The poem first appeared in The Aleph Review, Vol. 5 (2021). Curated for the website by Hassan Tahir Latif.
It all starts on a train track. Laden with garlands of snow.
My name is not snow. Like an unwritten rule, everybody follows
this track quietly. The cabin air smells of 1943. Or 2001.
Nobody can tell. We are confused and puzzled all the same.
Along the tree ridge, there is a snowstorm churning in itself
so with our blue skin, we march into bed. I stay back.
Like the year 2001, I am not afraid of holding a pummelled body in my wake.
This is a sight and no sight at all, how you measure a memory by the wreckage it brings with it. There are memoirs gilded with lead and the shelves are full of it. And the brooks overflow.
The train passes through a veranda. And in a millisecond, there is no more a veranda.
All it takes to shatter glass is a hairline crack, through which we venture into a different biome
as if we travel back into time, or lunge forward. No one can tell. The winter doesn’t leave.
I can imagine a day where I wake up and I stay awake because the sound of metal clanging on metal is an agony to an eardrum so much so that it doesn’t forsake the yawp of hunger. The mitigated evening is coupled with a grave you dig for your comrade next to you. Or the father in your arms. No one can tell. Two days before the second time I was wheeled into a pallid operation theatre, my mom described how the imam I was named after had gotten sick and how a fever had travelled down so many lineages and bloodlines to seep into the sap of a wildflower. And this is how events unfold:
a comet crashes into the middle of a distant sky so I trace every constellation back into a map of the places this train track goes. the third stop is in front of a masjid, a lawyer loosens the knot in his tie, a mother boils milk, a young girl has not mothered sorrow and she merely wants erasure. the young girl does not know. the unknown has a placid intervention into the voyage towards a future that the father cannot tell. no one can tell. i can hear the hum, everything is a hum. there are mounds higher than my neck, along the tundra and their wealth cannot be contained into pockets bulging by a necessary battlesong. SS Squad 66559, a rescinding hope, an apple sliced into perfection, a gold watch buried into a castle of compost. there are multiple angles to a narration, how the trees wither in its wake, how the blackening starts from the screen and spreads to the tip of the serif. the cyanide vomited by the hole in the wall tasted like blood on the tip of your coarse tongue. the train speeds to a limit where we are sure it will veer off to a settlement we were all escapees of. the delineation was our biggest fear to a point where there was no fear at all. rather a pity, pickled beside a silence plastered to our philtrum. they said that it starts from there—the awakening of life. the train comes to a halt. history coops up into a shallow lung, breathing a clean breath. memory grows old in a baby. grief grows with it. the trees stand silent.
Zain Alizai (he/him) lives in Pakistan. His work has appeared in Feral, Riggwelter, Savant-Garde, Counterclock, Sea Foam Mag and Fledgling, among other publications. He was Adroit Summer 2020 Mentorship Alum for poetry under José Olivarez. His debut chapbook will probably be out by the time he’s very old.
About the featured artist: Vivian Dorothy Maier (1926-2009) was an American street photographer whose work was discovered and recognized after her death. She worked for about 40 years as a nanny, mostly in Chicago's North Shore, while pursuing photography. Her life and work can be explored further at www.vivianmaier.com.