Raena Shirali


with from a line from Warsan Shire

I grow up smelling of papaya & coconut oil, my shoulders thin & darkening out—
from bronze to henna on splintered docks, beach towel like a doily
under the caramel-sweet of me. I learn from girls with strawberry gloss. They say
fucking is as simple as lemon juice in their hair: that lightening, that lower back lift
& sailing mind. I’m not sad, but the boys who are looking for sad girls always find me.
I don’t taste like honey, but the boys want me to melt for them, want milk
for my skin. They holler from rusted johnboats, hirsute chests smeared with oil.
Look how they writhe when I flash a dark nipple. I’m Durga, I’m Kali,
I’m the strange ochre notch on their bedposts. I’m the spice they didn’t expect—
cinnamon powdered over their lips.

the woods

we row out together. you with a splintered oar, me with my thumbs
between my thighs, pushing on two bruises among many. buzzards perch in packs
above us, thick black bodies in the branches. they rustle & shift,
& i am uneasy. these trees, like me, can tolerate a flood. i want to say
it’s uncanny how they root underwater, how they live in murk like that.
you row with ferocity & the sun makes right angles of the bald cypress. the water
is black & the bruises on my legs & arms are yellow-tinged. on the shore,
plants with pitfall traps lure insects in, their phytotelmata calm with waiting. a fly lands
on a honey gland, slips, disappears. you pull my hot pink flask out from your work boot
& swig. i think every branch in the water is an alligator
& you’re not amused by this. a sparrow flits from root to partly-submerged root, ends up
on the bank. you slap the flat of the oar on the water to make waves. you’re trying to prove
we won’t sink, that the rowboat’s chipping teal paint
& perforated hull are nothing to fret over,
but i know in this swamp the plants’ cells are lunate, meaning what is caught
cannot escape, meaning the pitchers will drown the smallest bird
& let its flailing body dissolve


Raena Shirali lives in Columbus, OH, and is earning her MFA in poetry at The Ohio State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Fogged Clarity, Four Way Review, and Pleiades. She recently won the 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Contest.