Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Kaveh Akbar, Calling a Wolf a Wolf


and of course he’s beautiful
goosebumps over his ribs
like tiny fists under a thin sheet      the sheet
all mudwet and taste of walnut

and of course I’m afraid of him
of the way keeping him a secret will make him
inevitable      I will do anything to avoid
getting carried away      sleep nightly with coins

over my eyes      set fire to an entire
zodiac      mecca is a moth
chewing holes in a shirt I left
at a lover’s house      a body loudly

consumes days and awaits the slow
fibrillation of its heart      a lightning rod
sits in silence until finally      the storm
now the boy is scooping up minnows

and swallowing them like a heron
I’m done trying to make sense
of any of this      no one will believe anything
that comes out of a mouth like mine

Tehran-born Florida poet and editor Kaveh Akbar’s first full-length poetry collection is Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Farmington ME: Alice James Books, 2017), a book of lush lyrics and critical meditations concurrently composed as urgent narratives, personal exclamations and heartfelt prayers. There is something sensual and even slippery to Akbar’s lyrics, managing to couple a wonderful music with deceptively straightforward narratives, looping and swirling through a text of incredibly precise lines. As he writes to close the two-page “RIMROCK”: “As long as the earth continues / its stony breathing, I will breathe. // When it stops, I will shatter back / into gravity. Into quartz.”

There is something reminiscent in Akbar’s lyrics and subtle gymnastics, as well as echoes of content, of Toronto poet Marcus McCann. Setting aside McCann’s more overt language-play, there is a bounce and lyric spin that echoes between the two poets, and Akbar’s lyricism also manages to balance very well between a musical and linguistic swirling and a steady precision, as well as multiple intimacies and hard-won wisdoms, all of which accumulate toward a series of profound discoveries. Listen to the first half of Akbar’s poem “PORTRAIT OF THE ALCOHOLIC WITH HOME / INVADER AND HOUSEFLY,” a poem that plays with a light and dark akin to McCann’s own sensibilities:

It felt larger than it was, the knife
that pushed through my cheek.

Immediately I began leaking:
blood and saliva, soft as smoke. I had been asleep,

safe from sad news, dreaming
of my irradiated hairless mother

pulling a thorn from the eye of a dog.
I woke from that into a blade. Everything

seemed cast in lapis and spinning light,
like an ancient frieze in Damascus.

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