Door to Chaos: Three Poems by Nazifa Islam

By Nazifa Islam

These poems are part of a series of Virginia Woolf found poems Nazifa is currently working on. She selects a paragraph of text from a Woolf novel and only use the words from that paragraph to create a poem—she doesn’t allow herself to repeat words, add words, or edit the language for tense or any other consideration.

Phantom Weight
a found poem: Virginia Woolf’s The Waves

I exist to tremble in shriveled solitude
to burst into tears, to want.

Something in me—something made
of pine-needles, thunder, and grass—
has been torn out.

My crippled hands take whole days and crack them open:
morning hours slip out, unfurl
and I swallow time like it will give me wings.

In that moment, I see all of my restrictions—
they spring up and stand there
to be admired.

I want to be given freedom;
I want to unfold and fly.


The Mind Arches
a Virginia Woolf found poem: The Waves

Struck by a cold and violent god
I am blurred edges moaning at my own sense
of absurdity.
The door to chaos is open

and there is nobody to offer me understanding
here. I walk alone
but I need someone to talk to.

I—a bit of string and pitch and steam—
need a sympathetic figure
to come to me.

I feel the urgency of my solitude;
my story is poised
to disappear.


The Plunge Back
a found poem: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

She was eighteen. It was early
morning and she was standing on the terrace

looking at rooks rising into the air. She was musing
about flowers, about trees and vanished smoke

when a lark burst in the open window
like a winding wave and she forgot her calm.

Then there was the feeling
that something utterly awful had to happen—

and she remembered
that June. Solemn eyes, a chill

smile, a dull pocket-knife, his sharp kiss.
How strange. How like falling.

Nazifa Islam grew up in Novi, Michigan. Her poetry and paintings have appeared in Anomalous Press, Flashquake, The Fat City Review, and The Harpoon Review among other publications, and her debut poetry collection Searching for a Pulse (2013) was released by Whitepoint Press. She earned her MFA at Oregon State University. Visit her website or find her on Twitter and Instagram at @nafoopal. 

One comment

  1. All of Islam’s poems are striking and compelling, but my favorite is definitely “The Mind Arches.” It seems more cohesive and illuminating to me, capturing the danger of being alone too long with one’s thoughts and needing the kindness of a listening ear.


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