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About this Poem 

"When I was invited to write about a national park in Ohio I thought about the purpose of parks, often bearing the names of nations or tribes who were dislocated from that place or who don’t exist anymore. I thought of the way our monuments and memorials efface or recreate histories.

And I was immediately captivated by a park very close to where I live, the smallest national park in the country, a memorial to David Berger, an athlete who was killed at the age of twenty-seven. And I thought of Mohammed Al-Khatib, a young athlete of the same age whom I had just met. And I wondered if Mohammed and David had ever met, what would they have made of each other? Could they have been friends?

That is how the poem began, but like poems do, this one took on a life of its own. Soon in thinking about memory and history I was compelled to think about physics, about music, about the ordinary and extraordinary lengths we go to mediate the present through the past. While I was writing this poem the Pakistani Qawali singer Amjad Sabri was killed in Karachi on his way to sing. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility. Sabri too entered the poem.

It was Olga Broumas who invented the term hesperine when I confessed to her I couldn’t think of a name for the form I was developing for this poem. It was only after she gave me the form that I discovered that the ancient Greeks thought Hesperus and Phosporus to be two brothers, not in fact the same heavenly body."
Kazim Ali

Hesperine for David Berger

     Begin with the dining room custodian at the university who smashed the stained glass window because we are actually going to change history


     Imagine then in the suburbs of Cleveland a sculpture of steel rings broken in halves but opening up away from the bullet-written history of the burning helicopter toward the open sky


     Seems possible because there is a bridge between relativity and quantum mechanics that no physicist has yet ascertained


     Imagining neither a conditional future if the past was different nor forging ahead from the broken but something newer that bridged that loss


     For example what if a painter who left the canvas entirely and instead looked at all the extant surfaces in the already man-made and man-frayed world


     History then as fragile as stained glass and yet writes new narratives that shape every movement forward


     Both ways of understanding the behavior of matter cannot both be true yet somehow they still behave as true on the lived-in planet


     David Berger at 27 deciding to move across the world to Israel to train and compete in the Olympics, 1972 Munich


     What Casey Menafee did is he reached up without really thinking, he climbed up on top of a table in the dining room and with his broom he


     Sang in bits and pieces to god the road you knew which was the confusion road the one made of all your wrong turns


     Geometry of a building makes it stand math is mighty there are abstractions in every letter their architecture makes sound possible


     “For each of you a practice” Quran 5:48 says, “if God had willed He would have just made you one people”


     Imran Qureishi paints little blossoms on the ground, on the wall, in corners of the room, they bloom like water or blood or light


     While the Qawali singer Amjad Sabri groans his throat open in ecstatic sound aiming to reach from the muck of the earth all the way into heaven


     From the summit I plummet then into the time of unstrung lyres to try to go back into the dark time


     A letter arriving in the night mysterious reads: “A reminder we do not forget we do not forgive”


     Translator of frozen scripts you try to tongue your way through that old score shame that I am still trying to settle


     Sky boat bear me down along these reticent cords while I plumb lupine clouds in search of lingering snow


     Do you know what your body is do you know what god is


     Music that do sound off strings into voice from the body’s drum that sings breathe through as wind


     Shattered the panes of the stained glass window depicting enslaved workers bearing cotton along a road


     Hesperus the evening star shines with a cold light through the tightest drawn evenings sharp edged and dissolute


     He said he didn’t even think about it he came into work in the dining room everyday and he hated that one image in the glass and one day he just


     And of all that was wrong was a pattern painted not last year or a hundred years ago but I mean yesterday or this morning


     Sun is going down on the wrong horizon, the sea glows green then blue then green again this is where I was born this in between place


     And so I curse the fucking dawn that grinds men to powder tears them from their bodies flings them down the hot dark barrel of a gun


     How then to catalog the metadata of all the corpses that locate for us our own bodies and register their Western comfort


     Bullet punching through a body like punching through a ticket registering it for passage


     Do you know what god is what’s not do you know what art is what’s not do you know what a nation is a citizen a crime


     Sir this world has always asked me for my labor then been silent upon delivery


     Star of evening’s twin brother was Phosporos, star of morning, who rose up in the dawn and brought new day, metaphor of course for new life


     Savage spill and splendid this tended plot a plant this polity close to alarm smoke in the hallway the door opening the key stolen shadows appearing


     What is the sound of misdemeanors hefting the minutes like prison tattoos when they took David Berger and his roommates and then five others in the second apartment sought


     I crunch down in the room of my life to draw small blossoms in the corners of the world, flowers or water or light what do I have against the intention of violence but these small chromatic gestures nothing


