Two Poems by Raena Shirali

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

To Be Held, Light

for & after Jericho Brown

            I have questions I don’t ask for fear my man
will answer. I can say I have my man, but that’s less true
      than him having me. His architectural biceps

           hold my neck like it’s a broken bell. He says
it’s because of the close-cut hair, but avoids the question of skin,
      like the scar is a mark I can choose to forget. He acts like I’m all loosely-

           pursed lips. Like I’m something more delicate
than a boy. Girl, he says, lift your chin up so your maker can see
      your face.
I say my maker is a they and they see me just fine. They

           of the writhing arms, they of the many heads all looking,
softly, down. Again with the question of skin—brown
      or blue, and which do I think is more realistic? The realist in me says

           when we die, when the world dies, we will likely not reincarnate, but
just look at the sand he & I have tracked in circles. Each question
      its own reincarnation, & what to make of all these questions.

           When he asks if I’m able to trust others, or myself, I say my heart
is a home made fully of lead. He says my hair indicates I cut it close.
      I do. My gods have skin like waterlogged clouds. It’s all

true. They are tether & peal & the silence after it.
                                                        We are all raucous with want.


The bride could be anyone decked in crimson: jeweled, gold
chain draped from nose to temple, connected
by piercings—signs that purity can still

sink in. Her henna cracks from wrinkles or wear. Girlfriends
in the audience dab at their eyes. Less important
is the man the spectacle is for. Blossoms line the thin bones

of her forearms, braceleting at the elbow, her slim
bicep cupped by an armband. Fifty-three bobby pins hold
her three-foot fake braid in place (so it stiffens,

not swooshes, not swoons) as she shuffles around the fire.
Her toes, painted for the occasion, tap the carpet
quietly as he feeds her sweets.

In the clouded lens, decked out in beads & a necklace
lined with shot glasses, her eyelids close over with lace.
The night blurs. She sings to herself

at the bar, thinking no one can hear the song
she wants the moment to be. Strobe lights flash her eyes
open. She stares: the mirrored ceiling, her inverted

reflection crowded in by glitter, by trapezoids of light
cast down. Her friends dance slowly though the beat
begs rhythm. One girl’s head on the other girl’s shoulder.

One girl’s hand on the other girl’s back.

Photo of Raena Shirali

Photo of Raena Shirali

Raena Shirali’s first book, GILT, is forthcoming in 2016 with YesYes Books, and her work has appeared in Crazyhorse, Four Way Review, Indiana Review, Muzzle Magazine, Ninth Letter, The Nervous Breakdown, Pleiades and many more. Her other honors include a 2016 Pushcart Prize, the 2014 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, and a “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize in 2013. She currently lives in Charleston, SC, where she teaches English at College of Charleston.