Sky Ward

Sky Ward

by Kazim Ali

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Drunk on the sun and the sea, Kazim Ali’s new poems swoop linguistically but ground themselves vividly in the daily and real. Both imprisoned by endlessness and dependent on it for nurturing and care, in Sky Ward Ali goes further than ever before in sounding out the spaces between music and silence, between sky and ocean, between human and eternal. “Daily…  See more details below


Drunk on the sun and the sea, Kazim Ali’s new poems swoop linguistically but ground themselves vividly in the daily and real. Both imprisoned by endlessness and dependent on it for nurturing and care, in Sky Ward Ali goes further than ever before in sounding out the spaces between music and silence, between sky and ocean, between human and eternal. “Daily I wish stitched here to live,” moans his Prometheus, wondering what release from familiar bondage might actually portend. “So long liberation,” his Icarus sings as he plummets from the sky with desperation and grace, ready to unfeather and plunge into the everything-new. Whether in the extended poem-prayer to Alice Coltrane or in the “deleted scenes” and “alternate endings” to his critically acclaimed volume Bright Felon, or in the spirit-infused and multi-faceted lyrics he has become known for, Ali once again reinvents possibilities for the personal lyric and narrative.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The title of Ali’s fourth collection signals two of the volume’s most salient tasks. First is wordplay: Ali moves far beyond wit, operating to reveal and make use of the latent meanings embedded within words and sounds. In passages such as “Body a window is thrown, is throne/ sewn along the seam of I// courage an empty bowl drained or teeming/ drowned or sown along what seems like sky,” rhyme and homophone attempt to bridge gaps in meaning. Ali’s forceful use of musicality is incantatory, pushing his lyrics from the realm of the everyday into the unknown or even the sublime. The title also signals expansiveness and confinement as twin conditions, an idea that reverberates throughout the book. Culling from autobiography, mythology, and poetic inheritance, Ali manipulates extremes of space and their implications, revealing “a fearsome range in a single body,” “a missing word where continents rub together,” and sky that is “not I/ sent down and endless/ nowhere emerging.” Ali also finds tension between the pulls of prayer and silence, void and profusion, the hidden and the overt. The result is a charged space in which a very contemporary voice takes on an elemental and numinous sheen. (May)
Library Journal
"Fairy Tale," a poem in this gorgeous if finally perplexing work from Ali (The Far Mosque), says of the amnesiac prince wandering through its lines, "But he doesn't understand words, only sound, the shape of words, the tune to which they are sung." The same could be said of Ali's own work, which is fable-like, immediate, and sensuous, and characterized by a tilted syntax and abandoned punctuation that's intriguing but that can leave the reader groping for some grounding ("Little by little I strife come by/ holding dark felt aloft"). Occasionally, the lines go completely opaque ("Now done under woven to spill/ Blue night lake foal"). From the first poem, though, readers know that they are on a journey with the speaker (the poem is in fact titled "Journey to Providence"), and it's an affecting experience, a melancholy search for the soul that ends as it started, with the speaker saying, "Mine the rain-filled sandals, the road out of town. Like a wind/ unbound this shining river mine." In between, we get scraps of character and event but mostly a carefully managed tumble of incisive language limning a painful conversation with oneself. VERDICT The word-hungry will delight and logicians faint; for adventurous readers.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
From the Publisher
“Through his attempt to fly, Icarus was injured by the heavens, not healed. From this basis in myth, Ali explores the ongoing conflict between religion and homosexuality…In Ali’s interpretation of the myth, the rise and fall of Icarus is not a straight line, instead it is a constant plummeting, soaring, and plunging again.”
—Puerto del Sol

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Product Details

Wesleyan University Press
Publication date:
Wesleyan Poetry Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sky Ward

By Kazim Ali

Wesleyan University Press

Copyright © 2013 Mohammad Kazim Ali
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8195-7358-2


    Journey to Providence

    body a window is thrown is throne
    sewn along the seam of I

    courage an empty bowl drained or teeming
    drowned or sown along what seems like sky

    well came the problem of where to live
    driving through the gray evening, cold rain on the windows
    listening to melancholy piano on the radio

    why can't I look at people when I am speaking to them
    my touch is an argument for pleasure or pressure
    mornings I run whipstill and drunk at the body's rage

    gorgeous I miss
    not salvation but bliss I adore
    discs of green melting snow reveals