     While I pretend the sound I howl has some direction this impossible world always a gate opening could be the death of me


     What passes from beyond the horizon of the black hole can define how the universe is made because if we are right we are right but


     The window shattered and glass rained down onto the street outside the worker was arrested but the university dropped the charges


     The beautiful were made beautiful the blood in their bodies sang and in the rain of white phosphorus into the streets of Gaza


     This technique of Qawali it depends on the old belief that God is found in abstraction and in sound say the Sufi teachers is the physical matter of the universe made


     The astrophysicist then plays a Coltrane riff and reveals its score which maps a shape that corresponds to the equation describing a particle of space-time


     You did learn in painting directly on stone or the concrete sidewalk or the notes nesting in the throat or body against body wrestling or tumbling in space


     Register then my ticket on the train in France the machine says “composter” and in that space between languages I am found


     I have come back to this village on the Mediterranean shore after sixteen years who was I then who am I now was the same age as David Berger same age as Mohammed Al-Khatib


     “Compost” as in compost the old tomatoes into the earth make a complete system of the body’s history into the future life


     Are we then only particles of light and liquid and petaled material swirling one into the other lighthouse dark unlit instrument silent


     But then the Greeks learned from the Babylonians that the evening star and the morning star that they had envisioned and made gods of and written poems about were in fact the same heavenly body


     I register the old tomatoes back into the earth try to clear the trail of ants on the counter swarming the counter where I sliced them


     We live by laws of men drawn of laws of god men say are real who then erected the frame for this chainsaw night


     And at this moment on the sea I see in the water a reflection of every face I’ve known each wave contains another wave each moment of violence contains


     Architecture of the museum of history and its archive based on the Hebrew letter “Yud” for memory or remembrance


     In either case we are inventing the past which means it changes the future which means the machine of time is real made of gears and parts


     Register each body like tickets for the train


     Munich 1972 the road leads right through young men’s brightest hours no question of a Palestinian team not then not till years and decades later


     Ramallah 2014 Mohammed Al-Khatib laces up his running shoes ridiculously trying to train as a sprinter with neither spikes nor coach nor starting block


     Each moment of time is a part of space and each piece of space-time is a physical object an object that can be graphed and mapped


     Impossible to see impossible to feel to refract how finished the pattern that is every unfolding


     Bright glass of many colors the slaves hauling cotton shattered and flickering down toward the concrete


     What am I without these things but no question at all


     And yet here is Coltrane mapping the nature of the universe in sound here is David Berger using his body to show the potential of strength Mohammed decides by guts and grit he can imagine himself faster


     And so I shout down with ragged throat this encroaching blue that brings dawn then brightening day then David and his teammates hustled by the kidnappers into a helicopter bound for the airport promised passage out of Germany


     There is no fajr call here on he seaside to alert me to the hour but I can hear creatures stirring from sleep, a gift so like death it reeks


     Night resounding with Coltrane’s whining instrument his breath through brass has somehow arrived at the same calculation as


     Mohammed seeks to shave tenths of seconds off his time there is no accounting for the decision of the body toward its sport


     “He would have made you one people but He wanted to try you, so strive alongside one another toward good deeds, to God you will all return and then he will account and explain to you the differences you had”


     Somehow sound improvised in time creates that geometric pattern of branches swirling or the equation that tells


     At the beginning of the universe Amjad Sabri sings away for all he’s worth, his voice unspooling like a bolt of raw silk untamed spirit


     He hopes to find god, echolocate Him deep in the harmonic overtone  perhaps at precisely the place his voice breaks


     In the end it don’t matter whether blood is particles or rivulets they spill just the same like Qureishi’s painting of little red flowers rosettes of blood on the floor where the mass shooting took place, his flowers covering the place where blood once marked


     Or on walls following blue streams following the sewer pipe or the slicks of sunlight on the window pane


     This unending pattern of abstraction to say we can inscribe ourselves into the landscape we can change the past we can write ourselves as a letter arriving unannounced to god with no return address


     What other explanation does any scholar have for the verses of the Quran that are neither sentences nor sayings but mere glyphs of letters


     Alif Lam Mim


     Ta Ha


     Alif Lam Ra


     And physics knows what Sabri is hungry for: that the point of breaking (a bullet enters David Berger’s left shoulder)


     (unlike the others he is shot while still in the apartment perhaps to intimidate the other prisoners or perhaps he tried to resist)


     Because he saw the lip of the black hole as the possibility to know and it is that which tipped us off that the systems do match


     Everything thought was true still behaves as if it is true but both things cannot in the known universe be actually true


