the organic properties of sand

Laila Malik

before you were born, gods traded in silences
worked blood into earth, mud wombs hosting
tiny hominid spines, ever fetal-chording serpents & seeds
you, an eastbound bird
brighteyed millennial, aluminum-husked
god your own way from up there, grace
sand with a stopover snickertini
eyerolls behind glass
just dust & towers

naked eye babyblind to beyond

teeming life stories of particulate
matter, nevermind pleistocene mollusksongs
still circling

nevermind the first flood
gilgamesh & his jigsaw heart
necropoli of eternal youth
each generation with brave new names
breathless, bloodthirsty with hope

or oil rigs. drill bits spew flecks
of black gold, nevermind hungry
blue eyes, fine aqueous membranes
perforated en route cocktailing
sweet into brackish (so sorry)

nevermind only the poor know

in the desert
when sun sets on aurum & crude
we still dream water
afterdark confessions, coastlines eat their feelings
fading memory of mangroves buried alive                                                               nevermind
                                                                                                                                                           last rites for dying coral

history is a weapon of mass destruction, you return to babylon

lounging against loot, pain-
stakingly woven by brown hands trading
fables with false idols, monopoly money,
disneylands for gluttonous sheikhs

gulping great drafts
from tiny slivers of god

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Laila Malik is a desisporic writer in Adobigok, traditional land of many First Peoples, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnaabe, the Haudenosaunee, the Seneca, and the Wendat peoples. She is the author of the poetry collection archipelago (book*hug press, 2023). Malik has been a recipient of awards from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Council for the Arts, and was a fellow at the Banff Centre for Creative Arts for her novel-in-progress.

Toronto, Ontario

“This is a carefully chosen title—what is an archipelago, if not the geographical expression of multiplicity? archipelago by Laila Malik is the poetic expression of the geographic, then—a host of voices, overlapping, harmonious, discordant, dark, and humorous in turns. Grief can make an island of anyone: these poems can bring you to new shores.”
—Nasser Hussain, author of SKY WRI TEI NGS

“There is so much movement in archipelago, but the meditations on home vis-a-vis the Gulf are most exciting for their rarity—this may be the first full-length poetry collection in English to take the Gulf itself as its subject matter. The impulse to erase the place you are in because it is erasing you is too strong. Yet though they dwell on the discomfort, vulnerability, and potential violence of not-belonging, these poems feel equally at home everywhere, moving very naturally and horizontally between parts of Canada, the Arabian Gulf, East Africa, and South Asia, reminding us that migration and movement are written into the very histories of these regions.”
—Noor Naga, Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlisted–author of If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English

“In Laila Malik’s archipelago, we face the future like we face the sea or the desert: any great expanse we try to love, cross, or become. Malik’s vocabulary is a bridge—littered with secrets, inside jokes, careful references—that carries us over various landscapes, oceans, the wreckages of capitalism, colonialism, and climate collapse. A play on words is a play on politics because ‘history is a weapon of mass destruction.’ Encyclopedic in its cataloguing of our failures, spellbinding in its refusal to give up or into hope, this debut collection is a map of our devastations and desperation in equal parts. From the first poem ‘all your grandmothers have stopped cooking’ to the epilogue ‘irreconciliation,’ Malik deftly engages with the contemporary imaginary to unravel ‘treacherously translucent memory’ in the ‘nation of unanswerable questions.’ ‘Forever incanting’ across tense, like waves, this collection defies the sweeping tide of tragedy to attend to the molecular, the grains of rice, life, sand, and story alike. Evolutionary and environmental, reverent and reverberating, with rhythm and with rhyme, Malik’s words bounce across the page and back into our ears and mouths. From ‘oceans of indifference’ to ‘coastlines [which] eat their feelings,’ archipelago stretches across the dirt-sure truth that ‘embracing sand / becoming prayer’ is the key to turning ‘all this breaking / into something beautiful.’”
—Sanna Wani, author of My Grief, the Sun

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