The poetry of Zain Ul Abidin Khan Alizai

My Uncle Who fights with ALS: A Play In Seven Parts


(enigma enigma – the end)

my uncle is a towering watchdog —
you can paint the world in his wings
splatter anguish in his arms & let go
of everything that chained you to you


(80s movie starlet)

my uncle has a mandible of gold
all shiny, all talk. all beautiful words.
We whisper desires in his ceramic
lobes. He kisses poems on our cheek.
His eyes see nautical horizons & ‘stache that
reminds us of baby Hitler. He sheds
sabered feathers on his tear-drenched shoulders.


(the Harbinger)

my uncle is a coal mine.
he bears looms of anguish in multiple skins
disguising his soot & ash as his fuel. He runs
on his stilts made of diffusing shades of white
His pocket treasuries numb our desires,
we fall deep in the crevasse he carves

for us.


(the bend in the road)

My uncle is now a rose in the desert —
he is a sinking submarine on fire. He was
always in it too deep. He is a mellow tune,
his rocking feels more like tremors now.
His mandibles are corroded cell-doors
with hinged tongues & silent hallways.
We race together now but only in my mind
and he is always left behind on walks.
he loves mornings but his eyes are wet.
His nascent limbs are giving way, we
are seeing this submarine sink.

This tree soaring high
& bending slowly.


(the beginning of the end)

My uncle is a stationary wall-clock —
his kisses slur into cuss words now. We whisper
sonnets in his ears and he replies in three
burning hisses. ALS. ALS. ALS.
His mantra is a different kind of silence &
sorrow is his everyday cloak.
His limbs are like bared yardsticks
crunched by the earthquakes he locks
in his chest. He is a unique Sun —
burning & not letting the flames rise.
His legs are in a deep slumber,
they don’t carve out springs on

snowy pathways, better pathways.


(humming jazz & blue)

My uncle is a beastly machine
with no motor. His language isn’t
native anymore. He is like a Sufi
hermit — bound to leave.
He is guided towards adventures of
his own. We don’t whisper, we don’t
sing, watching as his kaleidoscope transforms.
his tongue is lifeless, breathing slow
He shivers on the sight of dawn. He is a dried-
up well. We want to throw stones down there.
We know they can never crash. never break through.
ALS is his first name now. We don’t call him that.
Ma says he won’t like the sound of it. If only she knows,
he listens to the gush of the nearby brook now,
lodges at the backyard farm, hunts turkeys,
whistles his favorite Nina Simeone tunes & doesn’t
ask us to leave.


(the beginning)

My uncle left the door opened
tonight, he is jangling down the muddy
He is walking/sleeping in his bed, mind off
to a world of its own. He left two years
early. His tree no more than a stump.
We can still pluck out the in his beard,
the gray but we have figured tonight,
he’ll just like them the old way

as his journey begins.



on being fat & dying

Embrace me in dying light
no whispers, no moving jaw.
sealed mouth you carry
me – in your quake
singed with all the powers
of manhood/perfection.

The first time he called me fat
& sick & useless like the Chinese
leftovers, Trump and armpit hair.

He meant it.

He meant it when he staked chemo faggot
through my pelt. I blame DNA like
an unwanted reality, like that surgery
scar kissing my belly. My war prize.
46 chromosomes and my dying light
46 chromosomes & nowhere left to go.

He meant it when he pushed me
down the concrete sidewalk, smell
burnt tyre & sugar spit like it’s heavenly.
like chomping down nails is an act of god.
He asked me to shake the dust & I prided
forever. in sap, skin – all the flesh &
this saturated oil in everything in me.
No blood, no room to call home
adipose a native city. Plump, yet mellow

Whisper in my skin
& love me no more.



teaching her to say rain & all things painful

say pleasure is a curse &
be over with it, I’ve seen
the pink scrape off my skin,
like the fallen hair in the shower
like the bismillah on foreign tongues,
chafed lips & charred words
say shame is a best friend
like ‘I’m alright’ like ‘I’ll always be
by your side’. like an impromptu lie
No, this was not meant to happen no
because tsunamis don’t rage in deserts
& you can’t leave in the dead of the night
when it rains.
say you don’t love me
like a tumor locked in my chest
like a broken rib. like a roasting wick
in rain. like a soft moan &
I’ve ricocheted into you
with no reason. how a roadkill comes upfront
when you least want it. Frozen
but my heart wasn’t. It wasn’t because it keeps on burning under the moon
like ancient amber. like the dew
on train windowsills.
say madness like a kiss
like that soft spell I’m under
like that blooming orchard on that hill
like here. like there. like here & here & right there
everywhere. everywhere.

Zain Ul Abidin Khan Alizai is a seventeen year old Pakistani poet. His works dominantly delve into topics of race, identity, body and societal imaging. He has been regarded as the youngest published poet of the country. His works have been published in Reflection W&RRed Queen Literary Magazine, Rigorous Magazine, The Scene & Heard Journal and an Indian anthology titled Fledglings among other places. He juggles his time between churning out poems & balancing his life as an army cadet. His debut chapbook is in progress.

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