Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Issam Zineh







Gestures of Devotion Must Be Big if We Expect to Be Seen

The sky in Clearwater is the print
of your dress—all aster & blue starling.

The year ends the way it began. You asking me
for the indescribable. Sky has no notion of sky.

For all your looking up, your dreams, the ones you
share as the light breaks, happen on earth:

we are at the bottom of a drained ocean. The sky
is burnt orange & raw sienna. There is a monastery

built into a mountain. You whisper: The monks
will let a woman in before they let in a Protestant.

I put a jade egg in your mouth & it becomes night.
Every time you ask what the sky is like where I am now,

I feel like I answer wrong. So, I practice. Every day write
down answers to questions you haven’t asked yet.

The Inuit have a word that means both weather &
consciousness. No one from the holy land calls it the holy land.


Right of Entry

You tell me not to look at the charts before I head out—that there are very few surprises this time of year. I should see what the sea has to offer when I get there. There are only locals left and they don’t go out in the winter. 

I tell you I won’t be long. 

There’s more beach than sea. It’s the lowest the tide has been since we bought the house. It’s frigid. So cold the only reason to be out here is that I’m already here. 
                                                                                                                I walk the stretch I
               used to walk with your father. Light snow on a beach. There is life: a few random gulls.

There’s also approximation. The moorings are exposed down to the heavy chain. There is death 
we’ve become so accustomed to we no longer see it as death: seaweed, razor shells, driftwood.

I see a wrong kind of grey in the southern distance, walk toward it. 
                                                                                                            My stomach opens
                                                         into my throat. It’s a frozen racoon. 

He’s on his back, fours up, teeth barred with all viciousness left from the body through wet obsidian marbles.
                                    How did you get here, little guy?                   I wonder how long you must
    have been here, how long you walked this shoreline before the knowing set in, what terrible
thing you imagined you were fleeing, how necessary. Just across the wide road there’s Great Pond and the adjacent woods. I picture you there before here. Pitch pine, white cedar, tupelo.  

I have to decide what to tell you when I get back. Maybe that, by the looks of it, the beach road is next on the town water project. They’re getting the ground ready for the mains. According to the paper, there are a few landowners in the mandatory zone that have not signed over right of entry. 

               When I get home, you’re lying on the floor. Your knees are up, bound to each other with a belt. Your hands are on your lower belly. You’re breathing slowly. 

     I ask what you’re doing. 

You say you’re working with the front part of your heart, the part that meets the world first.


You Ask If I’m Ready to Die for a Metaphor

My cousin burns
half his face right off his skull smoking
cigarettes and huffing fumes on the roof.

I push a baby stroller over the exposed roots
of a red maple forest as you light the escape fire.

I need more examples.

You curl your hair behind your ear,
show me your growing stack of fiction

body after body rising from the cold spring.



Author photo courtesy of Issam Zineh

Issam Zineh is author of the forthcoming poetry collection Unceded Land (Trio House Press, 2022). His poems appear or are forthcoming in AGNI, Guernica, Pleiades, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. Find him at or on Twitter @izineh. More from this author →