Speech

By Kazim Ali b. 1971 Kazim Ali
How struck I was by that face, years ago, in the church mural:
Eve, being led by Christ through the broken gates of Hell.

She’s been nominated for the position of Featured Saint
on the Icon of Belief, up against the dark horse candidate—

me: fever-ridden and delirious, a child in Vellore, unfolding
the packet around my neck that I was ordered not to open.

Inside, a folk cure, painted delicately in saffron.
Letters that I could not read.

Why I feel qualified for the position
based on letters I could not read amounts to this:

Neither you nor I can pronounce the difference
between the broken gates and the forbidden letters.

So what reason do we need to believe in icons or saints?
How might we otherwise remember—

without an image to fasten in that lonely place—
the rock on which a Prophet flung himself into fever?

Without an icon or church, spell “gates of Hell.”
Spell “those years ago unfolding.”

Recite to me please all the letters you are not able to read.
Spell “fling yourself skyward.”

Spell “fever.”


Kazim Ali, "Speech" from The Far Mosque. Copyright © 2005 by Kazim Ali.  Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books.

Source: The Far Mosque (Alice James Books, 2005)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Kazim Ali b. 1971

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Living, Coming of Age, Life Choices, The Body, Religion, Faith & Doubt, Islam, Christianity

 Kazim  Ali

Biography

Poet, editor, and prose writer Kazim Ali was born in the United Kingdom to Muslim parents of Indian descent. He received a BA and MA from the University of Albany-SUNY, and an MFA from New York University. Ali’s poetry collections include The Far Mosque (2005), which won Alice James Books’ New England/New York Award, and The Fortieth Day (2008). Ali’s poems, both lyric and musical, explore the intersection of faith and daily . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Coming of Age, Life Choices, The Body, Religion, Faith & Doubt, Islam, Christianity

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.