A boy dyes his shirt the iridescent blue of sky
at dusk—or is it dawn? Rouged & glittered
he begins, smacking lips, licking gums
inside the club’s electronic hum.
displayed by the bar, slip off their tees--
leading the child
a labor of word, lyre, bark--
Ecstatic, he lurks into the back room, slipping
his tongue through the body’s shutters.
Floorboards unravel into a skein of metal.
What pattern of occasion will free him?
A prayer rug for a strict occasion.
A patch of sand, enclosed within a mesh fence,
where women in headscarves kneel on sajda,
hot from the day’s sun, a pleasure this agony
of warmth & muscle: knee to sand, head to sand.
A pleasure: restraint from lamb & water,
the empty carafe, the scales of fish
meatless & hanging to dry,
the grapes never to become wine.
Eating grapes, my friend harangues me
about the state of affairs in Riyadh.
His lips are wet, he is driving a Nissan rental.
At a streetlight, a single blackstart lands
on the side-view mirror: a lore of midnight
& melancholy song. “This Arab spring,”
my friend continues, my friend stops. . .
“Yes,” I say, thinking of the blackstart
somewhere in a baobab by now.
Somewhere, a mother faints at the butcher
when a lamb’s tongue is cut from the head--
the butcher pressing his fingers into
the eye sockets for leverage--
& the vague cool
of the air passing through the room awakes her
as when Mohammed awoke
in the night desert: no spruce to shade the dead
meat of him, no wind, not even stars--
& as the mother exits
a boy begins his journey to the city,
wearing yellow sandals & a ring on each finger.
A Cave Canem fellow, Charif Shanahan studied poetry at Princeton University, Dartmouth College, and NYU, where he earned his MFA. The recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and a semi-finalist for the “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The New Republic, Prairie Schooner, Barrow Street, Apogee, The Manhattanville Review, and elsewhere. His translations from Italian and German have been performed by the Vienna Art Orchestra and have appeared in A Public Space and Circumference. Charif is Programs Director of the Poetry Society of America, poetry editor of Psychology Tomorrow Magazine and contributing editor of The Offing.