Poems by Rajiv Mohabir


Image courtesy of Christopher Michel. Shared via a Creative Commons license.


Stomach Full of Trash

Put your hand inside
my wound. You stud me
in jewels and now
I am floating in the bay.
With your arms submerged,
pass my pharynx and reach
into my pouch of skin
folded on skin. Pull out
the garbage in my gut,
gleaming as the razor jewels
of empire. Is my plastic
a prophet sent to predict
your doom? The coolie is here
to serve you. Here’s the oil
from my head that keeps me
afloat and bloating. Lay on this
palanquin of my ribs
and baleen. I will carry
you on my back. I will dress you
in rhinestones and sequins
scales and you can penetrate
my deep as a mermaid—
half fish and all human
desire for conquest.




North Atlantic Right Whale

You play father and I reveal
my sins: my heart’s an apostate
riding passenger along the A1A.

The wages of shore-hugging migration
is the harpoon in your logic

where you force me
to chew the hollow
bitter of crow bones

until your own belly blackbirds
my traces of salt and I wake up
starboard, blinded by your whiskey wheeze
to you trying out my skin in strips
like bandages for its bright honey.

You are greedy to wrap my flukes in ropes;
for my oil to fuel your lantern;
to remake me into a light to see yourself by.

Right whales migrate from the north
and we surface from our fogged
windows and pull off on the shoulder to watch
the dark rise and swell

of bodies. On the Flagler pier
a man pulls up
shark after shark on his line
as the ocean tongues the dock,
the entire boardwalk sways.

You stand on my sea chest and I breathe.

What starving ghosts return
year after year? Can I submerge
my head and hear
myself slowly bleeding out?





You strand humpbacks on my neck
111111and blaze a string of ghazals as pearls
in salt along the swaths of shore

111111and sea in the hollow gouge
of the mattress molded to your shape.
111111For days I lick my burns.

You once tongued my couplets;
111111now they swell in tide’s echo.
Before these torn clothes,

111111we cut our tongues dueling
in the language of loss;
111111your Bollywood turn-of-the-face

to salaam my lips with your stubble:
111111such last moment daggers
in drag. You asked to hold my hand

111111once, press my mouth to your hollow
and kick off from the wall or jump
111111from the volcanic bluff. How I tumble

when my sea skin is first silent
111111then roars. Somewhere a harp’s slit
strings refuse their dusk namaz:

111111a failure of the body. If no one hears,
is this still a prayer? Somewhere
111111military muezzin cries; and a whale

bellies up, its pectoral fins sliced
111111into confetti against the coral
deadened by your runoff.



SS Mersey 1898

And what of the Mahungu and Nabibux below deck, having been caught in full blow? As
the guard Rambux states, “I hauled the blanket off, Mahangu was on top of Nabibux who
was on his back Mahangu was on his stomach.” In 1898 aboard the Mersey, did they
smear themselves with each other’s oil to vanish, invisible to Christian, Muslim, Hindu—
What of the fear of Albert Harrison’s brandishing a fire reddened rod to scald Mahungu’s
shaft and penis head? According to the ship logs subpoenaed at the trial he stated the
soldering this unnatural coolie into chastity was a “preventative measure as he might
attempt the act of placing it in Nabibux’s anus again.” Mersey sounds like mercy. A
mercy of flame to save the heathen from the savage gods. But what of the hell: the stench
of charred foreskin?



Queer in the Logie

How far does madness drive you?
111111Your hands clutching a bloodied
111111111111cutlass; you’ve hacked off your own

nose: the shame of your father
111111to beget a plantain loving son. But
111111111111this is not any easy garden.

On your stomach you lie
111111nightly in the ship-plank barracks,
111111111111counting your sweat drops

on the floor as stars: whose body
111111do the constellations form
111111111111tonight? The manager?

The sardar? The OK Cupid
111111headless torso? These cramped
111111111111quarters hardly veil any sough:

they’re heard in Berbice, and you moan
111111in Hawai‘i, or here in New York.
111111111111You ante your salt—oceans dried

to cure your body’s fruit, a pickle
111111to relish in the pitch dark. You hide
111111111111indentured to this betrayal.

In 1892 the British note your fluke dive
111111into another coolie man, the last
111111111111priest of Gomorrah. In 2014

you eat cream pies by the dozen
111111as neighbors complain
111111111111you only pay rent for one.




Winner of 2015 AWP Intro Journal Award and the 2014 Intro Prize in Poetry by Four Way Books for his first full-length collection The Taxidermist’s Cut (Spring 2016), recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant, and the 2015 Kundiman Prize for his manuscript The Cowherd’s SonRajiv Mohabir received fellowships from Voices of Our Nation’s Artist foundation, Kundiman, and the American Institute of Indian Studies language program. His poetry and translations are internationally published or forthcoming from journals such as Best American Poetry 2015, Quarterly West, Guernica, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Drunken Boat, Anti-, Great River Review, PANK, and Aufgabe. He received his MFA in Poetry and Translation from at Queens College, CUNY where he was Editor in Chief of the Ozone Park Literary Journal. Currently he is pursuing a PhD in English from the University of Hawai`i, where he teaches poetry and composition.

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