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.