Five Prayer Fragments
as a child, I would face the east five times a day.
bend at the waist and press my nose into a thick red carpet, overgrown with dust from past summers.
when each prayer finished, I would make du’a,
watch the sun pass over the creases of my young palms and think of who to speak into forgiveness.
the boy who split my lip during a game of 21.
the neighbor who once cursed my father’s name
as I watched his white fist close, a small river of red blood rushing over each knuckle and climbing to his
the woman in the market who blocked the aisle
with an empty stroller, holding a box of cereal in one hand and weeping into another.
about some countries is that not everyone gets a casket
some of the dead
just rest underneath whatever dirt those they left living
can push aside
no one in this country likes to think
about standing on a grave that they cannot see
the feral whisper of death coiled around their legs while they blow a kiss sending a lover off to war
in this country we don’t speak
of who we have buried or how they got there we pretend every death comes with a name carved into a
in an endless field
so that no one can feel themselves sinking into the streets.
& by the third salat of the day you may run out of names to seek forgiveness for & you may feel again
unclean & who comes before any god this much to ask for anything & who has so many sins that no light
will wash them off & here is another du’a in the orange hours of a new sun & still the dead don’t rise & still
I wash my face before answering the call to prayer & I never let the water pass through my nose & I let the
dust from the final summer of my mother’s living gather inside & it grew into a rope of 99 prayer beads & I
pulled it from my mouth for a whole year & pressed my fingers to each one & speaking her name & this is
how I re-learned praying & I am still sorry for everyone who wasn’t forgiven.
I have never killed a man / but I have wished one dead / I have conjured the knife into my own hands / I
have dreamed a wife into a widow / and did not wake up in a sweat / isn’t this the language we speak now
/ the people we can render invisible / so we can have more space / the man calls into the radio and says /
it’s not that I’m afraid of them / it’s just that I have a family, you know / I have to think about my family /
we just can’t let anyone into this country, after all / I think about the mercy / of merely being afraid / and
not feared / I knew this once / when I was small / and knew everything of violence / but nothing of the
ghosts it leaves / I do not wish to kill a man / but I have closed my eyes in the shower / on the day a
mosque burns / and I let the water pass over me / while imagined blood circles the drain.
In the summer, the Midwest prays for rain to wet the earth So that the children can be fed.
No one prays for what comes before the storms.
The swift howl of wind, clouds bright and trembling.
The youngest children, hiding underneath their beds, don’t know what grows their food.
The hand that reaches down and pulls the wheat corpse from its winter resting place.
When a gust of wind summoned by prayer catches a loose door and blows it back, smacking it against a
house’s cracked siding
A young boy only hears:
there is something coming that you cannot survive
Rihanna – Birthday Cake
rarely is it a good idea to tell someone when they have appeared
in a dream that came to you during a long and hot
week. You know, the kind of week where you do not sleep
much, and instead drag your fingertip along the fluorescent
graves. The kind of week where you say how or oh,
not again. This week, the politician on television says that we are fighting
a different kind of war and I wonder if this means
the kind where everyone returns to their homes unburied, a candle
pushed into a sheet of sugar for every year they’ve missed.
I think I’m saying that a different kind of war is maybe not a war
at all, but then what here would keep us up at night.
I shake my worry for the born and unborn alike out
of a pill box and swallow it with a glass of water. And I hesitate
to say this, friends. But when I finally let go and closed my eyes,
I saw all of your faces. Your face, and yours, and perhaps the faces
of all who are reading this now. I remember all of your faces inside of a single
face. It is easiest to play tricks on the eyes this way. When they are closed
and dancing behind their caves. And yet, I know all of you were there,
a lone face rising out of the sweet mud to meet my hands. And I kissed
your forehead in this dream, friends. I asked for forgiveness in one hundred
different ways for the world that I did not set fire to and can still fall asleep
in. And I do not want to tell you everything, friends, but in this dream,
only I was weeping. Only I pressed my mouth to the mud and tasted chocolate.
Only I ate my fill and begged for more. And, friends, you did not speak, but to say
something of how we are all still worthy of mercy while standing at the feet
of what wants us gone. But maybe that is what I wanted myself to hear.
In a dream, no one has to answer for language. The song we remember upon waking
is the one that drowns us in a sweetness. A memory to drag us through the day.
In truth, I only remember closing my eyes. In truth, I believe you were all there
because I knew that in a dream, I could keep all of you safe. In truth,
I woke still afraid. In truth, all of my teeth were aching when I crawled
from underneath the covers.
Olivia Newton John – Let’s Get Physical
& o Olivia, I can tell by the way your neck / is pulled into a tight arch / & the soft parting of your lips / on
the cover of a record / that has known more than its fair share of hands / our sweat did not arrive on the
back / of the same animal / & yet / I take everything about this as a challenge / & anything that can carry
me gasping / into the breeze of a hot saturday / is my master / & so when a shirt clings to my chest / I
give thanks / & so when I am offered water from a stranger / I give thanks / & so when the wet and hairy
forearm of another man drags itself across my cheek in the middle of our fifth straight full court game / I
give thanks / & when I wipe away the small river it has left / & I look into my palms & see the small beads
dancing like children racing towards the end of summer / I give thanks / & physical, too, is the moment
when the night slips past too many drinks / & two pals first playfully push fists into each other’s ribs / &
then remember whatever loneliness has them in its teeth / & then the fists pull back & swing forward /
with more violence / until there is nothing left but weeping in the grass-stained sweaters / passed down
two generations / & I know this is truly not what you mean, Olivia, when you summon the boys
horizontal / but let us not stand on ceremony / we will all be laid horizontally when the world is done
having its way with us / & due to this, I remain thankful / for what a burden it must be / being asked to
exist for an entire life of rising & again falling for another’s pleasure / & o, Olivia, I wish to know the devil
but not hell itself / I wish to know the secrets that the worst of our dead know / but I do not wish to walk
among them / I am sorry to speak of half measures again / but I have run out of ways to ask for directions
to any party with a blood hot neon light beating / down from the wooden beams of someone’s basement /
in a part of town where no one calls the cops / & the cops wouldn’t come even if they did / & this is
physical: the space and who gets to plant their flag into it / among the twerking masses / & o, Olivia, I am
sorry to say that we do not listen to you at parties in the hood / but for when the stereo from a 1986
pontiac driving past pulls you moaning / let me hear your body talk / into an open window / & your voice
bends more & more with each passing block / surely if my body could speak it would ask / who will not have
a meal to call their own so that I can remain full / or it would ask / what hours are we stealing from the wicked in order to
keep living like this / & what is sleep these days but a chapel to run into & seek forgiveness after the ravishes
of intimacy / & o, Olivia, like you, I have tried to keep my hands on the table / & like you, I just want
everyone to get the hint without me speaking of what I actually want / & all of this silence this makes us no
better than the animals who paw at the doors of their small gods / & pray for the food that may fall from
their trays / & o, Olivia, I have long given up on leather / like I have long given up on headbands / I have
long given up on trying to stop the sweat from spilling reckless into my own eyes / & I embrace the brief
and aching darkness / & the darkness itself is physical / how smoothly it can lean into us / & convince the
tongue out of hiding / & yet, I still run every morning / not into or out of anything / only until I cannot
feel my legs / or until the wind decides to carry me home / or until my shirt is baptism-slick / or until the
body finds either a silence /or a language that exists / for no one but itself.