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Speech

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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)
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Speech

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  • 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, The Fortieth Day (2008), Sky Ward (2013), and Inquisition (2018). Ali’s poems, both lyric and musical, explore the intersection of faith and daily life. In a review of The Fortieth Day, Library Journal noted that Ali “continues his task of creating a rejuvenated language that longs to be liberated from the weight of daily routine and the power of dogmatic usage . . . writing in the tradition of Wallace Stevens, Ali is clearly a poet of ideas and symbols, yet his words remain living entities within the texture of the poem.”
    His prose includes The Disappearance of...

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