Joshua Gage

Ahkam

            —after Aharon Shabtai

These creatures in fatigues and ski masks,
I tell myself, aren’t Muslims,

in the truest sense of the word. A Muslim
is prohibited from adorning his body with jewelry

be it gold chains or military-grade munitions.
A Muslim is prohibited from consuming flowing blood.

A Muslim does not believe in the sword that hacks the neck
but in the ghazal incarcerated by fear in the prisoner’s throat,

in the body that leaves a dimple in the mattress,
not in the shell that incinerates it.

He prostrates himself not before the Emir, or the Caliph,
but unrolls his sajjāda towards Mecca—to Allah,

and he cries five times a day out for peace.
Therefore, he will not rob another man of his land

and will not execute him on his knees.
The ragged sermons of al-Baghdadi

preach a Surah of pain and poison—
a sure sign that a Muslim has made Hajj to an ungodly city.

Extempore

We are on our knees, framed
in the winter light. Incense lit,
the candle flames argue
with the uninhabited
wind over the cost of smoke,
and we only wish to stir its ashes
with our own. We kneel, deaf
to the throng of angels who ring
the ceiling vaults with shofars,
seasoning the air with a thousand melodies.
So much silence gathers on our lips.
Our tongues, unturned, rest in our mouths
like boats. We send them out
but too soon they take on water, sink
dumbly back behind our teeth.
Hours plummet from the clock, but then
something slips into wings and lifts
its skirt from our shoulders. We sway,
as if drunk on a warm breeze
stroking our necks. Now we are chalices
overflowing with wine, and the distance
between us and the Divine is no more
than the distance between breaths.

Hysterectomy

Twice your womb has sung out miracles,
two squalls of soprano notes
and tears to nurse away.
                                     Now rebellion
festers beneath your skin, a swell
of nerve and capillary that speaks
in cramps and endless clots of blood.

I know you fear the surgeon’s path,
that beneath her scalpel you’ll sleep alone—
a bone cathedral around so much offal
to be discarded in some haruspex that scries
you as unmother, unwoman. You tremble
at the thought of a crimson forest
gone forever leafless in a winter
that cradles its collection of moonless nights.

Had I the words, I would paint
hieroglyphics along the walls
of your labyrinth to radiate
in sacred spells of healing, but I am mute.
I can only swear to lift you
from the soporific waves
where the anesthesia drowns you
then wake you with mint and bergamot tea.
Let me knead your feet with sacred oils
until you drowse. Let me kiss your scars
away, each kiss an orchid to blossom
like a candle flame in an abandoned temple.

Orion on the Eastern Horizon

            —after Elton Glaser

Daylight is endangered
and rare as a coyote.
Some nights, you can hear it
bark among the trees
that lean, orphaned by the weight
of winter, their remaining limbs
a cat’s cradle creased in ice.

The moon is a sleepy bruise
that silvers my breath and chalks
my silhouette against the teeming
white arousals of the ground
agleam in snow.

There are ghosts among this glass
and the angels, frost upon their wings,
are secrets among the shadows.
Earthbound, they must cross
this gospel on foot, join
that long parade of beings
seamed with sap or blood
who remove their shoes and step
back from the hallowed ground.

Author Portrait

Joshua Gage is an ornery curmudgeon from Cleveland. His first full-length collection, breaths, is available from VanZeno Press. Intrinsic Night, a collaborative project he wrote with J. E. Stanley, was published by Sam’s Dot Publishing. His most recent collection, Inhuman: Haiku from the Zombie Apocalypse, is available on Poet’s Haven Press. He is a graduate of the low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Naropa University. He has a penchant for Pendleton shirts, rye whiskey, and any poem strong enough to yank the breath out of his lungs.