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POETRY

the villagers’ story

by Raena Shirali

it happened while he was sleeping. always
does. daayan stripped slowly, watching herself
in a puddle. wavering & blurry. something
shimmered—or a solid form approached, parting
the flamelight with still more
unknowable. we heard the bonga start
to touch her. or her body looked
like it was being touched. it happened
because she caved to thirst. it happened because
she was naked in the moondark. after, daayan
was aglow, every invisible hair on her body leaning
in the same direction. she squatted down
& shrieked. her hips led her into his room. then
daayan’s tongue running the length of her husband’s
middle bones, pausing above his heart
to record its beat. we heard her braid wrapped
around her hips. toes where her heels
should be. she bore through his ribs with just
her teeth, him asleep all the while. she chewed free
his heart, took it still dripping in her hands,
smothered it with chili & ghee & we all know
what happened next.
 
 

the village goddess talks to herself while applying kohl

it’s not my fault. it happened in the reeds : their awakening, me stringing
cowry shells with a dull needle, sweat-glorious & the gnats’ quiet
 
hum. sometimes men want to see red. sometimes they see a pale
ankle & think                wilt. that day, who knows
 
why they gathered : a loose crescent approaching, scythe
without a spine. other women              will talk, but i felt
 
my throat unshut,  heard     my own voice     ooze
with gold, & before i knew it         i was singing, not moving
 
my body, no loose spark at dusk, just offering a simple
prayer. i thought, maybe holy is all they need. someone to believe in.
 
just a coincidence i wore      my best face that day. just a coincidence
they think nothing’s sublunary. every day      now
 
i’ll put on this darker                       mask. i won’t ask
why they think me a blinding                       bright in the dirt.

Raena Shirali
Raena Shirali is the author of GILT (YesYes Books, 2017). Her honors include a 2016 Pushcart Prize, the 2016 Cosmonauts Avenue Poetry Prize, the 2014 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, & a “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize in 2013. Her poems & reviews have appeared in Blackbird, Ninth Letter, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, Pleiades, Four Way Review, & several other journals. She has performed at Indiana University, Wright State University, Slam Free or Die!, Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop, Columbus College of Art & Design, & elsewhere. Born in Houston, Texas, & raised in Charleston, South Carolina, the Indian American poet earned her MFA from The Ohio State University. Most recently, she was the Philip Roth Resident at Bucknell University’s Stadler Center for Poetry. She currently lives in Philadelphia & serves as a poetry reader for YesYes Books & Muzzle Magazine.
Submit your work! Grist: A Journal of the Literary Arts, seeks high quality submissions from both emerging and established writers. We publish craft essays and interviews as well as fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—and we want to see your best work, regardless of form, style, or subject matter. We read general submissions from May 15 - August 15 and from March 15 - April 30 for our ProForma Contest.

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