    When the journal of music gave way
    to the journal of pain the pages curled
    themselves into fists and wept

    but will I broken will I undone
    at the water ask to go deeper a boat
    dusting linden clears away envy

    wandering like lilac snow in dunes
    never the water enter the duskwarm room
    will I let you wing me will I have leapt skyward

    there is a dream past all unsleeping
    a fire turned friend and held
    if we are wedded how does the wind go through me

    carving monoliths and caves
    valley conversant in streaks of light
    my tongue disappear into dusk's many tongues

    there is no one to write this sadness how hard it is
    going to be to live without him a lonely gathering
    a haze a crated shrine air thick and healing itself

    unraveled collapsed into who would have known
    the cost of breaking I could have told you
    with a lurch we are all of a sudden airborne

    prepare to open the leaves not a canticle of wind but reverie
    or revelation
    the black square perhaps meaning a dissolving of the body into
    the ground
    though isn't this what you were promised and crave

    here on the frightened bluff naked in the moonlight
    with a view of the foundry spitting up flames and liquid stone
    everything we love has been lost we are in a wilderness

    you will get told bell astral buoy hurricane eye
    night soaking the foothills in lambent downpour
    a storm front approaching with the gentlest touch

    never care atlas let the cold in from every corner
    something has recessed you have noticed this before of course
    the rain has not yet fallen but still fiery felt on the skin

    why say out the beach's syllables dark recess you climbed
    dare you say salvation what can it mean to the unmoment saved
    it works to fold into a thousand flying cranes

    one moment we came to an empty house in the country
    and wondered
    who lived there the next moment we were a wild boat refusing
    to return to harbor even at the storm's violent height

    glass you remember the other life:
    rain, the beach, his breath hot on your neck
    what are we if not lost in pools of blame

    sunlight yield the harshest corner
    where the last words still stray
    what you want most is to hold breath in you

    Lake House

    Now to praise utterly unceasing
    now to shadow and learn

    Flickering pulse last chapter sent
    Never to touchbe shorn

    Full hour spent spelling my house
    by web to thread air blue

    By cover of night tree to tree
    strung any place through

    Seen clear sun cold lake soul
    found any place home

    Now done under woven to spill
    Blue night lake foal


    Your son turns restive in his sleep
    Whispered away by morning to dusk

    Verses bloom along his wrists and throat
    In bright sentences his name is cut

    Five times a day he cries out
    His voice snuffed in flowery wells

    He knows in his heart none can take you truly in
    Save the house that unhomed you

    Fairy Tale

    In the acres of garden before an empty house an amnesiac prince
    collects broken branches, prunes the fruit trees, plucks weeds from the
    rock bed.

    He speaks a broken language of beach and Broadway and on the way
    to shore gets lost and finds himself in a cemetery at sunset, pink light
    on the stones.

    He cannot read the inscriptions but kneels down at a cenotaph
    anyhow and recites the only prayers he can remember.

    Why, when we wanted to speak to nothing but water, is he singing
    verses down into the stone hard earth in a town he has never
    belonged to, lost on his way to the shore?

    If only he would learn to read the book of the sky, he would see the
    birds circling lazily around hot currents, which could only mean a large
    body of water is near.

    The words are hollow in his mouth and he doesn't know what he
    believes anyhow, whether bodies will again rise or if the aerial rumors
    of the gulls will lead him to the sea or if the numb tombstone in his
    mouth might indeed speak.

    His scripture comes out sideways and his mispronunciation of the
    most sacred of syllables makes him always friendless. It's nearly a
    party trick the way he opens his mouth and butterflies pour out, closes
    it again and the clock chimes, reminding him of being a young boy,
    coming home to an empty house, sure that he had been forgotten,
    that everyone had gone to the beach without him.

    Sure that he would always be forgotten, that he would lie down in his
    grave and no ghost would come to fetch him or explain god or what
    was supposed to happen next.

    That the grave would fill with dirt and he would rise on the boat of
    his body. That no one would recite sacred chapters for him, that he
    wouldn't know how to take the rudder, that the sea was too far.

    The boat now coming apart, his voice dwindling, hard as stone.

