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Featured Poem • September 2013


This Talk of Poems


Amal El-Mohtar


I will tell you this thing, as I do (this is the game we play together: one retracts the half-revealed, one coaxes out what’s left concealed). This, then, is what I will say to you, stumbling over your eyes’ architecture, a clumsy grasping after words— I called your eyes cathedrals, was sincere, and blush to remember how you laughed— this, then, is what I will say— no, I can’t. Not yet! Not now, not when the secret curls and stammers while you clamour insistence, disbelief—not now, but later, perhaps, when you don’t expect a sudden surge of metaphor, a tidal rush, a rising line of foam and salt to soak shock into your ankles. We’re not there yet. Not yet at the place where I can tell you how I think of days when you’ll tell some other girl about this girl who read you poems thinking you enjoyed them, thinking you listened to anything more than the sound of her voice, the funny lilting of her foreign vowels and her foreign cadence, mixing syllables and emphases while longing for yours. “She even wrote me a poem,” you’ll say, to this other girl, cool and secure in her place at the end of your history, “and it was a bit shit, but what do I know about poetry.” I won’t tell you this, won’t read you this, because how could it ever be the time to tell you I write in self-defence, to tell you that to write to you is to think of you hurting me— to imagine you hurting me if you haven’t yet— and to remember that when I said those poems I wrote for other people those poems I didn’t write for you are full of thorns, are healing stings, are scabbing over wounds— you said, you don’t care about me enough to write a poem— but meant you don’t care about me enough to let me hurt you. You’ll say this isn’t fair. How could you know that a poem is a grudge clutched tight against the liver, bile-steeped, nursed to savage potency? How could you know that a poem is catharsis, is septic in conception, a boil lanced in execution? You never listened, after all, to anything but the sound of my voice. So I’ll cut you this slack. Here is a poem. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t built of honey and spice, isn’t sweet or savoury, isn’t anything like what a poem is thought to be. I won’t call you Green Man, Diamond Jack, Knight of Coins or Pentacles, won’t speak of stretching out on graves, or how the tracery of your irises might have taught architects to dream of stained glass. I certainly won’t tell you I love you. And maybe once you’ve read it, to yourself, in quiet, in your own mind’s voice, you’ll think twice before asking me to write you another.



AmalIAFAmal El-Mohtar is the Nebula-nominated author of The Honey Month, a collection of spontaneous short stories and poems written to the taste of twenty-eight different kinds of honey. She is a two-time winner of the Rhysling Award for Best Short Poem, and edits Goblin Fruit, an online quarterly dedicated to fantastical poetry. Her work has appeared in multiple venues online and in print, including Apex, Strange Horizons, Stone Telling, and Glitter & Mayhem, a speculative nightclub anthology. Find her online at amalelmohtar.com, and on Twitter as tithenai.

She calls “This Talk of Poems” a “cautionary tale about what happens when someone who doesn’t read poetry complains to their poet-lover about the fact that she has not written them any poems.”



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