by Kazim Ali
a light knocking on the sleep door
like the sound of a rope striking the side of a boat
boats pulling up alongside each other
beneath the surface we rub up against each other
will we capsize in
the surge and silence
of waking from sleep
you are a lost canoe, navigating by me
I am the star map tonight
all the failed echoes
the painted-over murals
you can find your way to me
by the faint star-lamp
we are a fleet now
our prows zeroing in
praying in the wind
to spin like haywire compasses
toward whichever direction
will have us
Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh
by Thomas James
My body holds its shape. The genius is intact.
Will I return to Thebes? In that lost country
The eucalyptus trees have turned to stone.
Once, branches nudged me, dropping swollen blossoms,
And passionflowers lit my father’s garden.
Is it still there, that place of mottled shadow,
The scarlet flowers breathing in the darkness?
I remember how I died. It was so simple!
One morning the garden faded. My face blacked out.
On my left side they made the first incision.
They washed my heart and liver in palm wine—
My lungs were two dark fruit they stuffed with spices.
They smeared my innards with a sticky unguent
And sealed them in a crock of alabaster.
My brain was next. A pointed instrument
Hooked it through my nostrils, strand by strand.
A voice swayed over me. I paid no notice.
For weeks my body swam in sweet perfume.
I came out Scoured. I was skin and bone.
Thy lifted me into the sun again
And packed my empty skull with cinnamon.
They slit my toes; a razor gashed my fingertips.
Stitched shut at last, my limbs were chaste and valuable,
Stuffed with a paste of cloves and wild honey.
My eyes were empty, so they filled them up,
Inserting little nuggets of obsidian.
A basalt scarab wedged between my breasts
Replaced the tinny music of my heart.
Hands touched my sutures. I was so important!
They oiled my pores, rubbing a fragrance in.
An amber gum oozed down to soothe my temples.
I wanted to sit up. My skin was luminous,
Frail as the shadow of an emerald.
Before I learned to love myself too much,
My body wound itself in spools of linen.
Shut in my painted box, I am a precious object.
I wear a wooden mask. These are my eyelids,
Two flakes of bronze, and here is my new mouth,
Chiseled with care, guarding its ruby facets.
I will last forever. I am not impatient—
My skin will wait to greet its old complexions.
I’ll lie here till the world swims back again.
When I come home the garden will be budding,
White petals breaking open, clusters of night flowers,
The far-off music of a tambourine.
A boy will pace among the passionflowers,
His eyes no longer two bruised surfaces.
I’ll know the mouth of my young groom, I’ll touch
His hands. Why do people lie to one another?
Learning to Speak
by Liz Rosenberg
She was the quietest thing I’d ever seen.
It was so restful, being in her company
For hours, neither of us uttering a word.
I’d read the paper, look up, and she would smile,
Her lips half-pursed, just tucked up at the ends
As if holding a blithe secret.
When I fed her, she’d silently nod and smile,
Like immigrants you see
In train stations or in the movies,
She’d take the bowl from my hands
And nod again and smile again
And neither of us would say a word
From sunup to sunset.
When son and husband came home,
Both talking at once, both talking
With their mouths full,
My daughter and I could only look at them
With our dark quiet eyes.
Siddown, she says now.
I sit down
A Reactionary Tale
by Linh Dinh
I was a caring husband. I bought socks for my family.
My swarthy wife liked to wear these thick woolen socks that came
up to her milky thighs.
I had a lover also. People could see me walking around each
evening carrying a walking stick.
My most vivid memory, looking back, is of a pink froth bubbling
out of my infant’s mouth.
Not everything was going so well: one morning, malnourished
soldiers marched down our tiny street, bringing good news.
When good news arrives by mail, the cuckoo sang, tear up the
envelope. When good news arrives by e-mail, destroy the
When an old friend came by to reclaim an old wound, I said to my
oldest son: Go dump daddy’s ammo boxes into the fragrant river.
To reduce drag, some of my neighbors were diving headfirst into a
We were rich and then we were poor. A small dog or maybe a cat
now pulls our family wagon.
| by M. NourbeSe Philip
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