Abdul Ali on "Holy"



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


These eyes shutter

a different script
playing out behind their lids.


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

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.





Continue browsing In Their Own Words