It may happen that when you are a small being, engaged in the act of worship, God or someone like her will enter you through the top of your head. What does that say about God, about prayer, about the permeable nature of your skull?
Kaveh Akbar’s “Being in This World Makes Me Feel Like a Time Traveler” is lit with the kind of speculative flicker you don’t necessarily expect. All the same (or more so because it’s not expected) it removes the top of your head. How do you get past these lines without being blown open by wonder, by the uncanny certainty that you’re seeing the universe from a startling new vantage? “When I wake, I / ask God to slide into my head quickly before I do. As a boy, I spit a / peach pit onto my father’s prayer rug and immediately / it turned into a locust.”
What I love about this poem is that it asks me to consider position. Do we see better when we’re knelt on a prayer mat, or suspended like a tipsy ghost over a party, or “stopped in a lobby for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres”? What does time make of us, and enact in us, at every stage of our flimsy human motions? Surely what makes us weak in one vantage is what makes us strong in another. Surely understanding this is part of the locust’s charge in the poem: to “devour the vast fields of my ignorance”.
In the final line of the poem, I find myself contemplating ultimate stasis and perpetual motion: “It’s difficult / to be anything at / all with the whole world right here for the having.” It may be that the universe turns us giddily, so quick that we sense it all calmly amidst the wing-clatter of locusts.
Read “Being in This World Makes Me Feel Like a Time Traveler” here.
Kaveh Akbar’s first collection of poems, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, was published in 2017 by Alice James Books.
This is the fifth installment of Other Kinds of Men, a speculative poetry reader in honour of Ursula K. Le Guin. Speculative writing, which encompasses the major genres of mythology, fantasy and science fiction, has often given voice to the most relentless and ungovernable urgencies of this age, and any other. Le Guin understood this: that to write about dragons, ice worlds and other seeming oddities was, in fact, to write into the messy, riotous complexity of ourselves. Here’s to dragons, and here’s to Ursula.