Ashna Ali


Julia Bethan

In My Dreams I Write Letters to My Mother across the Ocean

Ashna Ali

Mother, shall I tell you about my unborn child,
forever a cluster of cells? You share a quality:

I shall write you both unsent letters
for the rest of my life. Marjorie suggests that it bobs

in cosmic storage. Not waiting, just available.
I can reach into the sky, pluck down the same fruit

that shines its light at me, only me. Soon I will go
under the knife. I will be opened so that I may never

be open. So that I may honor the distance
between my body and the bodies of stars, celebrate

constellation language. My acid evasion twinges the gut.
Tell you what. I will dig my arm into my big bag of secrets,

offer you a memory: I was a child with no skirt
to cling to. Those who found me doled out love in parts.

The kind that only the grown know costs too much.
Fills the body with false, palpitating promise of forgetting

that never, ever comes. You and me, we share a quality:
Nothing suffices. However closed, we are too ravenous

despite scar tissue across the mouth. Shall I tell you?
I have received a nudge of affection. A dropper’s worth of sleep.

I woke up with a vulva that speaks. I could tell you the joy
of the splay, of dark rush, but I am a child & will instead

haunt your house. I will watch my father, who offers his weight
each time his lips pry apart to say, “to my mind, that never happened.”

Watch: He, swallowing too hard with glasses slung low.
You and me, standing in separate doorways, together:

not looking.

New York, I Love You

The mornings that the hot clench fastens
my chest to my belly, I wonder who might

see beyond my big grin bounce, suspect
that my day’s first sound is sputter. It doesn’t

matter. Who among us has not defaulted, by now,
to the permanence of getting by. What good does it do

to say, friend, I am drowning. We have lived for years
like we are not island people. Still, I’ve grown out

my hair, spent my night picking at a guitar
over beers under moonlight. A Chicago poet

told me the wells under my eyes are pain
anthologies, door stopper dense. The whole house

of me has its windows, entrances, exits,
blown open, for good. It happens. Buffeted

and tubular, I am a station thick with commuters,
headless chickens with no destination bobbing my secrets

back at me. How could I be lonely
in this cacophony. My Vermont lover says babe,

you’re made for that city. This filth in which we
refuse to look up but are always gazing

deep in the mirror, begging.

Ashna Ali is a queer, agender, diasporic Bangladeshi poet, writer, scholar, and educator raised in Italy and based in Brooklyn, NY. They are the author of the chapbook, The Relativity of Living Well (The Operating System 2022). Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Nat. Brut, Kajal Mag, Bone Bouquet, The Felt, and more.