Kazim Ali


How struck I was by the face, years ago, in the church mural:

Eve, being led by Christ through the broken gates of Hell.


She’s been nominated for the position of Featured Saint

On the Icon of Belief, up against the dark horse candidate—


Me: fever-ridden and delirious, a child in Vellore, unfolding

the packet around my neck that I was ordered not to open.


Inside, a folk cure, painted delicately in saffron.

Letters that I could not read.


Why I feel qualified for the position

based on letters I could not read amounts to this:


Neither you nor I can pronounce the difference

between the broken gates and the forbidden letters.


So what reason do we need to believe in icons or saints?

How might we otherwise remember—


without an image to fasten in that lonely place—

the rock on which a Prophet flung himself into fever?


Without icon or church, spell “gates of Hell.”

Spell “those years ago unfolding.”


Recite to me please all the letters you are not able to read.

Spell “fling yourself skyward.”


Spell “fever.”




“Speech” is from The Far Mosque (Alice James Books, 2005).