how to say thank you.

On a hot, Saturday afternoon on an island off Manhattan called Governor’s, I found myself digesting the echoes of poets swirled in the air like tornadoes of deep thinking. Every year this happens right here, called the Poetry Festival and as I sat at a table with other writers called Poetry Teachers NYCI suddenly noticed a poet who looked quite similarly to one I have admired for awhile now.

His name is Kazim Ali and a previous lover graciously gave me his book, Fasting for Ramadan, several summers ago when she was observing this holiday. I knew very little about this observance of fasting and reflecting, but each night, when I helped her break her fast, she shared her stories and finally gave me his. I carried this book around each day, slowly slipping my eyes into each word, feeling its deep pocket of knowledge. This book is composed of Kazim’s journal entries during fasting, but to me, they were poems. Reminders of how to exist in a body that yearns. In a body that needs even when something is taken away. He wrote about the discomfort in an honest, exploratory way.

Growing up with Jewish parents, I knew a little about fasting. We had to engage in this once a year during the holiday of Yom Kipper and I found it deeply deeply hard. I’ve recently been called a “labrador” (like the dog) for my constant hunger and desire to eat. I like to celebrate my appetite and have always found it difficult to go without.

But I understand the meaning behind fasting. We remove/take away in order to understand why we desire it.

Kazim taught me this.

And on this hot Saturday on Governor’s Island, I saw him. This poet who breathed pain and discovery into pages I kept at my side for a summer. And still open every so often to remind me.

What to say to someone who has had such an impact on you.

So, I told him how much I admired his writing. I thanked him for sharing these words which came from hunger’d body, observant body, spiritual body. I gave him some of my poems as an offering.

When we read, we don’t often get to tell these writers: Thank you. Or You impacted me in ways I am still articulating. 

And we must. Because they need to know. Words are bridges, leading us all to each other. To a deeper understanding. Encouraging us to travel through feet and with mind(fullness).

but this must be why.

Dear Kazim,

You called the body a planet. Wrote: [In] all its strange parts, the wisdom tooth, the cerebellum, the epithelial tissue, the clavicle. Every single part functions together. 

Last night, I fondled the moon with my eyes, while dangling my calves on the edge of a jump. I think I might be Pluto: cold and taken away. I remember when that planet was asked to leave. Imagine existing for so long and then suddenly you are pushed out. Called dwarf. All rock and ice. Called chaotic. I know of the twists that exist within body. It is a constant distortion of perspectives.

As I pack up the lives I have lived in material form, I recognize that none of it matters. Many years ago, after returning from a long trip, I came home to find mold dripped into my journals. Water, arriving from the cracks of a window, kidnapped many of my written words. Though I still have these notebooks, they still smell of this fungus, which is birthed by damp warmth.

And some of my clothes exist from two decades ago during the years my body was still growing into itself. This, of course, continues. I have threads from ex-lovers and strangers, purchased from stoop sales across the earth.

Kazim, if I could only carry five books and leave the rest behind, I’d carry you. And Lidia. And Vera Pavlova. Ham on Rye, of course. And I’d somehow create a hybrid text of Rumi, Kathy Acker and j/j hastain.

We consume far too much. Is that why we must fast? To recognize the importance of what it feels like to be emptied?

Yesterday, I mentioned you to a student. He is observing Ramadan like you. He said: When you finish the book, tell me why you think Muslims fast. I feel close to the answer, but I feel even closer to translating my own need to strip my body of all these things.