Hājar in the House of Rust & Other Poems

by K.A.ALI

The Escape Artist Fitness Plan

She says you have a contortionist mouth, always expressing some twist and holding rigidly
your inflexible poise. She says the nameless things, the things you don’t want called –
the Nameless Things; Grief, Hurt, Fury, and a Tenderness which you Hated like a mother
hates her child. Always of you, no matter how feeble, how poorly grown – mewling,
incapable of giving up the ghost, of granting even that little peace. It has all pursued you
your entire life. These Nameless Things. She says you have the eyes of a person who looks
for all exits, finds all doors and at the first kind word goes hurling themselves out of
windows. Break a body, run – the exorcist wants to educate on How the Whole Make
Love. But oh, the tuck and tug! That fine silver hook sliding into corner of mouth, Love
Love is so small,
so small.

 

Hājar in the House of Rust

We are adorning absence.
I brush out my hair and light bukhoor in the empty majlas. I candle-bearer,
I swift daughter of smoke turning to darkened window and slipping out of my skin.
My sister the moon makes silver, makes tremble-shiver like the hunter’s knife.
I am ghoul of bone and split marrow, sadness makes the ornament of me.
In the day I imitate furniture. I am not naked. I do not tremble. I do not need.

They move around me like I am a fountain, a marble arch, my flesh as if of stone. She was
neck and wings, no arms, no head, but marble and a triumph. I still have my eyes –
was she taking flight or stepping into the sea?
Imagine now her with this urgency; wanting to be struck by salt or lightning,
or pushed –
is she still beautiful?
Or is she ugly and a woman?

Someone dear did die biting down on me, the golden goo of yoke ruptured spilled out in an
ooze. Is it then strange to prefer yellow to the grizzly stage-opera that is blood? Verdant, bright,
can you call a woman dressed in lemon with shoes like French mustard, cannibal?
Not bear trap but bracelet, this noose my fine collar of gold. I pack with straw stolen
from the nest of the rukk my punctured throat. The grooves of my teeth bursting with
shredded canary, I laugh and all at once there exists a sort of alchemy. Blasphemy? Brother,
you begrudge me, the murdered, and yet still love Christ best for his thorns?

I keep myself in the company of malnourished felines. We of the first city, we the eternal
cartographers map in blood the streets in which we were birthed. Cooling our bodies on shadow
over white gypsum, our memory mists. Indistinct yet long, prompted not by thought but
warmth, taste, the aroma. Instinct. Grudge. Strangers pet us as they step on us.

Verily, have you forgotten that we did entrust to you our favoured son in Al-Baqi’?
The arms of Baha still ache, bereft of him. And if you kill us
then kill us
but do not call us misers. We were happy to share with you the honour
of having loved him.

When was that? Forgive me – has it really always been that weddings and funerals
shared the same bed in Sanaa’? I put up garlands,
my skull shining wetly where I have been scalped. I polish it with beeswax and baleen bristle,
my eyelashes still clinging with torn veins.
I comb my hair and set it down on the stand in the wisps of myrrh, and croon.
We adorn longing and ornament absence; we have enshrined what was disallowed breath,
self-aware and tenderly blaspheming. The emergency long outlives its urgency,
we preserve what is left. Beware of death? Death has come,
Death is enthroned. Hadramawt, no longer wary but weary,
your courtesans sleepwalk with jambiyas drawn.

The pyramid-makers have perished. Eyes closed, Al Hudaydah the captured is recalled;
Burned brick, white phosphorous. I start small fires
for the creation of smoke
and through fog of bloomed yasmeen, attend the tomb.

For my lover, I will learn taxidermy.

 

Bartholomew Getting Married

She touches my circlet of jasmine and metal, my bristling, bloomed horns.
Her fingers tear on fishhooks covered by the curled lip of moonflower. ‘Morningstar’
seemed for the longest time to me the name of some sort of bloom. Distressed
by the mix-up, the florist still comes through to add to the bride’s bouquet aconitum.
Skull ringed by the sweet-smelling frills, chained to hospital beds, I sit still
blinking the blood from my eyes from where sorrow has crowned me. What holds me,
the heir  to rust? The suffering is flawed. No silently glorious, no meekly vanquished.
I will drown this girl in the sea, I will take her skin, I will make her a bloody saint,
mine own alone. Here is your sainthood, here is your holy.
Uncrown me for the love of god.

 

The trap is that there is no trap

She heats lime between her palms and like garlic, like cloves, like deep, fried onion,
the sweet, banal desire of the distasteful and essential
reminds me again of that which can never be lived without.
The perfume and taste remains with me so all know what I have eaten and touched.
Give me succour but keep her from me and keep me from her. God, it was not roses
that kept me, only the mess she made of the counter. Mangled, that tenderness long drowned, long thought sunken-city lost
is compelled!
And as if caught in the crossfire of an exorcism taking place in the next house
the long idle demon is snagged, rising from me in outrage and affront,
pulled like the entire, jagged skeleton of parrot fish dragged up through the throat and gullet.
Then? Then the accident repeats itself, the interruption becomes rhythm! The ghoul is stirring
on the tongue, made thoughtful by the deep-burnt sweetness of labania za kopa.
It takes a seat in the groove of my halved jaw
and for once forgets to sulk!
Struck, I shred my knuckles on the jut of teeth when I clumsily slip as I scrape the coconut.
They are singing songs about the smell of some woman’s hair and I turn from sun to sun,
wretched. The radio immortalizes a lover with bewildering carnality
and I am sitting on the kitchen floor, a beached thing broiling in the light
praying, unreasonable – God, keep her from me, and the demon leans forward, intrigued.
She makes me forget the blood in my mouth.

 

About the Poet:

K.A.ALI is a Mombasa born writer with a degree in journalism. On top of her current employment and other responsibilities she is actively pursuing a literary career in editing creative works whilst completing some of her own. ALI is interested in researching Coastal culture, analysing the Afro-arab relationship and documenting the ill-documented history of the Hadhrami diaspora with the keen desperation and agony of one all too familiar with the impermanence of memory. She has had her work published in Brainstorm Kenya and is soon to be published in the upcoming Kwani Multiverse Anthology.

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