The ghazal is a formal poem that has its roots in seventh-century Arabia and was often sung by musicians. The poet Agha Shahid Ali introduced the form to America. “Ghazal” literally means “the cry of a gazelle” as he is being chased and about to die. Like many formal poems such as the sonnet, the ghazal, with its limitations, can paradoxically illuminate and dissect difficult emotions. In López’s poem, the emotion is sadness – a longing for and memory of a murdered brother. This poem usually follows the parameters of a ghazal with its repeated ending word, “song”, and the inner rhyme of “forever”, “distant”, “marred”, etc., as well as the poet’s name or reference to the poet ( “Sister”) in the last line. One way this poem breaks the rules is that each verse doesn’t stand alone as if it were its own poem. Instead, the end of the couplets often spills over into the next stanza, linking the stories together. Selected by Victoria Chang
By Casandra Lopez
I’m not much more than a promise of a song,
that brother never asked me to sing, our eternal song,
but the squatting of streets is sometimes a prison.
It wasn’t always like this, I swallowed a distant song.
Once your neighbor friend chewed on a light bulb and didn’t
scream. His child’s mouth smiled, a glass cracked marred song,
close to the lips. You used to like to light up on July 4th
the streets on fire, we’d get bright – a North Star song.
These days I stay inside when there’s too much noise,
shattered bottles or loud air dancing; I become a song with scars
recalling Brother, a house number tattooed on your arm
you can’t rub off. It inks my own, a tarred song,
that never feels clean. When you once crossed a load of fireworks
boundaries. Mother forbid, not wanting you to become a guarded song,
a captured light. Sometimes I’m tired, all the singing, wanna witness
the sky boom, flash and fire, I want to hear you call Sister again.
Victoria Chang is a poet whose new collection of poems is “The Trees Witness Everything” (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). Her fifth collection of poems, “Obit” (2020), was named a DailyExpertNews Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Antioch. Casandra Lopez is a writer and poet. She is the author of a collection of poetry, “Brother Bullet” (University of Arizona Press, 2019), and a founding member of the literary magazine As/Us: A Space for Women of the World. She will begin teaching at the University of California, San Diego in the fall of 2022.