This project came about one evening at The Loaf in Empire, a table between the three of us barely enough to hold the pastries we came to eat together and the words that suddenly spilled out of us about hunger. The three of us found ourselves describing a keen ache, a sharp yearning, a delirious desire that we all three shared at the time to be anywhere but here. To be the people we once were when we were in another place, to find what was to blame for feeling so unsettled, discontent, so out of place, to figure out how we were so homesick when none of us felt at home anywhere.
We were ravenous. But we found the same hunger in each other. And so we made each other talk.
The results are below. There are three ‘solo’ poems from each of us playing on the themes of sky, ground and underground. These were inspired by both our conversations and our finished collaborative poem, which can be played as a spoken word recording at the end of this piece. If you click our names you can also listen to each of us read only our own lines of this final poem, three fragmentary works.
We are not yet full, but we have fed each other from what we have and are perhaps a little less hungry.
— Dhi, Syar & Syaz
COUNTING CLOUDS by Dhiyanah Hassan
my eyes have seen skies
that layer above
about a quarter
of this planet;
that’s more than some people get in a lifetime, and yet.
corners and walls —
all this gravity.
where i have been,
while i have yet to find the chance to be
i shake it off and
spend the day collecting
“and yet’s” and “but what’s.”
my bedroom is
in a droplet,
timezones connect and merge,
with each other,
when the memories of
soft peach against blooms of violet
begin to bleed
the flaming orange, fleshing
out the sun rising
in this humid cerulean
— something is wrong, something is
the wind says. the wind stales.
i have flown over more lands
than my feet can touch;
and now i’m
in transit, but
i played tag with the clouds
and socialised through windows,
developed a human language
for others to grasp, impossible
for those who grew up accepting
that you grow roots
to stay put, and not
to practise running
things can’t be found
if you don’t go
looking for them, if
you don’t just go.
I SIT BEFORE FLOWERS by Syar S. Alia
The sky quit on me, eventually. Or maybe I quit on the sky. I rocketed back to everything I tried to leave, planted like a remade seed, sucked in. My eyes to the mocking blue that spat me out like a curse, I tried to grow.
I tried to reconnect to the dirt, as if it even wanted me, the dirt that did not blink twice when I said goodbye, that first time and all the times since.
Now suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to eat dirt, to swallow it in gulping lumps, to fill my belly with mud, to return to the clay of my flesh. The dust held secrets to everything I had never cared about before and I was a chastened heathen looking for religion.
But faith does not grow on trees.
Trust me, I would know.
I’ve been eating my fill of poison, here where nothing is food: sticky burst berries and furry leaves, bitter ropes of roots. Bark cracks my teeth, salt makes my mouth sear. The only taste my tongue and gums really know is the taste of blood. Nothing fills me up.
Like everything else, my words quit on me too,
sick of the same arrangements,
sick of sharing a mouth with poison.
In those early days after I crashed to earth, I screamed my throat hoarse, my lungs two shrivelled balloons in my chest I WANT TO GO BACK.
Now with my voice gone, my body polluted, I am delirious and in my ears I hear my heart beat where do i go where do i go where do i go
When the nights come, I thatch myself a roof. With my soft fingers I weave thin blankets, and when sleep takes me I am sheltered, I am housed.
I do not let myself look at stars, or remember the shape of clouds. Each night I whisper breathless voiceless apologies to the ground, chanting, chanting, dreaming of everything shifting beneath me that doesn’t want me anymore.
I could live here, is something I’ve learned to say.
I miss — is something I’ve learned to keep down.
I’ve yet to work up to,
It’s good to be back.
ABSENT COFFINS by Syazwina Saw
This was supposed to be home. This was supposed to be familiar. This was supposed to be kind.
But then I remember that home was neither familiar nor kind, and that this home – this turgid, restless clay – has never been, never will be accepting. This earth does not embrace, but it shuffles, reshuffles into silence, swallows want and spits out blood. This earth does not suffer optimistic fools and their lofty dreams of flight.
“Not till God made men of some other metal than earth,” Beatrice had said in a sharp panic, trying to sidestep fate. But I am not. I am the grey slippery clumps you hold in your hand and mold to your will, my cool wetness betraying nothing. You touch me with bare hands and I surprise you with seeping warmth on your fingers, like a promise burning on the edges.
Time weathers me and makes me less willing to breathe.
I had thought to make holes, so that air could come in, so that roots could form freely. I had forgotten that roots burrow inwards, desperate claws hunting for the elements. There is no room for ambition, there is no room for dreams. There is only sunlight and wind and water. There is only life.
A coffin would make things easier. There would be no root digging into my rib, no shard of semiprecious stone piercing the curve of my elbow. That itch would be tolerable if I could just — reach — oh.
But that would be kind, and there is no kindness here.
Throughout this collaboration, the following foods were consumed: Chocolate croissants, mixed nut croissants, cranberry-and-cheese puffs, kofta meatballs, pasta, beef bamia, gahwa coffee, root beer float, salted peanuts, Reese’s peanut butter cups, two pints of Ben & Jerry’s (Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Fudge Brownie), almonds, chocolate cigars, roast chicken, chocolate-covered raisins, fish and chips, steak sandwich, lamb sausage, peanut butter pie, and a lot, a lot, a lot of tea.
(None of us would refuse a one-way ticket to anywhere else.)