“Tarfia Faizullah is a poet of brave and unflinching vision.” —Natasha Trethewey
Somebody is always singing. Songs
were not allowed. Mother said,
Dance and the bells will sing with you.
I slithered. Glass beneath my feet. I
locked the door. I did not
die. I shaved my head. Until the horns
I knew were there were visible.
Until the doorknob went silent.
—from “100 Bells”
Registers of Illuminated Villages is Tarfia Faizullah’s highly anticipated second collection, following her award-winning debut, Seam. Faizullah’s new work extends and transforms her powerful accounts of violence, war, and loss into poems of many forms and voices—elegies, outcries, self-portraits, and larger-scale confrontations with discrimination, family, and memory. One poem steps down the page like a Slinky; another poem responds to makeup homework completed in the summer of a childhood accident; other poems punctuate the collection with dark meditations on dissociation, discipline, defiance, and destiny; and the near-title poem, “Register of Eliminated Villages,” suggests illuminated texts, one a Qur’an in which the speaker’s name might be found, and the other a register of 397 villages destroyed in northern Iraq. Faizullah is an essential new poet whose work only grows more urgent, beautiful, and—even in its unsparing brutality—full of love.
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THE HIDDEN REGISTER OF HUNGER
to touch the swan-soft aperture between a sleeping baby's shoulder blades,
like dirt-new graves, like the seams of stockings we skim our hands down the length of,
searching for the memory of the first ancient feeling we ever had. It's easy
to laugh in bed with a new lover at the same joke, and know energy always precedes
matter, but here's craving anyway in my begging body, fat with powdered milk.
Why angel before serpent,
of my spine. There, pickled mango spoons
into a clay bowl for our pleasure. O, these daily rituals we believe we are owed.
costume-replete closets of our lives in which we assume
will still be there, a bare lightbulb burning. Memory pours starfish into the sky for us to imagine, and still
we burn. O, tendons of our unbearable master plans. O, maa, maa, maa.
then we should learn how to carve
by whittling our false gods from stone.
SELF-PORTRAIT AS MANGO
She says, Your English is great! How long have you been in our
are what margins like me know everything about, right?
a placeholder in a poem folded with burkas? But this one,
that remembers jungles jagged with insects, the river's
that taunts and suns itself into a hard-palmed fist only a
to beat her perplexed' Why not a coconut' Because this
isn't alien just because of its gold-green bloodline. I know I'm worth waiting for. I want to be kneaded for ripeness.
my own sunset-skinned heart waiting to be held and
The white cross pales further still,
furls over the backs of our knees,
necks. I am an infidel in this classroom
on the cracked leather kneeler. I crave these
sings fidelis, fidelis.
songs that curl her hennaed fingers
My baba leans forward in his chair, the Qur'an
blurring as his eyes close to reconcile again the shapla-
With my head bowed,
I help stack the hymnals higher; I cup the candle
YOUR OWN COUNTRY
... that wasn't the same day two towers staggered into the ground. You were warned they'd be hunting us. But you didn't want to be soft. There's a first day you learn a country can't be earned. Your heart's embarrassed eesh-oof.
— Qurbani Eid
No, I said. I want to watch them behead the goat
IV AND MAKE-UP HOMEWORK
How was your summer vacation?
What's one thing you learned this summer?
What are your plans today?
Mornings begin anyway.
List at least three books you read this summer.
I pry open the closet door at night with A Wrinkle in Time
What's your favorite color?
Look up the definition of a word you learned this summer.
infection (n): corrupted, corroded, or adulterated condition, an adulterating substance, an impurity, moral contamination; corruption of character or habits by evil influences; an instance of this, communication of bad or harmful beliefs or opinions; an instance of this, the communication of a feeling or quality from one person to another through example or contact; an instance of this; disease; an epidemic, the condition produced by this; the corruption of faith; an instance of this, an instance of this, this instance,
Describe your current situation.
Attached to me, this new limb:
What else did you learn this summer?
