Summer 2015

Raena Shirali  black magic  *  David Winter  White Queen's Blues  *  Paul Asta   Lullaby for the Wandering Child  *  Janelle DolRayne  Self-portrait as painter and sitter




Raena Shirali
black magic

“This is how everyone in India is brought up—listening to ghost stories.” –Sushil Sharma, The Washington Post


the village men fear my evil mouth: so-called       daayan       feeding on cattle,
stirring dust to stifle crops. i am       single. have no man
to stand his two feet       on top of my ground & reassure:

                                                                          i am no danger.
me with the lotus painted       on her bedroom wall. me the she-devi,

           cast lower
                                     & lower, until i end in dirt.

men cry for help. the dayaans,           they say, have different
eyes. they say our mantras shrill up               the dry air. some forget

they, too, are sudras,              all told             to serve
all bent            to till               all bent            toward ground.

they say          we crave          the blood of chickens,
the piss & shit of men. they      cram it

our throats.

the ohja is always a man. he can sense           the dayaan’s floral
spirit—a wicked thing—in the sal trees, before he brands her
name onto its branches. he waits                    for inevitable wither. he performs
his white magic. his     purification. tosses rice at white ants. asks that they gravitate

                                                                            to nonexistent black.

they bring me a burnt rooster’s ashes, wrapped in banana leaf, sprinkled
with boiled rice. they crouch behind shrubbery,             waiting.
there is gold                 in my house.              there is gold                on my hands.

the ohja has     his men, his summoning. let them                   bribe me. they will break
my teeth.         they will rape     my sisters. they want it all                      white—but me,

i’m this dark woman.              i’ve been working        their fields       under their    
sun. they come            into my altar, my whitewashed walls. they see me sitting
cross-legged on packed mud, surrounded       by figurines of my gods                      & i am shining

like a goddamn devil.






David Winter
White Queen’s Blues

Mr. Pat Water’s Very Smart Club My-O-My, known for its “female impersonators,” permitted only white patrons and performers for most of its history.



If I could dance
                                 to your work song, hummed
                                                                                    as sun splits
shadow from silt
                                 each morning, I’d have
                                                                           the whole quarter
                       But a lady mustn’t soil her lace,
                                                                              so I dance
under stage lights
                                 far from Bourbon, and I beg:     
                                                                                    let me
drink color
                       like a peahen, Daddy,
                                                               let me swallow
music from dented
                                 horns. I beg:
                                                               take me
through the darkened city,
                                               Daddy, take me
                                                                              to the city
of seen dawn—
                                Take me, not because
                                                                        the blue note
in your black skin
                                 has sung softly
                                                              in my ear—
                  it has. And not because
                                                              you don’t dream well
beneath roach-
                                flight, though you don’t.
                                                                                Take me,
                  take me—to the city’s
where I know
                                my skin newly
                                                               as the crescent
                     by your hand pressed
                                                               against it.








Paul Asta
Lullaby for the Wandering Child


Tell him he was born a goldfish
and you called him marmalade,
because his tail fin reminded you

of your grandmother’s butter knife
inserted and spun about the jar,
which she held with a loose grip

and trembling hands, and it wasn’t
the mess afterwards that worried you,
it was the pouring and the tremble,

the way the light came in through
the kitchen window, and the jar
of marmalade glowed clandestine

and ricocheted amber all over
the blue kitchen walls, and when
he asks why he was born a goldfish,

tell him how you held him to the sky,
hoping the sky would seem miraculous,
jubilant even, how quickly the night

approaches, and though he will find
no answers in the stars, and though
this will not comfort him, tell him

he was a small boy with mercurial
features, born in equinox, that you
found him on land that was no good,

the dirt trodden, the grass raised
from gravel, the gravel too dense
to walk on, and tell him how the sky

that day was cut from its stalk,
and he stood before you like a bird
with both wings broken, a violin

in the rain slowly pulled against
the landscape, and when he is done
asking his questions, and when

you find there is nothing left to say,
send him down to the water
and let him find his own way home.






Janelle DolRayne
Self-portrait as painter and sitter


A steel blue light flickers in a room
where I sit for myself. The painter

and sitter just got done arguing—
No, I’m the freak. The sitter positions

herself in the way we both prefer,
yet neither will say. Have you seen

the palette I’ve picked for you?
the painter continues, Eggshell slip

of a trophy wife, ghost-wolf gray,
amber preserving our mother, blue spruce.

That seems about right to me—me too.
The painter thinks of the shade

to light the cheek, asks, How’s the family?
If the answer is, Not great, we might

need more pink. We anticipate
each other’s thoughts—the painter

always interprets the sitter’s dreams.
What were the snowballs doing? If the answer

includes, Melting quickly in my hands,
the painter considers Impressionism.

When the painter is done the sitter puts
a hand on the shoulder. Did I really look like

that? The sitter tries to remember the body.
This is how you looked in the blizzard

of your dream. The sitter squints, wonders
whether we’ve painted us frozen or alive.








  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.