Ramadan Day 7

Thirteenth Day

By Kazim Ali


You cannot move as fast as you want, run from one

thing to another. Everything has become immate-

rial and longer.


This morning, the boys who live in the apartment

downstairs were shouting. I don’t say anything

about it because their mother is there alone

with them.


To be here alone.


I’ve learned how to do it. Partly I like having an

open space of time.


Fasting was a secret between my mother and me.

We held hands invisibly throughout the day.


A fast between people holds each of them to what’s

between, to that which goes beyond the corporeal



It’s always easier to fast with another person. We

feed each other our hunger.


Her hand had been my pillow.


My mother, love of my life. Every time I leave her

presence is a fast from her.


Active attention to lack.


As I leave, she holds a Quran over my head. By trav-

eling under it we hope to return safe to each other.


Journeying from the beginning—darkness—to the

end—darkness—of a day. Of a life.





            I take great inspiration from Kazim’s words.  This journal is inspired, in part, by reading Fasting for Ramadan.  I had been searching for years, through several Ramadan fasts and beyond, for a writer who could talk to me about how they kept or magnified their writing practice during this time.  It never occurred to me that I would be writing about the fast itself in this form.  It is true that I am not writing my usual stories, partly out of exhaustion, but it is a source of reverence for a writer, this truth:  you cannot know what will emerge from you until you write it.


            That same revelation can be used to describe the living and their feats.


I saw Kazim perform twice.  Once, I saw him perform among poets of color at AWP in an event my friend, the poet, Ching-In Chen had been a leader in organizing.  He dipped up and down with his syllables, and I was moved.  I saw him read again at Rutgers in a crowd that was relatively diverse, but also less intimate.  He seemed to be peering out of an owlish space, more folded in, still strong.  I think about this idea of performance, and the strength of performing for our community, as opposed to those who feel, and look, like strangers.


I have a secret to tell you.


You can, if you choose, learn from anything.


This summer I learned something about myself that would likely be obvious to others.  I disliked somebody, for many reasons, none of which were good, and none of which were bad, but nevertheless it was hard for me to control myself around them because I found them difficult.  The dislike I felt is a particular brand – it is not born of something that we did to each other.  In fact, we often carry a certain repugnance for somebody whose personality runs the wrong way across our fur, who shows us little consideration, or who, worse, is difficult for us to be around because they either want us to give them something we cannot give – or they want to give us something we cannot receive.  This summer I realized that I have an aversion to people who want to give me their pain.


You can block them.


Or, you can surrender to the inevitable moment when you must feel your own.


Also, you may need to learn about boundaries.


Being in community with people is a wonderful thing.  Being in community with people, when you dislike them, is not an easy thing.  But being in community means accepting that their life is next to yours, and you cannot run away from the demands of community:  holding space for one another, acknowledgment and recognition, the way in which you are their witness and vice-versa.


At the Trayvon Martin rally, I came late.  I had been meeting with my VONA writing group, several of us taking the time to discuss the verdict and more.  As a result, I missed the march and participating in the larger throng that had filled Union Square.  But because I had stayed with my community before joining the larger one, I was caught off-guard by one writer, Stacie’s, sadness.  It was as if a blanket of silence came over her as she contemplated the state of her people and the loss of Trayvon Martin.  She didn’t say much as the rest of us chirped, burbled, and articulated.  Her silence haunted me.


Two VONA writers came with me, guiding me through the maze of the subway, to Union Square and others appeared later.  My brother also came with several of his friends.  The square was quiet, almost aimless, with people shifting and milling.  I was told that the March had filled the Square with its pulse, with people everywhere.  I wanted to see it.  One of the writers, Keisha, turned to me and said, It’s good that people turned out.  It shifted my feeling of odd disappointment.  What was I doing there? 


She was right, of course.  Prior to arriving at the Square, I was feeling a great deal of angst because I have a fear of large numbers of people.  Also, I am a head-butter, a nay-sayer, and generally, contradictory – so large groups that seem singly purposed scare the birds in my head.  I often prefer to be alone after momentous events, after traumatic situations – because I need to hear my own voice.  Maybe I am scared of any situation, large groups, confinement, authority figures, because I have worked very hard to have a voice.  But seeing all these people (and I didn’t even see the larger grouping), I realized that I came for this:


Community.  Where we, as Kazim put it,

feed each other our hunger. 


We are strangers in NYC

in community with one another.


We fed each other our longing.


One grain for each child

we’ve lost.


Shall we fast for each other?


As I prayed this morning, I closed my eyes and saw three stars.  The middle one was brightest.  It hung against the sky like those glow-in-the-dark fish in the dark part of the ocean.  I reached out to touch it with seeking fingers, ghostly against the backdrop of the galaxy.  I could not grasp the star.  I could not stop it from flying from the ground, which was the last place I saw it, before it flew into my mind.


I carried one word back with me from the prayer.


That word is doubt.


When we doubt things, we are giving voice to truth, sometimes the underlying truths about our own values and perceptions, sometimes the illusions which surround us.  We doubt the verdict of the Trayvon Martin trial, no matter that it is unanimous, because we do not doubt that there is racism involved.  We doubt whether there is a God because we cannot explain everything we have experienced rationally, but we do not very much like the congregations we have attended.  We doubt that our loneliness matters when it is the very stamp that certifies our existence.


Can you imagine if for one month

you continuously sent letters to God


and the United States Postal Service

marked each and every one

Return to Sender?


Do you doubt yourself?


A believer will tell you

it does not matter

God does not doubt you.


I will tell you that the Postal Service is only doing its job.


Do not worry what happens to your letter.


Write it.


Your doubt is close to God.


What is a star without its outline?





And He is With Us

By Rumi, trans. by Kabir Helminski


Totally unexpected my guest arrived.

“Who is it?” asked my heart.

“The face of the moon,” said my soul.


As he entered the house,

We all ran into the street madly looking for the moon.

“I’m in here,” he was calling from inside,

but we were calling him outside unaware of his call.

Our drunken nightingale is singing in the garden,

and we are cooing like doves, “Where, where, where?”


A crowd formed: “Where’s the thief?”

And the thief among us is saying,

“Yeah, where’s the thief.”

All our voices became mixed together

And not one voice stood out from the others.


And He is with you means He is searching with you.

He is nearer to you than yourself. Why look outside?

Become like melting snow; wash yourself of yourself.

With love your inner voice will find a tongue

Growing like a silent white lily in the heart.


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