Abdul Ali on "Holy"

Holy

1.

Always, they begin
as units of prayer

in sleep
watery images

then I wake
seeing them

crowded together
in a headline

Officers in Bronx Fire 41 Shots,
And an Unarmed Man Is Killed

this lacerated tongue
thirsts to remember

the names of all the faces

hidden behind the barrel of a gun

loaded blasted

into national memory

becoming caesuras.

Each name
is a body craving
wholeness.


2.

These eyes shutter
imagining

a different script
playing out behind their lids.


3.

When I wake tomorrow
Let there be a riot of birds

outside my window
Let there be crows

flying South in horseshoe formation
Let there be Peruvian musicians

with their wooden flutes
& African drummers

& children double-dutching
over liberated firehydrants

Let there be Nina Simone's
"Mississippi Goddamn" remixed

Let these words serve

a different master/narrative

Let sound shoot outside this mouth
echoing in every

walk home
dark alley
(neighbor)hood

May this poem
lodge inside your breast


On "Holy"

This poem began as an ars poetica. A glorified play on words. I wanted to riff about words and how they haunt us in our sleep. Or, better yet, when a poem writes you. What is the responsibility of the both-eyes-wide-open poet? How do we access freedom in language in discussing topics many audiences would rather not hear about, such as racialized violence?

I let the poem take me where it wills. Of course, I bring along my writer's notebook for the digging. In so many ways this poem reminds me that it's okay to begin with a question and take the plunge...see what happens. What if there was no such thing as a failed poem? Only failed expectations.

I kept returning to this poem as the deadline for my manuscript approached. Words are sacred. No, they can be acts of terrorism! But, wait: look at that copper-colored sky. All that beauty. Yes, words can paint too.

I kept moving with the word. I slow-danced with it over a groove. I learned not to put too much stress on the word, just follow the muse, follow the inquiry: How are words holy? How does our culture desecrate words? How are words like bodies? How are our bodies injured by language, by violence?

And then I arrived at the conclusion that there is great power in being the writer as we can revise, or rewrite altogether the narrative. A different reality is possible. A new tongue can emerge from all of the senseless violence, the ashes. The poem can boomerang and catch the reader in the chest. Right There. The poem can be a silver bullet. And, to look away is fatal.

 

 

 

 
 

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