was published earlier this month by the American Academy of Poets, and details not only Foley’s captivity, but recalls Foley’s earlier, more carefree moments.

The poem’s title was inspired by Foley’s captivity.

“Sparrows are everyday companions.” Johnson said. “In the cramped dark basement where Jim was held, he was cut off from so many things: from bird songs and books and the people he loved.”

“On some level, my hope was that if I could put the right words down, and combine them in the right way, he would return, which is a form of magical thinking,” Johnson said. “But at the same time, it was preparing for his loss, as well.”

'In the Absence of Sparrows' by Daniel Johnson

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