In the acres of garden before an empty house an amnesiac prince collects broken branches, prunes the fruit trees, plucks weeds from the rock bed.
He speaks a broken language of beach and Broadway and on the way to shore gets lost and finds himself in a cemetery at sunset, pink light on the stones.
He cannot read the inscriptions but kneels down at a cenotaph anyhow and recites the only prayers he can remember.
Why, when we wanted to speak to nothing but water, is he singing verses down into the stone hard earth in a town he has never belonged to, lost on his way to the shore?
If only he would learn to read the book of the sky, he would see the birds circling lazily around hot currents, which could only mean a large body of water is near.
The words are hollow in his mouth and he doesn’t know what he believes anyhow, whether bodies will again rise or if the aerial rumors of the gulls will lead him to the sea or if the numb tombstone in his mouth might indeed speak.
His scripture comes out sideways and his mispronunciation of the most sacred of syllables makes him always friendless. It’s nearly a party trick the way he opens his mouth and butterflies pour out, closes it again and the clock chimes, reminding him of being a young boy, coming home to an empty house, sure that he had been forgotten, that everyone had gone to the beach without him.
Sure that he would always be forgotten, that he would lie down in his grave and no ghost would come to fetch him or explain god or what was supposed to happen next.
That the grave would fill with dirt and he would rise on the boat of his body. That no one would recite sacred chapters for him, that he wouldn’t know how to take the rudder, that the sea was too far.
The boat now coming apart, his voice dwindling, hard as stone.
Finally he sees a bird winging down calling, “Find-me, find-me!”
But he doesn’t understand words, only sound, the shape of words, the tune to which they are sung.
All the sacred verses in the world are like birds wheeling in the sky, who knows where they go.
Kazim Ali is a poet, essayist, fiction writer and translator.
His books include several volumes of poetry, including Sky Ward (Wesleyan University Press, 2013), The Far Mosque, winner of Alice James Books' New England/New York Award, The Fortieth Day (BOA Editions, 2008), and the cross-genre text Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). He has also published a translation of Water's Footfall by Sohrab Sepehri (Omnidawn Press, 2011), and (with Libby Murphy) L'amour by Marguerite Duras (Open Letter Books, 2013). His novels include Quinn's Passage (blazeVox books), named one of "The Best Books of 2005" by Chronogram magazine and The Disappearance of Seth (Etruscan Press, 2009), and his books of essays include Orange Alert: Essays on Poetry, Art and the Architecture of Silence (University of Michigan Press, 2010), Fasting for Ramadan (Tupelo Press, 2011).
In addition to co-editing Jean Valentine: This-World Company (University of Michigan Press, 2012), he is a contributing editor for AWP Writers Chronicle and associate editor of the literary magazine FIELD and founding editor of the small press Nightboat Books.
He is an associate professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College.