For Gloria, Family, and Friends
My first prayer is the one for Gloria. Gloria is a person of faith. I still don’t know the details of her God. I do know that she treats faith with such respect and care. I know her kindness, compassion, and generosity toward others and herself. Her courage jumps into whatever I write, and her love is infinite.
I pulled these chairs up for you so we may speak together.
Hush, Yonder is a castle.
What you have done for me is but the first step
in a repayment plan for all the love you
were once given. How else could you recognize the gift?
Just sit there right now
Don’t do a thing
For your separation from God,
Is the hardest work
Let me bring you trays of food
That you like to
You can use my soft words
As a cushion
Translation by Daniel Ladinsky
As Ramadan draws to a close, I sit outside alone in Sewanee. A soft wind, so companionable, and my breath, always the breath–no speech but the scratch of my pen. It thunders later tonight.
The lightning is a flicker here and there in the long grass. Look up to the sky.
The rain is loud and steady.
I fasted in Brooklyn, then in California, back in Brooklyn, now in Tennessee. I did this with you.
Tomorrow, I venture to Murfreesboro, or Nashville. A Joss Whedon-styled Angel, the man with a shorn head, who was with Bats – the two who gave me a little fright on the first night, drunk and partying, who had locked themselves out, insisted that I use his rental car to drive into town.
If you don’t use my car to attend Eid prayer, I’ll be upset, Angel said. This is like your mini-Hajj. I could use your prayers, he adds.
In the kitchen for two nights, as I eat, he comes to discuss our faiths, aligned, yet I can tell he is struggling with something. Our talking draws the spirits closer. I want the questions in his chest to burst free of their cage.
What does it mean to be at the end of a time?
Frenchie leaves a reading with tears in her eyes, touched by a talk I’d been unable to attend about procrastination and aging. To know that our time is limited and be at the end of our careers, she mentions. It felt brave. It felt personal.
Somewhere on Pluto
a wind dies
an engine stalls in Detroit,
the flower of summer sets
into the apex of the Sun.
Did I tell you this story already? Frenchie says. I keep thinking that you were there, even when you are not. She shakes her head.
In a place where I expected to make connections and only hoped to find friends, this statement touches me.
I am with you, I say, even when I am not with you.
Allah whispered this into my ear during this fast.
At the beginning of an event, I’m already leaning toward the ending.
If I really want the time to end, the ending is bright and full of fluffy clouds.
However, if I want the time to last forever, I cannot picture the end.
I will be a different person than the one today, and the future is unknowable. I would like to stay here.
Stop this: Full-of-worry, even sadness, missing the future where I will no longer be me,
missing the present.
Saimo tells me of her difficulties during Ramadan. I nod throughout as each word feels like shared steps.
Good, I think selfishly — I wasn’t the only one challenged by the lack of the Ramadan pattern. I’ve come to love my routines. It was an endlessly social Ramadan, but I could not settle into company, wanting to be alone more often than not but unable to make that space. My writing didn’t flow, even though I wrote. I appeared peaceful, but inside my thoughts were strained. It was a Ramadan of contradictions.
Usually, in the last week and a half of Ramadan the blessings of the fast are bestowed: an infinite peace, a calm, a quiet. Prayer is easier. Focus is possible. The hunger dies and is replaced by the food of the Spirit. The good stuff, Saimo called it. This Ramadan, we said to each other, not so much good stuff.
Every morning I woke up expecting that I would not be so hungry or thirsty, but my body betrayed me. Instead of slipping into a meditative state, my head would rock and roll. Was I asleep? Did I snore? Did anybody see me? More times than I could count.
Where is my spiritual journey?
That second meal was usually the hardest. I was already full. Trying to sleep. Waking up to pray. Trying to sleep. I lost count.
I expected that my faith would keep my doubts at bay. I was full of so much anxiety, as if I could not keep myself from anticipating that I would be anxious. Allah has listened to too many complaints to me. Each gratitude is paired with a fear, such a couple.
We come into time expecting one thing, but getting another.
Tonight there was a graveyard walk. I was busy stuffing brownies in my bag and caught up to the group, cheeks bulging. The great poet Claudia Emerson who I discussed earlier was trailing at the back of the crowd with another poet, discussing her chemo and the exhaustion of her thyroid dysfunction. I caught only parts of the conversation. Later, I realized it was about the reading of poetry at the graveyard.
A group of New Yorkers raised a fuss, Claudia’s companion side, when we read Alan Tate’s Ode to the Confederate Dead so that sort of ended that.
I can see why that’s not a popular title, I interject.
Well, it’s not about celebrating the confederacy, he says. I do think they just stopped at the title.
Oh, I say, well people don’t make so much room for complexity these days.
So, Claudia agrees and nods, when I asked ____ what I should read, that’s when he asked me to read Wolves. He was so emphatic. She laughed.
This is exactly what Claudia Emerson looked like the year before, at the grave of Allen Tate, reading his poem “The Wolves”:
There are wolves in the next room waiting
With heads bent low, thrust out, breathing
At nothing in the dark; between them and me
A white door patched with light from the hall
Where it seems never (so still is the house)
A man has walked from the front door to the stair.
It has all been forever. Beasts claw the floor.
