sporklet 14

Issam Zineh

What If a Love Like This

A Cento Blues

I caught a starfish, second summer after my divorce.
You know it’s your fault you
were once again standing off in the dark
on the borderline between sea & soul.


I licked the salt from your neck:
sing me rivers the anthem of blue waters, the hymn of
my eye the coastline disappears on
then. This is the dark he lives in.


I see myself thrown heart first into this ruin.
I throw the symbols. I make reverberations.
This compulsion to write one’s name,
substitute writer for mirror, visionary for window, hack for glass.


No one answers, and that fact is a giant fly buzzing.
Once I tried to hang myself and got terribly ashamed.




Once I tried to hang myself and got terribly ashamed.
I laughed, took off the rag I was wearing.
The doctor asks me what I am. I say, a non sequitur. He is suddenly
cool air. Caress the light/my body calls.


I have frequent fantasies about running
over people I don’t like. It is the early dawn:
I’m 99% body. My brain has dissolved
into basil and blackthorn.


I become a name caller,
a door thru which I escape/another world.
Smell of fresh wet black earth. A fire. We couldn’t breathe.
Until he threw water on me.


Ol’ sun he steady whispers.
Provide, he said. Provide.




Provide, he said. Provide
a fresh spray of mist and neon.
Camera action: blood & shoes (remember the mountains of shoes?).
Use people, love things.


I offer you whatever incites my blood, whatever
cratered psyche toast-colored skin and lunar eclipses.
This is the purple dawn,
disharmony in all my parts.


My bowels are in my throat
(can’t tell mama about this)
pushed to the floor but max is not max enough.
At the tip of each finger a separate universe.


Living with you, he says, is like living with a Gauguin.
Lift me thru my skin.




Lift me thru my skin:
small, unsophisticated country—two hours of
the same ol’ cold-blooded bloodlessness.
Too little for too much effort I pursue my dramas/those


stars. There is other life out there. I sense it, a smell, a
hello from months later, a black bird with one red feather—
the Chattahoochee the Cheyenne the Chippewa the Cimarron—
washing six-month’s worth of dirt & the devil off.


And the subject of your love? We rain in each other/
darkness parts and a nation’s heart is released. I am full.
I’m on uptime/have no resting place/cannot rest—
water listening to how I listen knowing there’s a limit.


I thirst for the cold white quench.
Without you this city is a pale rude fiction.




Without you this city is a pale rude fiction.
Your sun paints the skyscrapers downtown in late day. The children
expect this letter to go unmailed as have all the others. I—
I am dying in lala in a blizzard of sun where—


god. In my smoke I call you
to take the outer skin in. Rehumanize it.
My father hoists me over his shoulder, holds me
after. I take cuttings of his hair and kiss the air.


My tongue has grown strong and hard
like twin hearts beating in amber.
All that talk about blackberries was talk.
Will you pay to hear my angst of sob and bathe in it?


Do see/refuse the dark.
There are those still throwing themselves into the sea so-to-speak.




There are those still throwing themselves into the sea so-to-speak.
Somewhere they are unearthing the evidence—
the dark heart/earth casts up its dead
sky, river, mother. Your tongue plunders my mouth,


my love’s isolation, my nation and me. Our bickerings—
is that what she holds against me—your eternal
rampant romantic notions of nobly dying in the cause
where crowns of trees inspired by flame extol the night?


I will speak to the night. It will listen.
Forgive this ruined narrative begging the first chaos out of calm. Let my grief be pure.
The phone rings again. Something clicks. It’s dangerous.
They have a warrant out for my arrest.


He’s out here somewhere dead ahead, enemy and lover. I am armed.
I will not come to the door.




I will not come to the door.
I hear voices sing and shout, hear bodies.
Bed calls. I sit in the dark in the living room.
I decide I may as well walk to keep warm and am suddenly


buying money orders at the post office.
I believed great and prolonged sex cured cancer. I believed
violence. It is imperative that visionaries see
groves of perfect oranges and streets of stars.


I catch a starfish, second summer after my divorce.
The lotus moon is a lover’s wound,
and the crows go by…she’s on top.
My sky is painted to look like a ceiling.


It happened so gradual I didn’t notice.
We lived off love. It was all we had to eat.

This sonnet crown is a cento. The only modification to the traditional form is that the first line of the first sonnet reappears in modified form as the volta of the last sonnet as opposed to the final line. The poem’s source material is many of Wanda Coleman’s poems as collected in Wicked Enchantment: Selected Poems (edited by Terrance Hayes, Black Sparrow Press, 2020), with the exception of 4 lines that come from the following poems not included in that collection: “Bedtime Story,” “In that Other Fantasy Where We Live Forever,” “Dear Momma,” and “American Sonnet 10.” With the exception of a few lines, there has been no change in lineation. Capitalization, some punctuation, and tense in some parts have been changed from the original.  I have not added or removed conjunctions or prepositions.


Issam Zineh (he/him) is a Los Angeles-born, Palestinian-American poet and scientist.  He is the author of the forthcoming chapbook The Moment of Greatest Alienation (Ethel Press, Spring 2021).  His poems appear or are forthcoming in Bear ReviewClockhouseFERAL, Fjords Review, FRiGG Magazine, Glass: A Journal of Poetry (Poets Resist)NimrodPoet LorePsaltery & LyreThe Seattle Review, and elsewhere.  Find him on twitter @izineh.