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.

Raena Shirali lives in Charleston, South Carolina, where she teaches English at College of Charleston. She recently received her Masters in Fine Arts in poetry from The Ohio State University. Her poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Banango Street, Better: Culture & Lit, The Boiler, Boston Review, Fogged Clarity, Four Way Review, Gulf Coast, The Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Ninth Letter, The Nervous Breakdown, No More Potlucks, Ostrich Review, Phantom Limb, Pleiades, Quarterly West, and Winter Tangerine. Her honors and awards include the 2014 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, recognition as a finalist for the 2014 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and a 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize. Most recently, she was awarded a 2016 Pushcart Prize for her poetry.