Rumpus Original Poetry: Four Poems by Jaz Sufi

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I LEARNED HOW TO SWIM WHEN I REALIZED I COULD SWIM

The ocean drags my name out of me, and everyone says,
“A tragedy.” I climb back into the boat, dripping
like a tongue, and everyone says, “Bad blood.”
I decathect my name. Allow them to call me what they want
until we reach the shore, allow their suggestions
on what to do next — a doctor, a metal detector.
Everyone expects me to comb through the beach,
looking for my name like a lost wedding ring.
Wring the water from my hair like a wake.

Meanwhile, my name teaches itself how to breathe
underwater; cracks open an oyster and crawls inside,
makes a home, re-names itself a pearl. Crawls back out.
Heavier now, it sinks down, deep enough
so that it must learn to create its own light
in order to find its hands in the dark.
A tiny, heedless star. A feral sun.
Wretched, it blooms.

 

BROKEN GHAZAL EXPLAINING THE KNIFE IN ITS HAND

Restoration of the long-sleeved monarchy. Queen re-
gnant with her sharpened scepter, handed down re-

liquary from one hand to the other, no longer re-
legated to irrelevancy — what good is power if not re-

lentless? Worth less than nothing if caged & kept re-
stless. Water lapping at the throat of a re-

servoir doesn’t quench anyone’s thirst, only re-
minds of its absence. Blood dries into re-

sin       unless the wound is kept re-
cent. Bodies of clay crack. Bodies of water re-

cycle into other bodies. Every corpse ever re-
covered from a river cried from thirst before it thanked its re-

ssurector. It isn’t manners; it’s a matter of re-
verie, the terrible joy in how even death & its re-

versal can’t staunch the thrumming of an echo. Re-
siliant, this song rotting in your head, like a re-

quiem that follows you home from the funeral but re-
fuses to hold your hand. You hold your own hand. Re-

strain your own wrists. Survival is just a breath that re-
acts. When the river runs dry, it’s not a loss, just a lapse.

 

DSM 5-296.89

Cackle in the witch dark. Glitter bloom the blood.
Deep-fried ice cream and a bouquet of wedding thorns.
How do I explain myself and still be understood?
A mixed state — water that can boil and still be broken.
I can call it a haunting if I want; I can call myself a ghost.
Diagnostically, I am a wrecking ball turned inside out.
Kaleidoscopic. My tongue a prism sharpening the light.
The light sizzling against my skin. Spitting sparks.
Slaughter song. Daughter of a feral pedigree.
Summer-sugared in a curdled season.
I’m trading the sun for something warmer.
The beast-bartered silence. The ribbon-wrapped bud.
I could stay like this forever. I can. I can.

 

PERIHELION / APHELION

I am my body and my body is me, and then something happens and I go away. I become something else. My body stays my body. After that, we don’t see each other so often. My body is an orchid. I am a carnation. Wrong seasons. We try again. This time, I’m a lily, my body is a plum. Wrong bloom. I’m a dandelion and my body is allergic to flowers. It sneezes. I disperse. Now we’re less real to each other than we once were. My body is conceptual. I am theoretical. My body is a temple and I ask to speak to the manager. The manager isn’t in today. My body is terribly sorry. I am, too. It wishes it could help me. So do I. I’m at the bottom of a well and my body is a bucket too small to hold me. Who’s lowering my body down to me? It’s me: I pull the rope from above and it snaps, there’s a clatter, I look down in the well and there’s only water. I look up at the sun and there’s only light. I blink. There’s my body, moon shadow eclipsed on the wrong side of my eyelids, no shape to speak of. I blink. It’s gone. Sometimes we find each other. My body is a dog, and I keep it on a leash. I teach it tricks. I name my body after something else. I’m happy. One day, though, I go out to get the newspaper and forget to close the door. My body runs out and I never see it again. It’s not always my body’s fault, though. Sometimes we both come back in ways the other can’t forgive. My body is a doll but I buy a toy gun instead. My body is a bullet but now I want a dress. “I miss you,” I tell my body, but only when it’s already gone. We’re at the same party and we introduce ourselves by each other’s name (“I’m my body,” I say; my body says, “I’m something else”). We’re at the same party and we both go home with someone else. I disperse. After I get out of the shower, I can see the message my body traced in the steam on the glass. We’re both trying. This doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault, but somehow that always means it’s my fault. I’m terrible, I’m sorry. My body never blames me. My body is blameless. My body is a child, or else very, very old, and its horrors so far behind that it might as well have been someone else’s hands that held the knife in a trembling grip. I still haven’t let go, though. Why haven’t I let go? I am a tiger in a cage. My body is another tiger in a different cage. It’s a zoo. It’s the circus. It’s summer and we’re supposed to be somewhere it snows, but it’s dark and it’s cool now. No one’s here. Everyone’s gone. There’s light glinting off the keys on the wall, and a chance. There’s a way out for us both and I can see it there, I can see it just there.

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Photograph of Jaz Sufi provided courtesy of Jaz Sufi.


Jaz Sufi (she/hers) is a mixed race Iranian-American poet and arts educator. Her work has been published or is upcoming in PANK, Birdfeast, The Offing, and elsewhere. She is a Kundiman fellow and National Poetry Slam finalist, and is currently an MFA candidate and Goldwater fellow at New York University. More from this author →