I learned to write my name with both hands,
WEST TEXAS NOCTURNE
Because the sky burned, I had to unhinge from the window the mesh screen to step out onto the roof where the world was an orange freshly peeled. I held
to my nose fingertips scented with spring.
were raw, ripped by those rough shingles.
died and only one of us cried, but long after those old pumpjacks no longer needled the horizon clean. The velvet mat stayed unfolded, but I told y'all I prayed
anyway. The sky was famished with stars.
THE PERFORMANCE OF NO ONE'S FINGERS
Before your final recital, I threw
Maestro would make me practice
into a winged weight across my chest.
So many performances later, I forget
though artifact no longer eludes
DJINN IN NEED OF A BITCH
The overpass's graffitied asphalt drapes heavy shadows over pickup trucks coasting always elsewhere,
while the humid city continues to glisten with bodies, their crevices hidden by cotton or lace, fingernails
bitten to the quick before scraped down a sweat-brocaded torso, knees shawled by soft or calloused palms.
Forget the sounds of glass shattering,
Forget the shaking and raving man I still see, for years now. Forget his voice burning past me. Bitch, I need you,
bitch, I need, I need, he moans,
against which I, too, want again to be roughly pressed. How many other nights has he stumbled across this heat-neoned
sidewalk, pleaded with someone else who isn't there? Low-riders bend corners with earthquakes of bass, crackle of voices
strafe the air thirsty: thigh, throat, clavicle,
to remember or forget those summers spent sleeping underground in that old peach-carpeted basement, how my sister
was once safe and warm beside me the night I heard footsteps that weren't any of ours. I took her smaller hand
in mine, waited until dawn when the footsteps finally ceased: dream-
But what does that have to do with writhing hips, tug of earlobe, the shock of new lips? I need,
for food, and I can't ignore feeling I've never belonged anywhere:
not in childhood's cradle, not this adult bed I slide into alone after crying out your name, O, Allah. Tell me why being
your disciple is so lonely, why this man turns to no one beside him, tries to embrace her. Tell me why the dead
are mirages stepping lightly across the floors of strangers, their children asleep below. Allah re, tell me why
you made it so that taking a kiss full on the mouth feels like weeping:
spill. I need. I need.
FEAST OR FAMINE
When the night gapes wider,
as you always do: first with hunger and then more hunger,
because you have to keep her lean,
its melting forests,
her to herself after stubbing out lit cigarette after lit cigarette on her thighs. When the night bloats open, tell the little
girl you still are and once were to go back to sleep, go curl inside the rise-and-fall of the warmth asleep beside you — the one who loves her
and you — that she doesn't have to deny the past anymore, that in Bangla, 'kheeda laage' can mean I feel hunger
only disappears when she starves too. 'Kheeda laage,' you say to the one who strokes her hair and devours your mouth, and the destroyers
whittle into whispers flayed of their lost appetites — listen.
BEFORE THE ACCIDENT, AND AFTER
I promise to lose weight was a lie I told in every register I knew, until the night the wind blew backward,
My sister died. He raped me. They beat me. I fell to the floor. I didn't. I knew children,
Excerpted from "Registers Of Illuminated Villages"
Copyright © 2018 Tarfia Faizullah.
Excerpted by permission of Graywolf 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.
Table of Contents
Register of Eliminated Villages,
The Hidden Register of Hunger,
Self-Portrait as Mango,
Your Own Country,
IV and Make-Up Homework,
West Texas Nocturne,
The Performance of No One's Fingers,
Djinn in Need of a Bitch,
Feast or Famine,
Before the Accident, and After,
The Hidden Register of Submission,
Self-Portrait as Slinky,
What This Elegy Wants,
To the Bangladeshi Cab Driver in San Francisco,
To the Littlest Brother,
Soliloquies from the Village of Orphans and Widows,
Your Own Palm,
Consider the Hands Once Smaller,
Poetry Recitation at St. Catherine's School for Girls,
Sex or Sleep or Silk,
You Ask Why Write about It Again,
The Hidden Register of Solace,
Self-Portrait as Artemis,
The Distance between Fire and Stone,
The Error of Echo,
The Doors to Trinity,
Apology from a Muslim Orphan,
Aubade with Sage and Lemon,
Because There's Still a Sky, Junebug,
I Told the Water,
Variations on a Cemetery in Summer,
... But You Can't Stay Here,
Fable of the Firstborn,