Kevin Blankinship is a professor of Arabic at Brigham Young University. His poetry has been published by The Ekphrastic Review, Rock Canyon Poets, and the Utah Horror Writers Association. He has also written essays for The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Jadaliyya. He lives in Utah with his wife, their two children, and a menacing gang of fruit trees.
Pruning the Apricot Tree
Thok! Thok! Thok! Thok!
There go my shears hacking through
stubborn bark, green sapwood
tender and swollen with water.
The blades meet and another limb
falls to the ground. I wipe off sweat.
It’s going faster than I thought.
Down below, two imps look around —
ages 9 and 11, their job is to find
stray branches and leaves,
apricots too hard and small to eat.
Are we done yet, Dad? In response,
I send more raining down. Groans!
They swish the bag, toe the dirt, and stall.
I grip the trunk and pretend
they’re not getting so big,
my mother and father aren’t dying,
the harvest will always be far off.
Almost done! Just a little bit longer!
We’re almost done. Just a bit longer,
please, just a little bit longer.
Majnuun, or To Have
Why am I so afraid
of spirit possession?
In Arabic, the word crazy
the feeling that something
has come to be inside you.
Another word, haunted,
but not by yourself.
Why am I so afraid
of being possessed?
Long ago, a prince fell
in love, but he couldn’t
and it drove him mad.
He lived in the
woods, talked to
animals, ate bark and leaves.
The Arabs call him
Why am I so afraid?
When I occupy, I
possess. When I possess, I
have, and when I
have, I am. But if I
don’t occupy, possess,
then am I? Who is
Why am I?
Ouroboros, or Writer’s Block—a lover’s spat with his poem
I gaze in horror at the glowing screen
while the fan hums harshly, cooling circuits.
Slouching to write you, dear poem, the keys grow
stiff in hand, without even typing a word—
did I say it all sometime before now,
or just forget to write down my unsaid?
Why write? it seems to ask, or not.
Words are slippery eels between the reeds, so
don’t try to grab us with your hands and shake us
into a basket by the river’s edge,
fry us in oil then serve it all on toast
to lusty readers aching for a meal.
But wait, I cry, if utterance has no sense
nor conversation worth, then tell me how
we can dance our serpentine tango step,
how we squabble using words you say can’t
say or do—how do you deny your own speech
when speech is all, all that there is of you?
Give it up it groans, your talk is tied in knots
like a jumbo snake eating its own tail, or
a swirl of mud and soot run down the hill
after a sudden aphasia cloudburst,
and soon enough your own tongue betrays you
to the cavern of muffled void you fear.
My dear poem, I reject your resignation,
take heart, rejoin me at my plastic desk
and say a prayer with words that, though unpraying,
waft upward on gusts of vaporous devotion,
as I heat your self-eating snake into gold glass,
changeling, changeless alchemy: the word made flesh.