Sarah Ghazal Ali is a Pakistani writer born and raised in the Northeast. A Stadler Fellow and recipient of The Sewanee Review poetry prize, her work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Poetry, The Yale Review, and other publications.
MY FAITH GETS GRIME UNDER ITS NAILS
Sarah Ghazal Ali
قل—say, he is allah, the one
I confess to sleeping coiled on my night-
blue prayer mat
more often than I stand bent in ruku.
Even when I posture piety
I blink steady, lashes keeping count of the hand-
knotted flowers fringing the rug
rather than God’s pristine names.
The places I’ve prayed—elevators, Victoria’s Secret
fitting room, the muck-slick meadow after rain—
will testify for or against me,
spilling through my Book of Deeds
in ink of blood or honeyed milk.
قل—say, i seek refuge in the lord of mankind
My faith is feminine, breasted
and irregularly bleeding
My faith gets grime under its nails
to suckle them sacred. I believe
what I can’t leave. I eat
spared of pain. I laugh about the Banyan tree
in Khyber chained by a drunk British officer
convinced it lurched toward him. I pull up a picture
online, show my mother the roses
planted neatly around it,
the rusted shackles no one dares remove
قل—say, i seek refuge with the lord of dawn
Once a month blood roams
like mint over immaculate grass,
the adhan trills from my arboreal center.
Though excused, I wake
before the white thread of day-
break to open my window,
let the angels in
to witness the ache
and erase a sin for every devoted cramp.
Lord, you pardon my pain.
Lord, I parable my name.
As best as I can,
I am raising my hands—
قل—say, o disbelievers
I read my chaar qul, cup my hands and blow.
I misremember and enter with the wrong foot
first. A woman crowned
holy is a calamity worth repeating.
motherless among rotting cores,
the sweet stench of fruit flies
at last shown their purpose.
What wilt, what putrefaction
of her will to wonder. I wonder how
to hallow the women I’ve sprung from.
I haven’t begot a thing but inherited
wounds, I can’t help but bear
what barely belongs to me.