Tarfia Faizullah and Jamaal May

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September 19, 2017Tarfia Faizullah headshot and Jamaal May headshot

Seminar 5:30 PM | Lannan Center (New North 408)
Reading 8:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge

You Ask Why Write About It Again

—Tarfia Faizullah

Because a child’s handprints are smudged
on cream and green walls, because the deaf

child cannot know the sounds of her own grief,
because sleep comes or does not come. The hand

pressed hard against the window does not want
to be the hand that lifts the pen again to write

the word sister, the word silence—the hand desires
blossoms, instead: white gardenias, whorls of pooled

wax. Because the blade held by the hand is still a blade
even when used for crushing and not cutting: dill,

cardamom, a bulb of garlic, pink and yellow pills.
Because we want to be hand and blade and window,

but are stains on walls instead—praise the lantern
mottled with dusk, the heft and shimmer of grief

unnamed but questioned. Praise the red leaves
and white candle, the metal canisters brimming

with lentils, cumin, fennel—praise the ailanthus moth
spinning its coarse silk because it cannot stop and it must.

From PEN America
Read more about Tarfia Faizullah

Per Fumum

—Jamaal May

(through smoke)

My mother became an ornithologist
when the grackle tumbled through barbecue smoke
and fell at her feet. Soon she learned
why singers cage birds; it can take weeks
to memorize a melody —
the first days lost as they mope
and warble a friendless note,
the same tone every animal memorizes
hours into breathing. It’s a note
a cologne would emit if the bottle was struck
while something mystical was aligned
with something even more mystical
but farther away. My father was an astronomer
for forty minutes in a row
the first time a bus took us so far
from streetlights he could point out constellations
that may or may not have been Draco,
Orion, Aquila, or Crux.
When they faded I resented the sun’s excess,
a combination of fires I couldn’t smell.
The first chemist was a perfumer
whose combinations, brushed
against pulse points, were unlocked
by quickening blood. From stolen perfumes
I concocted my personal toxin.
It was no more deadly than as much water
to any creature the size of a roach. I grew suspicious
of my plate and lighter Bunsen burner,
the tiny vials accumulating in my closet.
I was a chemist for months
before I learned the difference
between poisoned and drowned.
When my bed caught fire
it smelled like a garden.

From Poetry (February 2014)
Read more about Jamaal May

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