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‘Ghazal for Becoming Your Own Country’ by Angel Nafis

— Nix Thérèse

What I love best about ghazals is how easily I’m tricked by them; I often don’t realize the form until the very end, even though my ear recognizes the music, even when it’s noted in the title like it is here. Despite “bride” as the end word, this tone is remarkably somber as the speaker discovers how to become self-sustainable instead of coupling.

Our first encounter with speaker shown as the bride describes her as “soil, sand, and mud grown.” This slightly subverts our expectations of a usual bride—clean, presentable, drawing attention. But here, the bride is born out of necessity and grit. The bride can’t shake off the earth from which she comes, and it’s this sense of connection that permeates throughout the poem. If you’re already wedded, why not make your country comfortable? Why not adorn it with that which draws you closer to yourself? Even when family is torn out the picture, she honors her lineage by framing the portraits of “all the mothers gone” and testing milk on her wrist. We’ve come to the apex where the child has to assume the adult role, but we can feel both selves in the room: the younger looking toward the nurturers and the older waiting to nurture some child, but only finding herself. I’m drawn most to the image of the wood spoon over the boiling pot, because like the bride, it’s been carved out of the earth and tested, yet still able to hold its own.

The poem continues to escalate and complicate the ideas of the former stanza: “Burn the honey. Write the letters. What address can hold you? / Nectar arms, nectar hands.” It’s hard to burn honey and reach the caramelization point without destroying it because you have to hold it over the right amount of heat for the right amount of time. Yet you can’t reach the more intense kind of sweet without risk. Often self-care is just showing up for yourself and remaining present, even when it comes down to something as simple as making a sauce. The next line complicates this idea of very specific by implying that the speaker is more expansive than described before: “what address can hold you?” Having no single space or home or name subtly brings diaspora into the picture, but this sense of drifting can also allow for deeper connections because you’re looking for those ties, those pieces of yourself that have been scattered. Physically drawing out the letters makes one recall the movement, the sound, the history. Meanwhile, “nectar arms, nectar hands” continues to give us a vision of the speaker as attractive. As she calls the shards of herself back in, she’s also able to be poured out. Similar to nectar feeding different pollinators, she can sustain others with the sugar she’s built for herself, or continue processing.

Clearly the speaker “becoming [her] own country” is continual development. Most of the ghazal is laid out as a to-do list, yet goes beyond day-to-day reminders, instead spilling over into more of a lifework. With much space to rule over, there’s much to tend.


Poetry Magazine