Second Takes

Fairy Tale

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May/ June 2016

By: Kazim Ali

In the acres of garden before an empty house an amnesiac prince
collects broken branches, prunes the fruit trees, plucks weeds from the
rock bed.

He speaks a broken language of beach and Broadway and on the way
to shore gets lost and finds himself in a cemetery at sunset, pink light
on the stones.

He cannot read the inscriptions but kneels down at a cenotaph
anyhow and recites the only prayers he can remember.

Why, when we wanted to speak to nothing but water, is he singing
verses down into the stone hard earth in a town he has never
belonged to, lost on his way to the shore?

If only he would learn to read the book of the sky, he would see the
birds circling lazily around hot currents, which could only mean a large
body of water is near.

The words are hollow in his mouth and he doesn’t know what he
believes anyhow, whether bodies will again rise or if the aerial rumors
of the gulls will lead him to the sea or if the numb tombstone in his
mouth might indeed speak.

His scripture comes out sideways and his mispronunciation of the
most sacred syllables makes him always friendless. It’s nearly a
party trick the way he opens his mouth and butterflies pour out, closes
it again and the clock chimes, reminding him of being a young boy,
coming home to an empty house, sure that he had been forgotten,
that everyone had gone to the beach without him.

Sure that he would always be forgotten, that he would lie down in his
grave and no ghost would come to fetch him or explain god or what
was supposed to happen next.  

That the grave would fill with dirt and he would rise on the boat of
his body. That no one would recite the sacred chapters for him, that he
wouldn’t know how to take the rudder, that the sea was too far.

The boat now coming apart, his voice dwindling, hard as stone.

Finally he sees a bird winging down calling, “Find-me, find-me!”

But he doesn’t understand words, only sound, the shape of words, the
tune to which they are sung.

All the sacred verses in the world are like bird wheeling in the sky,
who knows where they go.

— from Sky Ward, Wesleyan University Press, 2013