Self-Portrait – Kirsten Hemmy

each morning i wake & pray. i’m not
always devout, but hope god & universe

recognize sincerity as much as character
flaw. catholicism had me lashed, guilty,

whore even as i observed priests
observing me. my young body sudden river,

field untilled yet somehow source of shame.
i confessed, took his body & blood, trying

to fill that hollow, aching bowl within.
i was always lost in latin, tongue

of the dead: unsteady on my knees,
uncertain when to stand. nothing

planted, i moved from shore to shore,
earth, water, land. unbound but not free.

at the masjid i stopped, a slow unheaving,
learning at first the repetition required

of such work. of any work. surat al-fatiha,
shahada, wudu, the act of purification.

iqra, the first word revealed, meaning
to seek knowledge. nothing was sudden,

nothing given. the river continued on,
an always movement the brain vaguely

comprehends as time. fields everywhere
slowly unfallowed, a richening. my fingers

pressed the earth, guiding my body which
i could finally recognize as my own. the book:

history, almanac. every answer, poem. the bowl,
filled & refilled, a meditation in letting go.

Surat al-fatiha – first chapter in the Quran
Shahada – declaration of faith
Wudu – purification process before prayer
Iqra – knowledge, to read

Kirsten Hemmy 2

Kirsten Hemmy’s work has previously appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Compose, Green Mountains Review, CaKe Magazine, Comstock Review, Antiphon, Glass, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere. Her first book, The Atrocity of Water was a Tom Lombardo selection published by Press 53 in 2010; her second book, Revert, will be published in 2017 Hemmy has performed as a TedX speaker and has a long-standing mixed-media collaboration with the visual artist Antoine Williams. Formerly a Fulbright Fellow in Senegal, Hemmy currently lives in the Sultanate of Oman, where she teaches creative writing at Sultan Qaboos University.