Before I dreamed of having a queer community, I had to learn what it was like to be queer alone. Solitary, too, is the central figure of Angel Nafis’ “Ghazal for Becoming Your Own Country”. “The body prayers home”, advises the second line of the poem, and what follows is a linked belt of invocations, each buckle a mandate. The address of these lines is both tender and stern, rising like a road that bites the ankles into daily blisters and kisses the ragged skin better by moonlight. Such is the ouroboros of self-dependency, for those who travel with no dependents, for those who take their census of one.
The speaker, who addresses the poem’s self-appointed bride in second person, offers no platitudes, only ways to survive: “Fuck the fog back off the mirror. Trust the road in your name. Ride / Your moon hide through the pitch black. Gotsta be your own bride.” These directives have little sugar to ease their swallow, but there’s sweetness in this ghazal: look to the honey and nectar in the penultimate stanza. True, the honey is burnt. True, the nectar coats arms and hands, like gloves of efficient purpose. Yet, isn’t this repurposing, this bitter refining of the dulcet, its own queer survival?
Nafis takes the ghazal form by several of its classic tenets, including the utterance of the poet’s own name in the final line of verse. “Angel, put that on everything.” How tactile, and malleable, does the poem issue forth its own unkillability. We read, walking through “goodest grief”, the scent of burnt honey haloing us, wrists blotted with the blueprint of too-hot milk, our bridal raiment scored with the marks of tough travel, and what persists for us is that we have not curled up to die, easy or at all.
This is the fifth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.