Speech

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)
More Poems by Kazim Ali