4 Poems

Poetry by Alysia Nicole Harris

I CAME HOME SMELLING LIKE IT HAPPENED IN THE DARK

I’m as drunk as a frat house fridge.
Would try and stand up
But I’m head over heels—
I give up.

I tend to give in,
Peeling off my jeans and my pride
I dry on my bed like paint on a wall
And pretend nobody sinned.

Today was a day of morning.
I must confess
The ceiling’s the only optimist I’ve ever met
Lying on my back.

I turn off my phone, sit inside the answer and pretend that no one’s home.

Remember July locker rooms
Arguing about superheroes
Laughing about first bleeds
About being O negative
Only it wasn’t that comic.

You touched me like it hurt.
I opened like a hearse.

ABRAHAM, IBRAHIM,

I made sure to debone them—
the nights clasped like ribs
I blew three years into a handful of lungy balloons.

The truth is this omen I meant for you
My artifacts spilling on to your wife’s
dress and down to her new linoleum floor.

Now, Lithuania, before, Elizabeth New Jersey, before, Rome,
My dreams know where you’ll go.
You’re not dead, you’re just married. But you might as well be dead.

We were like a pregnant thing broken in the road.
I said it was a privilege to bury.
Oh just let me pull the shovel out of my mind.

But it wasn’t a privilege at all. I had no cat
And then a dead cat I had and I buried it and again
no cat.

Nudge the vase full of muscleless orchids
Dip a finger into the faint steel pools.
Lift a strawberry out.

The woman you married knows
I hunt for you still
in a forest of giants.

I call your name in English, Arabic,
Arabic
until it gets so guttural I have to get on all fours

then I growl your name.
I drive it out over the expanse
and don’t expect the half-moon to answer.

MIGRATION

This crane-heart borne
of a train.  My chest
becomes a mobile cage,
a spinning gibbet
when it traverses
a suspension
bridge. The nesting
waters below– a heaven
so cold it creaks, so
you’d think the river
had bones. And just bones,
hands without palms
from which we sop
blood or cup blood—
The seat  a red sea
I can lay lengthwise
in. Windows
model then shed
every landscape:
twin wheatfields
shipping yard of tired color
ragged clouds, graffiti
leading out of winter
woods. My eyes close
to leave the argument
like California smiling
on a map. I shift
my weight and resettle.
The ground gives up
a fetus. Train retracts
into the dark’s mouth
like a tongue. I won’t curse
in front of life tonight.

THE INNKEEPER

Across the street a minaret and steeple snake about each other.
I stare at the two buildings spiraling out of their secrets

“When was the last time we put aside our differences and tussled skyward?”

You look away,
reach for the bottle of Evian
and fill your crystal with it,
revealing argent sweat stains
in your starched white shirt.

A Christian with a tattoo tucked on the inside of his wrist pressed your shirt for you. It cost you 5 lira for this man to press your shirt for you. The Christian named his son Isa and is raising him to be a servant too. I would mention this casual fact. But you don’t speak Arabic.

“I can’t be bothered.”

The flesh of a fig clung like amethyst
to the corners of your mouth.
The jewel danced loose when you spoke.

You said, loud enough to cow the street-venders below,
“The fact is it’s not the innkeeper I take issue with. He was simply a businessman doing his job. It’s those fucking wise men. Spending all that cash on a newborn baby. What’s he need myrrh for anyway?”

I bring up a casual fact:
“There are no words ‘wise men’ in the Gospel.”

“Exactly, further proves my point… Idiots.”

Such a pragmatist.
Sitting atop a terrace in an annexed neighborhood of East Damascus,
damning the magi
in your well-water American accent.

“I don’t believe in heaven anymore.”

Though we walked past a storefront in El Hamadieh where they bottled it—
abiir al-jennah
for European women
translucent as silverfish, to dab behind their ears.

You say you don’t believe in hell either.
But you always look away on that part
and I find a little
boy in your throat
so I ask him.
This time with my eyes.

When we returned to our cramped hotel room
you took me.
My eyes were open the whole time.
I stared aloud,
“This is not wise.”
But by then my legs were wine
spilt in the street.
And you had lit some frankincense
so I clasped the gold
cross around my neck
and struggled to love
you till dawn.

During the night, I admired you the way a pedestrian wanders through the genius of the old suq. Touching everything. Without recognition.

Alysia Nicole Harris is pursuing her PhD in linguistics at Yale University and her MFA in creative writing from New York University. A member of the internationally known spoken word collective The Strivers Row, Alysia seeks to bridge the gap between oral and written modes of poetry. She believes in God, Ernest Hemingway, honesty, and all things slow and southern. Alysia currently resides in New Haven, Connecticut. 

Featured Image photograph by E.B. Bartels, www.ebbartels.com.

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