afrah shekh "BLOOD / MOUTH"

lonely mouth shapeshifts into icicle

& another reluctant tear drinks itself

to sleep. somehow, old bones steel themselves


in face of granite, blue-bottle granite.

i am in the throes of solemn desolation;

none of my hollow frivolousness is

an admission of guilt, or perhaps worse,


this is a word.

this is another.

these are letters

stuck between rheumatic teeth. God,

how good, how great, how limp my heart,

how struck dog my chest. the prayers

have soldered themselves on the roof

of my mouth; puppet-master singing,

puppet-master selling my tongue

by the pound five times a day.

who am i if not unholy pieces of skin?

who am i if not setting places of worship ablaze?

who am i if not counterfeit plaster saint?

what surreptitious silences.

so much abomination pressed into

degloved bone compartment.

bullet shell cosmetics.

my gnarled frame, hem of the universe.

my gnarled frame, hem of the universe.

after Kaveh Akbar

Tap two bones together long enough, and—genesis. Eruption.

Licking tombstones clean scarcely offers lucidity, solace,

or other such means of fragility in convulsing bellies.

A large part of breathing entails raising hell

against loosely uttered words of malignant humor—
"I have missed you"; "perhaps, forever"; "your child is you".

But of course, everything slips between the corsets of being,

disfigured feelings wryly clubbed into inconspicuous mausoleums;

here, you have loved this particular curve of my hand;

here, I wake to the sinking feeling of being older than Anne,

frank or otherwise. Despite such magnanimity of warring courtesans,

I can only fall asleep to the boorish tunes of whores guarding

vanity's doors. Somewhere in a hospice, a woman neck deep

in the grave sits in a wheelchair and remembers no broken windows,

no tracing the bald dome of her first child, no bartered moments

of heart pound for disquiet matrimony. Yet, somebody plays Swan Lake,
and how her chest stirs uncontrollably, how in the haze behind her eyes
Tchaikovsky coaxes the ballet out of her, how her arms, sinewy with age,

poise themselves to the watered down trills. This incident bears
no significance in the totality of existing, but the old cry and quiver
just as ornamentally as the young do. And it brings me to this—

why have I lived (if at all)? Why have I drawn blood into bottomless syringes?
Why do I relish the sight of tears, vitriol, rain? All of this is a sin (nay, confession),
but I do not look for compassion (just your vigilance),

or far worse, clemency. My footsteps, earth tresses,
and I, we simply do not exist.

And still, I do. Still, I do.


the greatest love story crumbles/ like mouths filled with salt & blood/

but there is a jester in those tender eyes/ who sways with ghostly tears/ & he almost makes me want to live/ the gravest sin there is/

sometimes/ when it rains silver beads in december/ i pacify the hourglass twirling inside me/ & catch glimpses of who i was/ in other people/

numb head to the glass in metro trains/ lips parted at obscure junctions/ of bustling cities that offer no reconciliation/ no forgiving warmth/

these days/ the heart does not stir incomprehensibly at innocuous joys/ it does not wish to weather away like cold bones/ it causes immeasurable grief at the impossibility of things/

no desires are bestowed/ at the end of the universe/ no rainbow bubbles gleaming in weary sunlight/ no doing good by those who ache to live fully/

time is so/ so lovely/ so lovely in how it doesn't stay/ so lovely in how eases gloom between invisible spaces/

pain from bygone days/ reclaims much of the folds in severed chests/ like the quiet realization/ of how sad dying is/

how sad it is to die/ how sad it is to let go/

to let go of/ the only things you know/

Afrah Shekh, 19, hails from India, but has lived in the warm-blooded deserts of UAE her whole life. When not consumed by the slow flames of passion in Wong Kar-Wai's films, she is listening to hollow songs on repeat and falling asleep at obscene hours. Her work has been featured in the Heritage Review, the Write the World Review, and Cathartic Literary Magazine.