The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

All Issues
MAY 2020 Issue



Dear ones who are still alive, I fear we may have overthought
things. It is not always a war between celebration and lament.
Now we know death is circuitous, not just a matter of hiding
in the dark, or under a bed, not even a slingshot for our loved
ones to carry, it changes nothing. Ask me to build a wall
and I will build it straight. When the end came, were you
watching TV or picnicking in a field with friends? Was the tablecloth
white, did you stay silent or fight? I hope by now you’ve given up
the fur coat, the frequent flyer miles. In the hours of waiting,
I heard a legend about a woman who was carried off by winds,
a love ballet between her and the gods, which involved only minor
mutilations. How I long to be a legend. To stand at the dock
and stare at this or that creature who survived. Examine
its nest, marvel at a tusk that can rake the sea floor for food.
Hope is a noose around my neck. I have traded in my rollerblades
for a quill. Here is the boat, the journey, the camp. If we want
to arrive we must push someone off the side. It is impossible
to feel benign. How many refugees does it take to build
a mansion? I ask again, shall we wait or run?
Here is winter, the dense pack ice. Touch it. It is a reminder
of our devastation. A kind of worship, an incantation.


Anyone who believes a leaf is just a leaf is missing
the point. In the attic, there’s a picture of ginko
growing steadily yellow, while the body of ginko remains
evergreen as he works his way through opium dens and bordellos.
I’d like to tell you not to worry, reality has a way of sorting itself out,
but panic is infectious. The scare arrives when you’re doing jumping jacks
or organizing the cutlery, some moment of low cosmological drama,
interrupted by the discovery of a lump or the Nine O’Clock News, and suddenly,
every door handle is a death sentence. How lonely it must have been for the first
astronomers, freezing on terraces, trying to catch the light of faraway moons
through their spyglasses. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether you’re slowing down
or speeding up. Time, that wobbly trampoline, confuses us. We stitch our days
and nights, one to the other, and it’s like embroidering a galaxy, but even
galaxies recede from one another. Once, a woman played my body
as though it were a harp. I slept on a wooden plank and she strummed
the strings below until I became a whale shark, pounding through the oceans
aeons ago. I emerged as if out of a wormhole, which is to say, more or less intact.
For days I felt fins where my cheeks should have been. We talk of bodies
as though we could not understand the universe within them
even though we’ve all gaped at the stump of a tree and understood that time moves
outwards in a circle, and while everything seems endless, there’s always a ring
of something permeable holding us in. Sometimes we leave the house
without our masks and it’s a relief to take a break from who we are.
Dwarf star, prayer bell, lone stag feeding in the gorse—something will hold
a mirror to our faces, when really, all we need is to be led upstairs.


One man sits on another if he can.
One man’s heart beats stronger. One man goes
into the mines for another man to sparkle.
One man dies so the family living at the top of the hill
can eat sandwiches on the lawn. One man’s piggy bank
gets a bailout. One man tips over a stranger’s vegetable cart.
One man stays home and plays tombola till all this blows over.
One man hits the road like a pilgrim to Shambala, child
on shoulders. One man asks who’s going to go out and buy
the milk and eggs? One man’s home is across the horizon.
One man decides to walk there even though it will take days
and nights on tarmac with little food and water.
One man is stopped for loitering and made to do squats
for penance. One man reports fish are leaping
out of the sea and sucking greedily from the air.
One man eats his ration card. One man notices how starlings
have taken to the skies like a toothache,
a low continuous hunger, searing across the fields.
One man loads his gun. One man’s in charge of the seesaw.
One man wants to redistribute the plums. One man knows
there’s no such thing as a free lunch. One man finally sees
the crevasse. One man gives his blanket to the man
sitting in the crevasse. One man says there should be a tax
for doing such a thing and takes it back. The ditch widens.


Tishani Doshi

Tishani Doshi publishes poetry, fiction and essays. Her most recent books are a collection of poems, Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods (Copper Canyon Press) and a novel, Small Days and Nights (Norton).


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

All Issues