Sarah Ghazal Ali: “Apotheosis,” “Mother of Nations” & “Sarai”

14 January, 2024
Upon coming across her poetry, Ocean Vuong responded, “Ali’s is one of the most sure-footed debuts I’ve had the pleasure to encounter in many years,” while Tunisan American poet Leila Chatti wrote, “Sarah Ghazal Ali’s debut collection, Theophanies, pulses with life—angels, cranes, and a woman’s own fierce potential, the miraculous and terrifying possibilities she holds within her heart, womb, and mind. Through sinuous lyric and religious persona, Ali delves unblinkingly into the depths of faith, family, and womanhood.”


Sarah Ghazal Ali




Listen—if I’ve learned anything from men,
it’s that their tongues are bare
and motherless, lapping the breast of brawn
they mistake for a masculine God.

Too young, I’ve earned the word behead
              in my mother tongue — ﺳﺮ ﻗﻠﻢ ﮐﺮﻧﺎ
How young? She, named for light, was twenty-seven.
My hunger for fresh language carries me
closer to violent shores, gravel voices.

Once before Fajr I cracked a date pit between
my teeth, tilted the sharp half into a lover’s mouth.
I tested the crimson I was sure seethed beneath
his, every man’s, skin. You’re like a furnace,
he whispered, dry against my sweat-laced back.

It’s true I dream of hands
hot around my throat, the finger marks
I saw fading grime-green on [        ]’s.
No one has blued me, but still I wake
afraid, keening until the complex dogs bark back.

How to fathom it, my grandfather alive now
longer than our new-bloom nation. ﭘﺎک means pure.
Land of the Pious, pigless and pissed-upon. Partition
a moment un-begun, a dirge without end.
I sing its songs. I marry its men. I, like my mother,

wait to be bent to better congruities.
اﺳﻼم means submission. Oh, I submit to any
merciful creature, angle ready to deify
the Eden beneath any child-swollen feet.

My faith in God was inevitable as an oil spill,
my childhood slick with sky-bound yammering,
questions and confessions hurled against the slapbrush ceiling.
In ‘47 did they say ﺑِﺴ ِﻢ ﷲِ before un-bloating

wombs, lifting the never-born like alms to the All-Seeing?
I know nothing of God’s plan or the invasive empires
of devotion, gardens I waste away wanting.
I fell heir to my father’s hands, anguish, eyes—
the crimes of man beget the crimes of man.



Theophanies, poetry by Sarah Ghazal Ali
Theophanies is published by Alice James.


Mother of Nations

By now it’s almost boring: the peal
of Sarah’s bewildered laugh.
The sidelined matriarch, barren
until she wasn’t. I pretend

not to hear Sarah’s bewildered laugh.
How does a barren tomb sound? Waiting
until she wasn’t. I pretend to be honeycomb
sucked clean, scraped raw.

The sound of a barren tomb: waiting
each month for the inevitable wilt
of a cervix sucked clean, scraped raw.
Hagar had it easy—until she didn’t—

sprouting, spared the monthly inevitable wilt.
Sarah’s throat plumed right in God’s face.
Hagar had the easy job until she didn’t.
But enough. It’s boring—watching faith peel.


A name is not unlike
a sexed body. Like mine,
it carries.

Is remembered most
for what it fails

to yield. A name
is a condition meant to last,

to outlast, as should a daughter, her mother

I am but do not have
a daughter.

When I look in the lake,
who looks back

is a sister
self: O, little i—I

carry you as you
carry who I am waiting to be.


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