Alif. Lām. Mīm.
Morning’s glorious sclera peels night like peach skin.
The casual tugging of a hangnail accentuates each hamzah.
There is pain in meaningless recitation—
when the bearded preacher arrives
at the house before the milkman, it’s too early
for children to memorize sounds unable to be translated,
struck into meaning from only his well-meaning
bamboo discipline stick.
The girl and boy sit on a sofa covered with linen
to receive their Arabic lessons. The girl’s hairline
itches in her hijab as her head wanders to a future
where the adhaan is sung by women, and
girls and boys are not separated by guava
green curtains on snake silver rods.
The boy is a muted parrot fish.
Creation myths fly into the window and drop,
flop as dying fish before they are lost
in the depths, like the leeches the girl and boy
were warned about before splashing
barefoot through mud puddles.
One time, the girl and boy didn’t listen,
and their feet were bled shallow, shallower.
Worms that feed on khoon, they never felt so
A violent mothstorm hits the lamppost
like soft rosewood hail, and her rabbit
eyes dart peripheral to measure the dark
gentle phosphenes—helmsmen battling the sea.
Speaking of good versus evil, wouldn’t it be nice
for a boy to forgo flowers and gather
a bouquet of feathers (not plucked), plumage
just found between kneecaps or twigs
while climbing trees, love as play.
She would call them loveydovedoves or
cardinalcupids or falconfools or she would
grow the fuck up and call them wings.*
*Instead the boy would grow belligerent, smear his anger
monarch blue, and watch the vertical black
line of his butterfly’s ballerina body
comma, love, as, War.
A familiar story of wills and nursery rhymes:
Bitch Whore Cunt
Come over here for your weekly punt!
The petty preacher pits peaches
Spits on a prick that reaches and reaches.
When will her bruises look like eyes
to her predator?
When will her taste still
his lashing tongue?
Light expands before it extinguishes.
I collect stones to feed it.
Sometimes it is full, while others
it ties a rope of them
to cheat its empty stomach.
Have you ever seen the other side of hawks?
I close my eyes to remember
and suddenly there are shrouds
made timeless in Carrara marble.
Suddenly to fall
through clouds is nothing.
It is cold.
No Mary, I am so bad with birds.
Here is a tale of magic lost
when the hummingbird
dies upon learning
it’s all a matter of
petunias, to hell with
Mary flies far away.
Her back must ripple timeless
at the soar,
but I am not on the other side
Mother will he see me
if I plant my feet
like a living thing waiting
for water or the special night
God’s creatures bow
all at once, willow
and wolf and weasel
or do I need to spin
spidersilk and guard
his yellow moonskin.
Mother I’ve eaten
so much snow, you could
shake the flakes from
these bloodied nostrils
and still they would
be so pristine and white.
Tail feathers on a dove
unsullied by injury.
Ordinarily the bullshit
gets thrown over,
and certainly the weather
controls most of the journey.
Somehow the anchor
is in the air, dripping
sea, pulled up to dangle
like God’s rusted
pendant, and I’m dry
heaving sick, tonguing
the chain to restore
its shine. Doesn’t anyone
know I am hungry.
A Scattering of Koans That Are Not
I am held together by the curvature of the earth.
Country is a hangnail. Peeled back, red and raw, history widens it to an exit wound.
Can we please talk about cloudless portions of the sky in terms of kite gatherers?
There’s a whale in a pail in the well—that is how small the thought of freedom is.
There’s a snail that’s on sale that won’t sell—that is how desperately slow wealth accumulates.
The white-bellied cicada on its back could have had a good life, but I’ll never know.
I know the turkey vulture flapping circles on the ramp is suffering
and there’s no place to pull over and help.
I know the squirrel tail twitching on the shoulder of the back road is hurting
and there’s nothing I can do so why pull over and help.
Isn’t the point of all this to watch for as long as possible.
Some people have no hands and use them more than people with hands.
If you lack a sense you will use it more than those who do not lack.
You can create a brand new sense that is a culmination of all
and it is gained in freefall above the planet at terminal velocity.
I promise nothing matters—I promise borders are imaginary enemies
and maps do not belong to us and cartographers mean well
but as with any religion the message gets manipulated
and what should be reverence is severance and stitches.
They come for one—
They come for all.
The tall men yell
To build a wall.
Our faces small.
The moon, yellow
A page in history—
Crumpled in a ball.
Palms held tight
In prayer, beads
Skins flare down the hall.
They come for one—
They come for all.
Alia Hussain Vancrown has published in journals and magazines in print and online. Her poetry has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She currently resides in the U.S. To follow her work, please visit aliahussainvancrown.com.