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Litany to Protect Against Possession

after Kaveh Akbar

Lord, that I might not have knees to bend for You at all. Where might I be now

if I wasn’t begging to be somewhere else

then? Hope is the dust that collects

when something hasn’t been moved in a long, long time, and I have been so

still, so still you might mistake me for being loved. Lord, Your divinity

casts the longest shadow I’ve ever seen. You could lose yourself in it. In Yourself.

My gratitude degrades daily. Soon I won’t even

remember which way to face when I plead

for lambs’ blood, Lord, locusts, anything

proving You to be a loving god and not

simply loving. I am tired of love. I am

tired of reaching for You

and grasping only air. No one is hungry

for a heart already promised to itself

and so it is that I am precluded by You, my devotion a reflection

of a moonless night—it was so much easier

to live without ever choosing myself.

O exalted boundary between the sea and sky, no one ever kisses the horizon before settling

beside it to sleep. A growling dog goes unfed;

a sharpened tooth aches in the cold

and chatters to itself, unheard. I know, I know: to be hungry is better than being devoured,

I know. The surest way to stay alive is to abstain from living, but like the drowning man

who, once rescued, dreams only of the water,

I miss having someone to forgive

for refusing me forgiveness. If there’s another way

to love, Lord, please bring me to its door.

Change my locks while You’re at it. I’ve bequeathed

all of my spare keys. Teach me the gospel

hymn of No, I won’t, I refuse, that, yes, still soars

to the ceiling as the congregation sings along.

Protect me from possession, Lord of Exorcisms,

St. Evacuation, bearer of Your own body

and no other, and I will forgive You

for it, too.


When My Classmates Ask Me If My Father Took Down the Towers

I realize the mirror was in on the joke, too. How had I not known before now? Now we can all see my bones are the only white about me, and my nose curves like the yaw of a plane, and my hair curling in the dust.

They ask if my father took down the towers, and, as it was a lack of security leading to a loss of gravity, yes, in a way he did,

in that my mother starts smoking again and suddenly I become

fascinated with fire. I light candles with other candles, recycling light

until my room looks like I’m trying to summon something. Maybe I’m trying to summon something —

into divinity, or out from the grave, or the attention of any god

who will teach me how to pray the right way. My father doesn’t

pray anymore, another quality he shares with the dead.

The sun glares down on the blacktop like fingers

digging into a bruise. Everyone crowds around me,

waiting for an answer, and sweat drips down my cheek.

Wax running from a flame. Ant under a telescope, I melt, I sizzle.

I feel so exposed for what I did not know I was that surely someone is staring down at me from above,

a stranger with the face of someone else’s father. Is He waiting for an answer, too? What language must I clasp between my hands for Him to listen? O Father, who art in heaven, whose children surround me

on all sides like a flood, teach me how to float. Maybe it isn’t too late for any of us; maybe no one ever needed to die to be forgiven. If I give them

the right answer. If I learn the right words.

Maybe God will tape the plane together and throw it back

into the sky, and we can be white again.


JAZ SUFI (she/hers) is a mixed race Iranian-American poet and arts educator. Her work has been published or is upcoming in AGNI, PANK, Birdfeast, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She is a Kundiman fellow and National Poetry Slam finalist, winner of the 2020 Yellowwood Poetry Prize, and is currently an MFA candidate and Goldwater fellow at New York University.


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