I was standing in front of my sister’s headstone when
a boy of ash and snow found me.
He sat down on damp grass and said I come to all the children’s
graves. Come sit. So I did.
I looked around at rows of markers—white and yellow roses
resting against stone after stone—wondered
how many children were asleep here.
I studied the boy’s thin face
his small body of speckled grey snow. He looked tired.
He may have wept moments ago.
He gently lay my carnations
against her white stone, plucking one to hold
in his slender fingers. He considered the flush of soft pink:
I like it best when there are no thorns.
They have been seeking her so many years that once they find her
they won’t leave: they grasp at the window panes
thud at the door. And when she won’t put her hand to the brass knob
the hissing gossamer of their words creeps between cracks
and binds itself to her. Their anger seeps into her skin, sets her nerves aflame.
The ghosts of memory remind her that abandonment never heals.
She falls to her knees under the pain of their grief and begs
for mercy they refuse to grant her.
The dirty windows are soon shuddering, the warped door splintering
beneath insistent fists. But glass shatters first:
ghosts peep inside and leer. They glide over jagged glass
and demand she take them back. She shakes her head, cringes, backs away—
they’re not chastened when she explains she damned them
to wandering the earth on feeble legs because they’d grown too bitter
for her to stomach. That she cut them from her and fled
in the dark because the pain was unbearable.
These memories clasp at her twitching body. They sink into her.
She grows cold under their clutching fingers.
They vanish and bruises bloom. Her muscles refuse to hold her
and she’s left lying on the floor, sodden with visions
of who she’ll never be again, repeating over and over
Why does it hurt to be whole and human?
Delving the Hinterlands
I like pretending the world is in love with me
and that the dust in the air belongs
to pixies and today’s sky—its particular
shade of bewildering blue—deserves its own poem.
I like watching the sun rise
on mornings when it can’t quite bring itself to wake up
so pools of pink and yellow and orange—little
shining rivulets—dab the grass
for a long lovely hour before growing into one
seamless sea of light. I like listening to
the ocean sing—that gentle thunder calling out
to every sailor because it’s lonely
because mermaids aren’t warm-blooded
and even salt water can feel too cold.
I like ghosts who don’t have the heart to howl
who crowd the rafters and are always
mumbling softly to themselves the names of living
beings. I like dreaming
that memories can fade—grow opaque
then diaphanous before weighing so little they’ll drift
away on the most delicate curls of air.
I like lying in tall grass on blistering summer evenings
inhaling the dewy scent of roses
and wiling away the hours listening for the last
echoes of a bird song I know
from my kindest dreams. I like believing in fairytales.
I like staring up at the night sky
and trying to coax wishes out of stars
out of those glimmering genies—those beacons
of flickering hope.
Even the Embers are Dead
Standing in front of their fireplace, she threatens
to set herself on fire. Sunlight glares through drawn curtains
tints the room bloody.
He sits in a chair and looks past her into soot.
He is marveling at many nights spent whispering I’m crazy for you
when now he doubts there’s anything left in her to cherish.
She is weeping, a ragged gasping. He considers
their decade-old love; how they met
at 19 and 21.
He knows that smitten boy
couldn’t have imagined ever saying I don’t want you anymore.
He stares at what she’s become, knows all he wants
is to walk away. She throws herself
against a wall and he does.
Nazifa Islam grew up in Novi, Michigan. Her poetry and paintings have appeared in Anomalous Press, Fourth & Sycamore, The Fat City Review, and The Harpoon Review among other publications, and her debut poetry collection Searching for a Pulse (2013) was released by Whitepoint Press. She earned her MFA at Oregon State University. Visit her website and find her on Twitter and Instagram at @nafoopal.