on projection by Raena Shirali

supposing i board
the plane, remain suspended
like some sort of cloud—
buoyant, detached—for one
full day, followed by my arrival
in a place not of my mother’s
dialect, not of my father’s
kin, armed with language : patrilineal,
Marang Buru, Flower
Feast, nage era
. how surely
i’d arrive with detriments
to the likelihood of survival. consider the visible
tattoos, hair dyed lighter at the ends, English
like a target pinned to the chest, the West,
          the inescapable truth of my birth.
to explain the distance
between self & subject is to admit
the unlikelihood of my self
understanding a given subject. i’m talking : theorizing
understanding. i’m talking :
my inevitable failure to embody.
reader, consider
the basic elements of this narrative : daayan, ohja / hunted,
godly. assume
telling any story fully
involves considering all sides.
men wield village secrets
like weapons, catapult accusations
through the fields. i’ve read so much
about legs & backs—ache-laden
& no choice but to eat paje
daily—& yet— i’m just
camera. i’m shutter,
closed, i’m protected
from light, i’m just telling a story
to which i’ll never know an end.
no boarding the plane
no bitter root
no lean season
no poem
the gun to my head is ownership.
the gun to my head is
i’m taking the word empathy
& hanging it as on a laundry line
& watching it waver in wind
& not believing in words & also
relying on them. reader, men & women alike
shutter themselves with superstition.
Raena Shirali is the author of GILT (YesYes Books, 2017), which won the 2018 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a 2018 VIDA scholarship, a 2017 Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University, and a “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize in 2013. Her poems have also received prizes from Cosmonauts Avenue in 2016 and Gulf Coast in 2014. Shirali’s poems & reviews have appeared widely in American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A Day, The Nation, The Rumpus, & elsewhere. She recently co-organized We (Too) Are Philly—a summer poetry festival highlighting voices of color—and serves as Poetry Editor for Muzzle Magazine. Shirali lives in Philadelphia, where she is an Assistant Professor of English at Holy Family University. Learn more at www.raenashirali.com.