I have brooded on angels and archfiends
But no man has ever sat where the next room’s
Crowded with wolves, and for the honor of man
I affirm that never have I before. Now while
I have looked for the evening star at a cold window
And whistled when Arcturus spilt his light,
I’ve heard the wolves scuffle, and said: So this
Is man; so-what better conclusion is there-
The day will not follow night, and the heart
Of man has a little dignity, but less patience
Than a wolf’s, and a duller sense that cannot
Smell its own mortality. (This and other
Meditations will be suited to other times
After dog silence howls his epitaph.)
This is what Claudia Emerson looked like reading Tate’s “Ode to the Confederate Dead”
We shall say only the leaves whispering
In the improbable mist of nightfall
That flies on multiple wing:
Night is the beginning and the end
And in between the ends of distraction
Waits mute speculation, the patient curse
That stones the eyes, or like the jaguar leaps
For his own image in a jungle pool, his victim.
I didn’t end up catching the reading at the graveyard. I was with myself in the basement of a library printing out directions to Murfreesboro, then walking through the graveyard by myself in the dark (to scare myself), then popping out upon Frenchie as she and other writers listened to a recital of one of Allen Tate’s poems near his grave, her flashlight on.
Buahahahahahhah, I said in my magician’s voice.
You’re not funny, she said.
What does it mean to be at the end of something?
How will you feel tomorrow about this Ramadan? Saimo asked.
I don’t know, I said, but last night I popped a filling out while I was flossing. Do you think I need to see a dentist? I asked Saimo.
Well, I’ve popped out a filling before, Saimo said. I don’t think it’s a big deal.
But I don’t think I’ve ever done it by flossing.
We are the lake. Allah is beneath the surface.
I became more concerned this Ramadan with doing things properly, unusual for me. I cannot think upon all the reasons for this particular evolution. I didn’t say my usual jovial Ramadan Mukabar! I wanted to pray correctly, my gender-queer self wanted to bend toward hijab like a magical rainbow. I needed two tutorials, one from Pelé on washing, the other from Saimo on how to wrap my hijab. It’s as if I disappeared into the swallows of Tennessee and emerged with two bobby pins and one safety pin. At the end of the rainbow is a perfectly arranged Muslim.
Is the spiritual journey simply the sum of its parts?
Is it one forehead, two hands, two knees, and two toes?
As if our philosophies are rendered useless by the fast.
Our bodies become both loud and invisible.
We come into time expecting one thing, but getting another.
Has this fast been everything you could hope for? Allah asked.
Ramadan is my container. Without the limits and constraints of Ramadan, I would not have come upon this end because there would be no such thing as an ending.
There is a grace in submitting to a time, in pouring your life into a container. This foreign object that encapsulates you makes it possible for you to identify a shape. Who hasn’t imagined infinity as an arc, heading towards our personal goals.
My selfish worries about graduation, about looking for a job, about my aloneness, about my family, about my friend’s health, about my love life, and last but not least, my unconquerable soul, gave way to my prayers.
I could not deny this end, nor put it off.
It is simple, yet it is not easy.
I knew of course that the time would end.
But saying it, even it being it itself as I wrote, did not allow me to imagine it, to predict it.
I do however, cherish this end.
Claudia Emerson insisted in the bookstore that she gift me a book of her poetry. She knew that I had plans for the copy I’d won my second day in Sewanee. She sent her husband to buy the book for me.
By Claudia Emerson (from her collection Secure the Shadows)
I had many times walked past it: crowded
Stand of mixed woods where a field used to be,
self-ordained survivors of a place
Having gone unnoticed long enough
for them to volunteer: maples, scrub pines,
some cedars – a blood beech leaved even
in winter, little remarkable either
for ruin or beauty. And then something, in there,
caused me to pause, sounds a wakeful house
can make – the restlessness of a slumberous
body shifting in bed, the strike of a match,
foot doubtful on a stair, kindling catching,
water from a spigot, fatwood hiss.
Or all of it the acoustics of emptiness—
needles of ice ticking on abandoned glass,
a porch swing’s chained keening. But it was habit
to find the familiar in that shifting architecture,
its trueness not finally in the measure
and level of some human past, or possible,
but in that present quickening—wind-cast
shadows of sound and soundlessness, unseen,
unknowable, and, for once, enough.
Thank you for reading my blog. I’m not sure whether I’ll post for Eid as tomorrow I drive to Murfreesboro and then come back to listen to my Sewanee teacher Randall Kenan read, a handsome man with eyes that fire.
If you’ve been reading my blog (and I knew about it), please know that I’ve kept you in my prayers. I did it very specific, just like in the Secret, so the blessings of my fast should adhere to you. I’m so serious.
My Gloria writes me that she likes to look at my face and my eyes. Her operation is set for the 29th. I have so many things to say to her, so here’s my beginning:
I am with you even when I am not with you.
This is us beginning.
Got a favorite of my Ramadan Journal Entries? Let me know! 2013 and 2014 are all online. You may wish to access by following links I’ve provided, or scroll haphazardly. Please feel free to leave me comments. I love them.
Some of my favorite Ramadan Journal posts listed below in eight different places w/ links! ;)
2.) 2013, Eid
3.) 2014, Fast Brain
4.) 2014, Sgt. Lonely’s Queer Club Band
5.) 2014, My Mother in the Summertime
6.) 2013, Ramadan Day 9
7. 2013, Ramadan Day 11
8.) 2014, Journey South