    Finally he sees a bird winging down calling, "Find-me, find-me!"

    But he doesn't understand words, only sound, the shape of words, the
    tune to which they are sung.

    All the sacred verses in the world are like birds wheeling in the sky,
    who knows where they go.

    High Stakes Game

    Little by little I strife I come by
    holding dark felt aloft

    Outsmarting winter's final blue scene
    I see the outline of invisible water

    See me winter
    Raise me felt and snow

    Freeze Tag

    Why agree to this awful treaty

    To share the fate of fire and flesh

    Released from stillness by a single touch

    For barely one moment being able to think "I"

    Through stone or muck we run as if on fire

    Fingers reaching to save all the others

    No return home but an eternity of transformation

    Everyone crying out not-it not-it


    Ashamed and almost withering
    when the winged god flew from my throat

    I wanted to kill him for wanting him
    begged to be reborn as a brute or beast but

    it was me who wanted to be killed like a king,
    my uncertain body chained to the rocks promising

    to lie still, to be destroyed, wanting only
    to kiss the hands of my winged assassin

    I would break any promise to be so
    daily devoured, eternally delivered —


    Daily I wish stitched here to live

    Facing west watching the last light

    Tattooed on my left wrist, "let-go"

    Tattooed on my right wrist, "not-it"

    Daily you make me dizzy with messages

    Nightly torn open by brute sky and eagle claw

    The strongest man in the world is on his way to release me

    But what happens when a frozen man is touched by fire

    Upon release I may disappear

    The Nowhere House

    chrysalis drinking brought me brought me certain and dour

    shadow intoxicant lust me

    brahmacharya charlatan commit your crime

    saint olga broumas seize me
    saint shahid ali sees me

    still as that starving humble boy who stumbled
    north up the river from the city thrusting

    every time I look into the house of nowhere
    sound hums under

    weigh me down and need me
    saint sufi anyone knead me

    Prayer Request Cards

    I would like the church to pray for

    a clear reckoning
    the core unearthed
    what's best born skyward

    who's most easily followed

    who's most faithful
    beckoned to

    I would like the church to pray

    my psalm to unsettle the case
    my askance umbilical lust to review
    and refute the evidence

    to enter my gilt-edged tongue
    as final proof
    of innocence

    I would like the church

    on the inside of my sin
    to spell out my breath
    to draw a wing

    The Good Brother

    A penniless pot-maker I am always willing to condemn or be

    Oh yes, as the fan turned in the hot afternoon I bore witness to
    the sadness of our father, working his way through blade and stone,
    hungry to guide his son.

    I am the good brother, never to know more, never to look at the
    far shore.

    For a decade I made pilgrimage to the river, scoping out the place
    I heard my brother fell.

    Brother of the bird, I watched from a distance wondering if I would
    have had the courage to listen to our father.

    Still unbelieving, I remain in the lair of the beast; only half a man,
    I declined the coat my brother wore, incandescent aspect of both bird
    and angel.


    I dug graves in my pockets searching for the ticket out.
    Intent on escape I never noticed there was no wall.

    I lash myself daily describing fake bondage:
    All the prisons and pockets, the graves in which I bury myself.


    small sound pocket
    sky torn wound

    down my body
    eight limbed swoon

    lunar starved catastrophe
    across the midline stranded

    stranger street lantern
    leading to winter

    time unwrought sore
    still who are you

    no where ecstatic
    beside yourself now


Excerpted from Sky Ward by Kazim Ali. Copyright © 2013 Mohammad Kazim Ali. Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Donald Revell
“Ali is one of the very few poets now writing dedicated to the enlargement (rather than the abandonment) of the lyric mode. With these new poems, he has opened a wide, new space for the music of what happens and shown us a worthy, if challenging, task for that music.”
Tracie Morris
“Beautiful, echoing poetry that finds ‘No return home but an eternity of transformation.’ Ali has a delicate touch and these poems leave us (for we are reluctant to leave them), playing in space.”
Fanny Howe
“In, out, secrecy, exposure. The book is resonant with the poetry of Hafiz and Rumi but stays grounded in the contemporary, especially in its candor, and unease. But then the language and vision is also Romantic and pleasurable, calling to be heard aloud”

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