scenario one : you didn’t submerge your head in the river


first, thread your eyes with lace & shells, paint

your nipples with drying mud, watch the cells flake

off your gold-wracked body




it’s true you used to look at skin

darker than yours & see your posture straighten


it’s true you’re ashamed of your bird cage, your glass

year, your short shorts & tan lines




what if you were a gold bangle placed on a darker woman’s

nape? ring around the cord around the

touch me my skin is a glisten you’ll call :




what if you were the black paint smeared

across your own dark cheeks?




so you say to the birch skeleton in the bathroom mirror

unravel me i’m all this stuff of the earth. the mirror could be

laughing, could be saying girl, in my light

you’re just another pale :                another unmarried :




you say touch me i’m the bronzer

like there isn’t all this death in here




welcome to the country of white sheets

& black bird cages, of everything-tasseled-is : of everything-

holy, the already-dead, your absence



Raena Shirali is a poet, teaching artist, and editor from Charleston, South Carolina. Raena is the author of GILT (YesYes Books, 2017), winner of the 2018 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. A first-generation Indian American, Raena is the recipient of prizes and honors from VIDA, Gulf Coast, Boston Review, & Cosmonauts Avenue. Winner of a Pushcart Prize & a former Philip Roth Resident at Bucknell University, her poems & reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets, Blackbird, Ninth Letter, Diode, The Nation, West Branch, Tupelo Quarterly, & elsewhere. Raena lives in Philadelphia, where she recently co-organized We (Too) Are Philly, a summer poetry festival highlighting voices of color. She serves as Poetry Editor for Muzzle Magazine & Poetry Reader for Vinyl. Read more at