Story of the Cranes

birds flood my dreams, fill the night

and cut me.

 

limbs pushed under my pillow instantly numb.

 

I jolt awake breathless and foreign-armed

scared to glance down and see terrible wings. 

 

better to stay awake,

all eyes sharp  

   

*

 

a young girl with a face full of eyes asks her baba, 

baba do you know 

everything? 

 

baba tells her he knows everything. 

 

with all those eyes, lies appear feathered with truth. 

she offers him a red book from the shelf 

with another question. 

 

baba tells her The Satanic Verses are a secret God 

has kept from us, stories Shaytan wasn’t allowed to share,

poor Shaytan. 

 

shouldn’t he get to tell his side of things? 

 

baba points out the window. 

Shaytan wanted us to worship 

the birds. 

 

baba knows that cranes fly with necks elongated. 

that there were three beautiful and beloved long, long ago. 

knows their names in farsi, in urdu.

 

but in arabicghirneeq

this she learned on her own. 

 

baba installs a bird bath.

so the cranes might bless us with their presence!

 

baba goes birdwatching. 

God is here, around us, not above!

 

in parks, her eyes shutter if baba comes too close.

he pushes the swing too high.

 

*

 

I memorized the names of every bone,

shoulder to finger, to stay awake.

 

it felt natural to push 

their sounds against my skin. 

 

despite my best efforts, I drifted off, always 

waking with shoulders sore,

 

phantom wings reminding me what my body

was not made for. 

 

what was my body made for?

 

*

 

today, two colorless birds are dragging 

their shadows across the grass. 

 

I imagine looping wire thread around their bodies, 

tossing them into the air like broken kites. it’s too easy 

to be cruel here. 

 

I demonstrate to the birds in audience 

my full and human length. how high I can stretch,


arms breaching their sky.


*

God addresses the three cranes by name, devotes 

two of sixty-two verses to this end. 

 

I imagine the young girl in audience as the Prophet stands

to echo this surah to a crowd. 

 

I see her child eyes, 

how easily they reveal their want. 

 

this I learned on my own: 

 

that when he finished speaking, believers 

and non-believers alike fell to their knees.

so affected were they by the answer 

to questions no one knew to ask. 

 

I see her falling with the best of them, awe rippling green

across her face.

 

*

 

in the mirror, the wrong eyes are nestled in my face. 

 

baba do you know 

everything? 

 

baba smiles

and shows me his long neck. 


Sarah Ghazal Ali is a Pakistani-American poet with roots in California. She is currently an MFA candidate and Juniper Fellow at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she also teaches composition. Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from homonym, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Waxwing, Wildness, and others. Find her at www.twitter.com/sarwwaa.