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Raena Shirali



As a noun, it's a word that makes most girls I know cringe.
A word whose synonyms-motion, flux, current-
remind me of the Cooper, the Ashley, the steady, continuous rivers
I swam in at sixteen, the first time I ever
wore a bikini. I wonder if those girls
think of a body of water-or just of bodies, of boys
who poke fun at cycles. It gets tricky for me
with the verb. As in to go along with a series of actions
you may not feel totally comfortable with. To move
in a steady, continuous stream toward or away from a certain
vanishing point of action. As in a lover saying "go with the flow"
was sort of his approach to relationships. I have gone with the flow
all the way up to the moment when time
slows & you see the thing you love
being taken from you. Resistance to the flow is often met
with an impression of me as steady, as in going steady, or why
are you so uptight? I went with the flow once
at a party in college & the next day threw away all
of my tank tops, every strappy thing
I could find. Flow can also refer to blood
between legs, to menstrual cycles, to any kind
of wound & what comes from it. As in no blood was spilled
when he stung my cheek but I felt something flow
out of me-steady, continuous. I felt it as I bolted
home, & again when I burrowed into piles of laundry.
We say a poem does or does not flow, that things either move forward
or not at all; fish are carried with the river down or upstream;
there's this liquid motion that's steady, continuous,
predictable. Something that cannot be stopped.

The Downing

The way your apartment windows got that lens flare effect
in early spring. The way umbrellas vomit, turn inside out,


wires screaming for relief. The way on Sunday mornings
your bed was hot with hangover & cold with whiskey stones.


The way I thought of wedding gowns
instead of saris, of bangs & protruding collarbones


instead of bindis & maroon dupattas. The way your face
strained, sweated on a ten speed. The way I forgot India-


wrinkled relatives & garbage trucks with "Horn! Ok. Please"
painted bright red on their front bumpers.


The way you grabbed the fat just under my belly button
& told me to lose weight. The way my mother


scowled under our chandelier, told me to eat
my potatoes-did I not want my potatoes


do I ever eat I'm skin & bones & no
I cannot have another drink. The way I ran up the walkway


over the river, intentioned, unintentioned. The way
I gasped for air & then: black. The way I don't remember


walking ten blocks & bent stop signs & puddles of puke.
The way I woke up looking at the ceiling of an ambulance.


The way a cigarette, loyal, still laid tucked
behind my ear. The way the attending nurse said, "Someday


everything gets better." The way your voicemail greeting said
you'd get back to me soon. The way it stormed


all summer. The way I drank rainwater with the pills,
gagged down PediaSure, became a turbid mirror. The way


I made myself stop singing. The way loving you felt
like swallowing gold.

sweet ocean,

now is not the time to be crooning. you keep upheaving,
leaving rubble in your wake / you make wreckage
of our bones. a building is just a thing / with a skeleton
that doesn't want to hold. you know the orbit
gravity makes of us / holding on to Lover, long
lost, i spin & spin ‘til i am my own
hydrofuge / rid me of your creatures, their
corpses. must you render bodies paler
than when they entered / must you bloat us
past recognition / you are the mouth we feed
with all of our shame / toss the flaming picture
into the wave / watch the ashes fall off
of themselves / can i die yet / can i die

            -from Gilt, YesYes Books (2017), selected by POW Associate Editor Amie Whittemore

BIO: Raena Shirali is the author of GILT (YesYes Books, 2017). A Pushcart Prize recipient, Shirali’s honors include a Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University’s Stadler Center for Poetry, a Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, a Cosmonauts Avenue Poetry Prize, & a “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize. Born in Houston, Texas, & raised in Charleston, South Carolina, the Indian American poet earned her MFA from The Ohio State University. She currently lives in Philadelphia, where she serves as Poetry Editor for Muzzle Magazine, and is on the editorial team for Vinyl

Be sure to check out to see where the poet is performing next. Philadelphia and NYC folks can see her this month, at the YesYes Books Showcase on April 18th, 8pm-midnight at Tattooed Mom's in Philadelphia. Shirali will be reading alongside fellow YYB authors Aziza Barnes, Kayleb Rae Candrilli, Caylin Capra-Thomas, Brandon Courtney & jamie mortara. 

PROMPT: In "flow," Shirali examines the use of a single word in multiple contexts, pulling on its connotations to create a poem that invites us to examine how and when we use this word as well as how we apply it to ourselves and our choices, even our writing. For your poem, select a word with multiple meanings and write your own meditation on its use. If you're in need of inspiration, you might select a word from this list of contranyms to help you get into the "flow." 

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