River Road

Ali Kazim

Kazim Ali

Night Prayer

I lived near the archive for years but never read it.
Instead dropped letters folded as boats into the stream at midnight.

The white lines of a graph moored me to them.
From that moment I was thirsty, remembering my earlier thirst.

Standing still at the sill of the window, wanting to know
who was looking out. But how can a window answer?

All my naval missives were cast between map and maelstrom,
and if I ever dared to pray for something real

would it be for my thirst to be quenched or for unquenchable thirst—

Dear Father, Dear Sound

I exist only two cosmic minutes after you.
What does an echo know?

You recited into my ears before I had either language or sight
“there is a Thing in the universe so immense you can’t say It”

Your whisper hand in hand with what I whispered back
is going out to the end of the universe.

Will they ever reach it?
Will they ever begin traveling back?

The Year of Winter

It has been spilled to me, my parentage,
I am still so aghast,

For ninety-one days the winter has been piercing me,
ninety-one days the year threading through—

How is it possible I ceased to believe in tongues?
The fallen red rimed by morning’s white amendments.

Tuesday’s reminders: visit the bank,
check the tires, hit the road. . .

A four hour drive to Pennsylvania under an
autoscrivening sky—

Who can blame my mistrust
when the gray sky revises its most sacred opinions,

who could ever have believed you, mad heart,
that fog and soot are not brethren after all,

that the water of sky and air
do not meet

that the shape of want is an underground river,
flowing eight hundred feet beneath us—

River Road

Somewhere on the road that crosses the spinster river a pilgrim approaches, praying to be the river, the sun, his walking, his barrenness or his thirst.

At dusk he finds the new moon by noticing a circular absence of stars, and the river bears children all night long.

Interrupted Letter

If upon the conclusion of my rain-scene
you compose a reply

and it’s letter by letter leaves on the ground,
a crown of wet leaves, a sinecure, a deciduous warning—

The end of time wasn’t like this last go around,
wasn’t a lake or a gray morning, an apartment I didn’t know,

rumpled sheets, a glass half full of water,
the floor above creaking with the weight of

someone who wears shoes even at home—

No one knows how the mind works.

How are you supposed to remember where you live
in a world contracted to expire—

The rain pouring along the pane.
You promised to respond and still there’s nothing

The Fortieth Night

On the fortieth day we return to watch the soul
take reluctant leave of the body,

a clot of tissue receives Breath, a wandering
prophet prepares to return.

On the storm-lashed boat, retching and abandoned
to the eternal fury of storm,

on the fortieth night we accepted in our hearts
the ocean would never calm and there would

never again be peace.

Six Questions

How if you are only a storm
will it mean anything to close the windows

How if you are only silence which doesn’t respond
will anyone speak

If breath is in each body and each body is promised to die
why learn anything

If an island can be created by blasting a river through
and joined to the mainland by filling rivers in

What can you know at all
Why would I even pray if I don’t believe in prayers

And can’t decide which to pray to
A zero a one or an infinity


He wrote to you once
There was no answer

He wrote to you twice
The horizon dolorously sounded itself out

He wrote to you three times
The night spelled your emptiness “I”

* * *

Kazim Ali is an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Shippensburg University and teaches in the low-residency MFA program of the University of Southern Maine. He is the author of two books of poetry, The Far Mosque (Alice James Books) and The Fortieth Day (forthcoming in spring 2008 from BOA Editions) and a novel Quinn’s Passage was published by blazeVox books. His work has been featured in many national journals such as American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Barrow Street, jubilat and Massachusetts Review. He is one of the founding editors of Nightboat Books.


Kazim’s personal website: www.kazimali.com
Listen to Kazim’s poems on-line: http://www.fishousepoems.org/archives/kazim_ali/
Alice James Books: http://www.alicejamesbooks.org/far_mosque.html
BlazeVox Books: http://www.blazevox.org/bk-ka.htm
American Poetry Review: http://www.aprweb.org/issues/current/ali.html
Kazim’s Guest Blog: http://poetryfoundation.org/dispatches/journals/04.03.06.html
Nightboat Books: www.nightboat.org