Kazim Ali: Four New Poems & an Excerpt from an Interview

Crumpled Up


Debris crushed to flowers made

summer you will thought swam

Shard have this ember

rendered member of the body whose

urge surged swerve and shine

ocean opens shone hours

ours to contrail pretends

to sketch a shape of a flower against

infinite information of the sky

data mined eternal I in formation of a

day to mind the steeple wore

steep war mined the memoir of shore

meme war fought on the internet

where however there are interments

fast parsing the rationing shore

endlessness warned between each

wounded party marked

intersects insects in sects descend

to spend the real their wings

beginning that season’s gnawing groan

of sex summer leaves shirring you can

at these moments open your mouth

imagine the San Francisco Chronicle

May 15, 1974 crumpled up sent forth

first paper to read then discarded

released found by Lenka one of an

endless piece of information met

for a moment given to Philip recited

received resited reseeded recedes

given to Kazim passed through the city

the situation an ovation oration

oblation ablation show me what you

pray for and eat save now in this flesh

archive what ought not be lost maker

of most light tossed sun rise up from

Rodeo Beach leaf me be reft left all

those bunkers in the hills their doors

rusted shut by metal or paper or

human touch weather concrete metal

paper or flesh we mark time on this earth



Golden Boy


Almost afraid I am in the annals of history to speak

And by speaking be seen by man or god

Such then debt in light be paid


Atop the Manitoban parliament building in Winnipeg

What beacon to dollars food or god

I hallow starvation


This nation beneath the body hollowing

Its stomach to emptiness and in breadth

The river empties


Who sew spoke the craft born along

Long echo and echelon grains of light

And space we width one and other weight


The soul not the spirit breathe through

Spirited went or wend why true

Weave woe we’ve woven


A dozen attempts these tents pitched

On the depth be made biped by pen may

Perch atop the temple pool


Proven the prove these richness wheat and

Cherries and prunes what washes

Over woven ocean


Frayed I am most sir desired

Sired in wind seared and warned

Once in wild umiyak sworn


We parley to mend be conned be bent

Come now called to document your

Meant intent your indented mind


Haul oh star your weight in aeons

There in prayer money morrow more

You owe and over time god spends


The spent river melt into

Summer sound out the window

Sound out the spender


Where does the river road end

In what language can prayer or

Commerce be offered


Ender of senses pensive atop

Plural spires be spoken or mended

Broken and meant for splendor my mentor



Junipero Serra Arrives


 Now a year like bone

On a coast named for the khalifas

We bring date seeds as tribute to Muslim ghosts

Not the ones we harvested but the ones that haunt our own breath

We bring grass that will spread like Christ

If the spirit will not bend the body can be made to break


In the dawn unfjording

We stitch new texts into the air and ground

What chance to sky

What garden left

Your tongue shall tie

Don’t say mountain haunted by bone


Don’t say body don’t say home

I too chose to live past the arrival of blades

Into the bodies of my forebears directing

Them like rivers or stone given

Such vague directions by god or

Man dear memory of myself


Wanting to climb wanting to know to be

Taught what is there

Each time I am reinvented as another human

Too many times to see the way

Gold and green are not the lights meant to grow

Here in an Arabia far from home


In a Spain lost to inquisition

Swept away that golden

Jewish age in wind and sun

All its sea words blue and mispronounced

From books that did not belong were miswritten

The mosque roofs grow moss


Rain shines down through the late May storm clouds

What lonely span of ocean I crossed having renounced

My family of questionable faith on that middle island to come

To the valley of the Kumeyaay on a shore we will oddly

Call Khalifa to obey the dismembered god who in pastures

Of invasive plants summons me once more to storm heaven





To the sharp report in the dark the season comes home

Long tongue sound between hand and arm between mouth and flesh

Hold this moment river still what if it was my life

To return after years to the same province of danger

An old town you know like the handle the bump stock the trigger

I want to return to the boat that bore me from the far shore decades ago

What I lived in those languages I forgot the places I left that I want to return to

Were we seen were we spoken were all the wolves baying

Met at the edge of the bright darkness of rain

Time cannot fulfill its promise to splinter return or slow

Vow this wheel this we will this weal we even wean

We in the world would wolve a low vow foaled

Worn low at the hip to be a solid soldier who soiled his sold soul

For the chance to be the first to aim first to fire to fly

In the cross hairs I am heir to no oar to hold I am on both sides of the gun

Toll as sound or cost one that never ends and the other never returns

Any embrace is the first error in meanings slope

Wrought by thought that one could reach another touch his shape

Known in two genders like Orlando whose tongue newly woke

To pronounce any word for god or man means to enter violence’s fold

No oath sworn to save no salvation no salve no valor no ovation no nation




And the following from an interview, spelling out a change of direction and a moving forward with his larger project:


“A little while ago I thought I ought to stop writing about God. The reason is that I was starting to have ideas. Ideas mean a system of ideas. Every idea you have may preclude another. I thought that it would be better to have a space of unknowing and that other poets would continue to make poems about God. I don’t know if I have kept my promise or not, but by turning away from the task of trying to know the unknown and from the vocabulary of the spirit, which is necessarily the language of abstraction, I was able to come back into the world.

“What occupies me now is physical landscape, the history of places, the ways human communities work in time and space — maybe I have become a sociologist or a geographer — but I still work in sound and gesture. At the moment it’s contested places that interest me — the struggles of the Pimicikamak Cree of Northern Manitoba against the provincial government which dammed the river that gave them their livelihood and compromised their culture and their way of life; or perhaps the work I do in offering yoga teachings and trainings to Palestinian people in the West Bank. Or the ‘border’ communities that exist in every American town and city, not just those on our southern border.”


[NOTE. Kazim Ali was born in the United Kingdom and has lived transnationally in the United States, Canada, India, France, and the Middle East. His books encompass multiple genres, including the volumes of poetry InquisitionSky Ward, The Far Mosque, The Fortieth DayAll One’s Blue, and the cross-genre texts Bright Felon and Wind Instrument. His novels include the recently published The Secret Room: A String Quartet and among his books of essays are the hybrid memoir Silver Road: Essays, Maps & Calligraphies, and Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice. He is also an accomplished translator (of Marguerite Duras, Sohrab Sepehri, Ananda Devi, Mahmoud Chokrollahi and others) and an editor of several anthologies and books of criticism. He is currently a Professor of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. His newest books are a volume of three long poems entitled The Voice of Sheila Chandra and a memoir of his Canadian childhood, Northern Light.]