Nuar Alsadir’s More Shadow Than Bird

© Image by Deborah Copaken Kogan

   
   
About Nuar Alsadir’s first book of poems, More Shadow Than Bird (Salt Publishing, 2012), David Baker of The Kenyon Review wrote, “These are distinctive, tight, sonic little mysteries. Dickinson abides here”. Nuar’s poems and essays have been published in numerous periodicals, including The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Grand Street, Slate, The Awl, The New York Times Magazine, Tin House, AGNI and Callaloo. She has received writing fellowships from Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, The Fine Arts Center in Provincetown, The Norman Mailer Center, and Ledig House International. She has been nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize.
 
Nuar received her B.A. from Amherst College, and both an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English Literature from NYU. She is currently on the faculty at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she teaches writing. In addition, she is training to become a psychoanalyst at The Institute of Psychoanalytic Training and Research and is in the Scholars Program at New York Psychoanalytic Institute and Society. She has a blog on the Psychology Today website, The Examined Life.
 
 
 

 
 
“The poems in More Shadow Than Bird are imagistic narratives of emotional situations that offer not the story of a life, but of the consciousness accompanying the life lived. The quirky perspective and musical surface of these poems makes them engaging – deceptively catchy, even – as a mysterious darkness tows from beneath to draw the reader deeper in. This consciousness, even as it operates on a more philosophical level, is embodied – not abstract or removed  – conveying a sense of rawness and honesty that is rare in non-representational work.”
 
 
 
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“Nuar Alsadir’s More Shadow Than Bird abandons the self in order to create a haunting dialogue with the self. These poems converse from the inside out; they come alive in the back and forth of a mind attempting to understand what it means to be in relation to. The couplet is employed here to full effect as relationships, both to others and the world, are interrogated. If ever there was a fantasy of transcendence these poems begin after that in the exacting and ruthless moments of mourning and loss even as the “I” and the “you” continue to orbit each other. Alsadir’s debut collection is lawless and provocative and heartbreaking.”
 
– Claudia Rankine
 
 
 
“It is the tone of these poems that propels them forward, at once deeply intelligent and vulnerable. The sounds, the surfaces, are muscular and precise (like Plath), and yet subterranean fears leak onto every page. Alsadir’s alchemic interplay of sound and the subterranean creates a thrilling tension. As an American poet of Iraqi parents, she writes from a place of being not only outside the dominant culture, but threatened with annihilation. Fear comes to life in these pages, sits beside us, seemingly contained, seemingly at peace, lulling us, but always close.”
 
– Nick Flynn
 
 
 
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Bats
 
 
They live inside walls—not like you
or the other rodents, but with wings
 
and fangs, a clicking almost flamenco.
And unlike you, they are not ashamed:
 
they share their darkness like a piece
of delight and when the circling begins
 
do not feel their minds invert.
You, crawlers, guard your flight,
 
may swim the air in dreams
but always rise for breath, belief.
 
The bats do not need applause.
If you clap, they will change direction.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The Riddle of the Shrink
 
 
It’s the distress of losing a ticket
or any other document granting passage.
 
When the phone disconnects
just as you were about to be let in
 
on a secret, you become the letter
that never receives a response, the ball
 
that rolls under the neighbor’s fence and stays.
The friend you have entrusted with your death
 
song, an editor, has changed the words.
Now it’s you, not your modifiers,
 
who will dangle, suspended between this world
and the next. The image of the future
 
is the memory of the dream in which
you’re standing before a kiosk, attempting
 
a transaction with a forgotten code.
The more you talk, the more you’re left alone.
 
At times, you’re curious whether or not
someone is in the room, but fear it would be
 
too revealing to check. At times, you strain
to hear another’s conversation while feigning
 
involvement in your own. When the subway doors
open and everyone rushes to take a seat,
 
you’re trying to get over to the right lane
in fast traffic. It’s like wearing tights
 
with a stretched-out waistband under a skirt,
or dreaming that the alarm is about to go off.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Hypegiaphobia
 
 
We are descending again in parallel—
I cannot say together—as in another dream
 
you rushed through the first door
without me. It was late. Your name
 
was an elevator door resisting its rail,
its screech my only attempt to reach you.
 
Was it hurt that filled the elevator
I entered with gurneys and gowned girls,
 
incubated hearts pumping for a home?
Floors flicker as they fall.
 
The girls’ chatter flaps shrill at light,
tangles in my hair and away
 
like spring, like spring—
          When the doors open
 
you will be on the other side, waiting,
mistaking my elation for rage.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Guest
 
 
Your mother’s in the kitchen and out
and in again. It’s all about them.
 
They’ve taken over like the dark cloud
hanging low over the back yard,
 
a fat aunt coming in for a hug.
Enough’s enough. The door opens:
 
new guests flow in as the old
back you up like mangroves.
 
Why get dressed up to stay in?
Pretend to befriend other children
 
because they have been dumped next to you?
Resistance, then fire, then to your room
 
without toys. Later, it’ll be the boys
to whom your friends will cater,
 
seem to love best. Such is the fate
of the steadfast: you’ll never be a guest.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Walking with Suzan
 
 
We hear a sound like a mammoth door
creaking open. She tells me it’s a woodpecker,
 
and I imagine that little nose opening worlds.
I think of hearing a poet read a few weeks ago;
 
sitting in the front row I wanted nothing more
than to touch his nose. I told this to my friends
 
at Pete’s Tavern after the reading and someone
called it sweet. Jeff would probably call it sublimation.
 
I started talking with Suzan about how difficult it is
to marry appearances with intentions and she wants
 
to walk around what looks like mint but could be
poison ivy. My mother used to grow mint
 
in our backyard; we called it by its Arabic name, nànà.
A few years ago, I learned the English word
 
for tukie is mulberries and ramane is pomegranate.
I have spent my life confusing words, mixing up
 
what I mean with what I say. The other day
when we were lying on my kitchen floor and I said
 
you should go, I could have said I’m scared
or help me believe. But there is so little to believe in
 
since what we see is not necessarily out there
and language hollows being into desire.
 
Even when I try to talk about what I want I start to lie.
There’s a lot to be said for walking around things.
 
Still, there are times when a skeptic tries,
a woodpecker banging itself into a tree.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Sing Fat
 
 
I will not write another love poem, I decide,
passing the Sing Fat Restaurant on 3rd and 12th.
 
Who but Whitman could do that, sing fat?
It’s like Williams dancing around naked
 
while everyone’s sleeping, or Vallejo
wanting to kiss affection on its two cheeks.
 
Yesterday, I was explaining to my fourth graders
why we say Native Americans, how it’s important
 
to call people by names they choose, and Sarah Bliss
told me she wants to be called Beautiful Girl.
 
My mother used to call me Little Boy
because that’s what I wanted to be; I’d watch
 
my brother melt the heads off his army men
and think, what power! Now I sit at a desk,
 
drawers filled with tape and Kleenex,
answer questions like why there is no willn’t
 
if there’s a wouldn’t and a couldn’t.
We talk about what colours we would be,
 
how happy endings are an adult conspiracy,
and how they don’t like another teacher
 
because she’s like paper. Last night I dreamt
I was pregnant, which is supposed to be a good omen,
 
but I sprinkled salt on my stomach and watched
the baby shrivel like a leech. If I could accept
 
what comes, I’d be dancing naked, bulging with life,
finding no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.
 
 
 
 
from More Shadow Than Bird (Salt Publishing, 2012).
 
Order More Shadow Than Bird here, here or here.
 
Visit Nuar’s blog, The Examined Life, at Psychology Today.
  
  
  
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