The Voice of Sheila Chandra


When the sun goes down you move

horizontal you become everything

in the world at once rather than waking

like vertical where you obsess over

ascend or descend or whatever rain

at the edge of the building spit forth

by gargoyles does drown yourself in the jizz

of the world no shape of narrative

I’m lost but thrilled sun yellow still

inside my self I am a pocket for the other

day already gone Sheila hillbilly

iconoclast seizes the song in the cage

of her throat drawls not the edge of it

but its music entire  



Sheila Chandra has been rendered mute

the ambassador of sound gray clouds

compromise the day auctioned off

siphoned off betrayed by the failure

of nerve endings and science no cure

for Burnt Mouth Syndrome she sang

in Uzbek contorted her tongue around

words she never knew learned even

the language of the drum away from

melody there is only harmony in the

outer districts of the city of sound ordinary

spaces empty bandstand atonal landscape

sea’s surface in the morning before the day

traffics its contours

In a world governed by storm and noise why

then should a singer not fall silent though

by great suffering her mouth that orchestra

hall aflame the drone her most miniscule

movement still do the echoes resound

even now can I discern them Anish Kapoor

explores the place sight disappears rich

dark that opens he makes shapes of them

invites you to understand or learn where

the effort to understand fails Agnes

Martin her shapes of white absence both

what when the throat fails sounds out does

Sheila still listen to music what does it

sound like



Calligraphy is a meeting point

between abstract and particular

by certain combinations of visual

marks to make symbols Chandra

lost her voice around the same

time I found mine at midnight

we went to swim in the sea so

we could be in the dark and not

know the bottom but the moon

lit up the surface so silver so

slammed and then the boy

with the fear of failure voice

architecture god depths death

he swam



One cannot manipulate expression or

do you fold and fold your voice fool

sound is sound the building block

of the universe sea so clear I can see

thirty feet down even from the terrace

the waves roar and the conversation

of those out on the water somehow

carries sound of ice melting in my

glass of boat engines the singing

insects everything interrupts I hid

in the Matisse Chapel I did not want

to know how the shape of sound

appears an object grows more powerful

in the imagination


excerpts from “The Voice of Sheila Chandra”; read the full poem in our Winter 2019 issue.


Kazim Ali writes in multiple genres. Founder of Nightboat Books, he is the chair of the Department of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. Sukun: New and Selected Poems is forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press.