Raena Shirali

to miss america

is to turn twenty-four with an ass that refuses
to fit squarely into a string bikini. to miss
america is to miss the point
of each perky, each taut muscle
rippling its way across a wheat field. or to miss
the wheat entirely. it is almost an art: paring

a strawberry into symmetrical slices
for a midnight snack in front of the late night
show. amazing how static can fill
the mind, the gut. o america, i, too, have a stash
of sashes, folded up & boxed, their ribbons too thin
now for my frame. you don’t have

to tell me: this body is nothing
like yours—spindly tower
that knows its saunter, knows its shake. you strut
down a lit aisle & miss the brush of grass
against your knees. god, you’re as smooth
as they make ‘em—teeth vaselined

like a slip’n slide, you are oil & bronze
& glow. miss america, i, too, know
about thigh gaps. i know what goes missing,
the space between girl and grown.
you miss dining room tables, fruit
of your labor, warmth in your belly, warmth

in your home. i am with you: dried flowers
in my hand, the metallic sky
dulling your tiara. look at this mud
where a meadow used to be.


From my tucked-knee coil I hear the news:
            women are interviewed concerning kidnapping

& forgiveness, a girl hacks off her father’s head
            with a kitchen knife after a weekend

in his room, a young woman is found
            with her intestines ripped out—raped

with a crowbar—I cannot listen anymore. I sleep
            & dream of a hovering woman—eyes split

down the lid, mouth wrenched open
            as if she is screaming. She floats all night,

sometimes in the periphery, sometimes
            in focus. Up close, her mouth is almost

my mouth. Welts on her skin glow like new. When I wake
            I’m not looking at anything. Once, a lover

called me many words that began with “S”
            & now all my poems are about sheets.

Mold settles in the penned parts of me.
            I grow deep into the mattress, root

my eyes to the pillow. I want my limbs plumbic & my heart
            muttering, I want to be wine-sullied

in the moonwrecked morning, I count my brain cells
            as they spark & fizzle, yes, I want someone

to cleave out my memories, take anything involving
            contusions or his hands or their hands & make room

for the long hours of static
            I am going to put in their place

Indian American poet Raena Shirali grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, where she currently lives and teaches English at College of Charleston. Her first book, GILT, is forthcoming in 2017 with YesYes Books, and her work has appeared in Blackbird, Crazyhorse, Four Way Review, Indiana Review, Muzzle Magazine, Ninth Letter, Tupelo Quarterly, Pleiades, and many more. Her other honors include a 2016 Pushcart Prize, the 2016 Cosmonauts Avenue Prize, recognition as a finalist for the 2016 Tupelo Quarterly Poetry Prize, the 2014 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, recognition as a finalist for the 2014 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and a “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize in 2013. She will also be the Spring 2017 Philip Roth Resident at the Stadler Center for Poetry, and currently serves as a poetry reader for Muzzle Magazine. You can find more of her work at www.raenashirali.com.


“Stasis” previously appeared in the Political Punch anthology from Sundress Publications.