     If we are on a continuum a wave where time and space bend then nothing is supposed to emerge from the event horizon and yet


     Casey climbed up on the table he could not say why he just said Every day I come into work and I see that window


     Mohammed left Palestine to go to Houston Texas where he found enough open space to run and train I only wanted to hear Palestine’s anthem in the stadium he said


     To hear is to make real


     Coltrane was a physicist


     Sabri found a way to god


     David Berger left his home in Cleveland to move to Israel to lift weights and compete and so at the end of it when the bodies of the ten others return to Israel David’s body is flown back to the States alone


     These boys’ bodies are made of particles that travel one into the other and I curse the crepuscular moment dark and light what are you what is god what isn’t


     Not until epochs of time later did the Romans look into the sky at Phosphoros whose name means “Bearer of Light” and translate into their own language as “Lucifer”


     Does every journey continue down the barrel of a gun from the Olympic village to the helicopter to the airport where the trick was played to the shootout to the firestorm


     What sound breaks the circle of action and reaction


     If space do bend then time


     Can history be unwoven the tightness released to make it possible to breathe and write anew


     Are we pieces made up of pieces made up of pieces


     In little licks like a month cleaning a baby with her animal tongue Sabri draws red petals into the air in sound


     David Berger’s body straining to life or Mohammed’s body racing


     Grey endless stone in the cemetery in the suburb of Cleveland I wandered looking for the grave


     Sound emerges the sound of the sea from the blue saxophone notes trickling from Qureishi’s paintbrush


     Glass littering down the window to the street clear the sun shines through


     In the suburbs of Cleveland past the shopping mall through the office park nestled up against the interstate is a pedestal of black steel broken rings


     Do you even know at all or do you just have to sing to find the place a voice breaks


     There is no tradition in the literature of the world of the “hesperine”: an ode to the darkness itself to beg it not to fall a poem against the falling of night to ward off death the first mortal death was murder and so all this geometry may be inevitable a tired rehearsal


     The stones I left on David’s tomb mark what in the end just my passing that a living person was very briefly here looking to touch the dead


     So do we have to just reach up and shatter it that image of David and his teammates sleeping in the apartment the police so anxious to move them from the Olympic Village


     Broken circles that approach the sky the way a flower would or a fountain or a bird


     Can we sing over the noise or paint down on the stone once marked by flesh and death can we move forward without breaking


     As Sabri’s voice breaks his body breaks he wonders does it always happen that the divine begins when the mortal is shattered


     A gunshot begins the race


     Dusk turns then to night turns to dawn then turns to day bodies infect and inflect each other with particles small moments of light and dark


     Qureishi paints another little red flower down do he pray that history may be erased by beauty


     How can one create in painting in sound in the poetry of the body the new and abiding future life


     Bodies separated by years and miles and religion and law may release their own energy may transfer into one another may be the same body


     Is the reality of the physical universe a continuum of time and space or is it made of moments that can move backward and forward can the past be changed


     Hesperus makes a play for the sacred space of grief Phosporos rains down upon Gaza into the bodies of unmade sprinters weightlifters pole vaulters gymnasts


     What if god is improvising like Coltrane


     Ta Sin Mim


     There’s no time left David has a plane to catch says goodbye to his parents


     Ain Sin Qaf


     The broomstick shatters the glass window and the image litters down


     Kaf Ha Ya Ain Sad


     My voice then breaks as evening covers us in a downpour


     Ta Sin


     End then not in the present moment nor in some deathless wished for past but somewhere very ordinary a normal day perhaps a little chilly and there is Mohammed in the hills above Ramallah lacing up his shoes even though there is no open ground no coach to train him no spikes for his shoes no starting blocks

Copyright © 2016 by Kazim Ali. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Copyright © 2016 by Kazim Ali. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Kazim Ali

Kazim Ali

His first collection of poetry, The Far Mosque (Alice James Books, 2005), won the Alice James Books New England/New York Award

by this poet

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In the convicted evening I am a victor struck loose and restless,
creeping for the unlocked window.

The family inside at the dinner table is mine.

Listening to the escape story on the radio, my mother's hand freezes
in the air halfway to her mouth.

She realizes it's me they're talking about.

Lightning by
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My father's silence I cannot brook. By now he must know I live and well.

My heart is nickel, unearthed and sent. We are a manmade catastrophe.

Unable to forgive, deeply mine this earthly light that swells sickly inside.

Like wind I drift westward and profane when the doors of ice slide open.

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Do strangers make you human

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A constant thrum from outer space

Snow makes a sound in sand

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Hardly

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