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02-11-2019

Kazim Ali

Letter
to Zephyr the West Wind, from the once-boy Hyacinth—

 

Unhook each point from the silver-backed sky.

Unfasten the buttons of my winter jacket and petal me.

 

Dear fickle once a year wonder, reach for me even now, will you,

but know my stem wanders lightward even as your gusts thrust

into the soil reaching me. Rage in your comely way but know

you arrived every year on his heels, that yellow timeless fire-starter

who shone madly on me even in the cold months. Perhaps I lack

vision, lying with the wonder that arrived first but I thought only

to master my mother’s ken. Take comfort then that I know

it was you who invented me, made beautiful my ruin.

 

More than merely warm me, you murdered me into music.

You killed my fearful youth and brought me to flower.

 

Checkpoint

 

“I do not know” is stamped indelibly on my passport so I am marked always for further interrogation.

 

Adam, the first man, asks me again and again “What are you doing in our country?”

 

I tell him, “My intention was to go to the city called Hill of Spring and paint my nails gold.”

 

Risen again from the ocean floor the rocks declare a state of emergency.

 

He asks me again and again as if my answer would change so each time I try to change it.

 

“I come to dress myself in the salt of the sunken sea.”

 

Wild fires leap from tree to tree, an arboreal uprising.

 

“I come to write my name down in the peals of bells sealed in a crease of the still fallen wall.”

 

His army has learned twenty-six different words for “no.”

 

Water shrinks back from its table in shame.

 

 

Letter to the flower Hyacinth from Zephyr the Once-Wind

It should be a letter

To the man inside

I could not become

 

Dressed in yellow and green

the colors of spring

So I could leave death

 

In its chamber veined

With deep ore

I’ve no more to tell you

 

Last winter I climbed

The mountains of Musoorie

To hear frozen peals of bell and wire

 

A silver thread of sound

Sky to navel

Drew me

 

like the black strip

in a flower’s throat

meant to guide you in

 

I lie now in winter

open-petaled beneath Sirius

and cereus bloom

-from Inquisition, Wesleyan University Press 2018, selected by POW Spring 2019 Guest Editor, Vandana Khanna

PROMPT: Write a poem in which you are interrogated. By a gatekeeper. By a friend. By yourself. It could be anyone, anywhere.

BIO: KAZIM ALI was born in the United Kingdom to Muslim parents of Indian, Iranian and Egyptian descent. He received a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Albany-SUNY, and an M.F.A. from New York University. His books encompass several volumes of poetry, including Inquisition, Sky Ward, winner of the Ohioana Book Award in Poetry; The Far Mosque, winner of Alice James Books’ New England/New York Award; The Fortieth DayAll One’s Blue; and the cross-genre text Bright Felon. His novels include the recently published The Secret Room: A String Quartet and among his books of essays are the hybrid memoir Silver Road: Essays, Maps & Calligraphies and Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice. Ali has taught at various colleges and universities, including Oberlin College, Davidson College, St. Mary's College of California, and Naropa University. He is currently a professor of Literature and Writing at the University of California, San Diego.