Raena Shirali

daayan at gold streak river

          if at dusk the river’s peach trembles into soot—if hip-thick in mist i trace
petals on waves—if the ripple slurs on, past its outer limit—if the fact

          of my finger makes the sky gild—if from a distance i look like a ghost,
it’s because i’m out here with my ghosts—if the men yell bongas, suspect our flush

          places wax carnal—if plumes off the shoreline mean that’s our earth,
killing again—& we know about killing, about twine binding ankles

          to a thin branch—if my ghosts tell me how they lived—morning
sizzling dew off the shrubs, the smallness of a tea leaf in a hand, the power

          to crush or fray a living thing : fiber by fiber—if i say to one it’s getting
dark & she turns her head toward me, backlit by gold streak, says but you

          are the matron of water, her eyes pepper-swollen, limbs thick
with sinking—if the castor plant grazed her skin nightly—if we float—

          if we float—if we float & soak the lentils & follow the field’s rows
& if we came here as brides & they threw us a feast, said welcome—sisters,

          i say, here we are at the end of the earth—if the sky immolates—
magenta rimming the day as it dies—if it looks hopeless—if it is

          hopeless—on the shore men jeer & hurl branches—if we don’t turn
back—if we wade out together, cursed women, & find mountains instead—



on persona

          fledgling each time i attempt another

body, call it : tired of my own
trauma, the writing

          into          & the writing out of          . i want to sing

a song of escape, won’t admit poetry’s

          with an image, spiral out—

                    my many masks hang
from window latches.

          misnomer to call them

adornments. of these works as a whole,
i say, find here no monetary

          value. no cultural

clout. the papers declare the line-
break          dead          as i write into

          death : here is a scythe

& here a tree & here, me
pretending. i am offering opportunities to feel

          taken, like one’s breath away or

by the experience of—          as in : take my paayals,
my silver cups, my tarnished

          bangles. try to fit

them, narrow, around
your wrists. tell me

          you feel free.


Raena Shirali is the author of GILT (YesYes Books, 2017). A Pushcart Prize recipient, Shirali’s honors include a Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University’s Stadler Center for Poetry, a Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, a Cosmonauts Avenue Poetry Prize, & a “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize. Born in Houston, Texas, & raised in Charleston, South Carolina, the Indian American poet earned her MFA from The Ohio State University. She currently lives in Philadelphia, where she serves as Poetry Editor for Muzzle Magazine, and is on the editorial team for Vinyl.