Rigorous
Volume One, Issue 4



Jemshed Khan


Emperor Hirohito

1.
One moment bright standing as a prophet
before the sun, his Emperors' face ever-turned
to the transit of heaven's brightest rayed ornament.

The sky glints briefly.
A shuddering bleaches to the marrow.
Two entire cities molt in an instant—each puffs once, sways briefly,
and lets loose long bones and skulls.

2.
The God-Emperor of Japan concedes nothing.
He keeps courtly distance; his words recorded
onto a scratchy phonograph for low-fi radio transmission.

Hirohito broadcasts nationwide
in erudite Japanese diction—
rarified beyond common understanding.

Rise like dandelions into this orphaning breeze,
survive, and keep to our ancestral honor.


As his somber cadence carries through the radio,
the record needle tics and hisses like a Geiger counter
signalling all the terms of surrender.




The Colonised Mind

What any colonial system does: impose its tongue
on the subject races.
         —Ngugi wa Thiong'o, "Decolonising the Mind"

For me, it is already done:
My parents' ghazals shushed and mute;
their language effaced by force
of nursery rhymes, church choirs,
by various baptismal schemes.

Colonial garrisons occupy
the language centers of my brain—
my thinking circuits click the Anglo way.
My mother's tongue was traded away
for Grimm's tales and cowrie shells.

DNA still drives my bones and skin
but I am tongue-tied, beset historically.
Far from nest or clan or den,
my diaspora brain adapts as best it can—
colonised because language can.




Nachtbl├╝te

Dresden blooms rejoice like birds
or love. They bloom and take flight—
wherever they land more bright blaze.

Timbered tenements spring to flame,
and Dresden burns and burns—
incineration on the hot spit of night.

Amid crackle of wood and splinter of beams,
firebombs hem in huddled families alive—
rows and rows of apartments scream.

In the morning as the city smolders
and Allied pilots share cigarettes,
the good Generals down black coffee

and cut the shoulders clean and square—
fire up their best cigars. As for the dead,
they too are smoking in their beds.




It Takes a Club

Eight own as much
as half the world.
You can fit them on a golf cart:
Zuckerberg Buffet Gates Slim Bezos Bloomberg et al.
You need a planet to hold the other 7 billion
of us—and a baton big as Jesus.
$426 billion riding the fenced links.
and still not enough for rent
at the end of a paycheck.
We got the bum's rush
and they got Zoysia grass.
We got pitchforks and tire-irons
and they got hoodies
pulled over our heads.




The Invisible Knapsack

After Peggy McIntosh's essay
"Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack"

We walk into the tail end of the BBQ restaurant rush.
Busboys swoop dirty dishes and wet-rag the counters.
Servers balance hot trays with eyes like tightrope walkers.
Waiters fast-step and bustle too much to look our way.
We stand at the hostess station trying to seem visible.

                         Wait Here to be Seated
                 The Hostess Will be Right With You.


We share glances, wondering if it's this busy for everyone
—because you are black and I am white?
You casually survey the scene wanting to turn and leave
—the old crow ruffles and whispers: Not Welcome Here
Perhaps we are being too sensitive
—how long is long enough?
You shrug shoulders and look to me
—like I should know because I have superpowers?
I pull the trusty decoder ring from my knapsack:
The one I found in a Cracker Jack box that says:
-f-o-u-r-
-m-i-n-u-t-e-s-
-f-e-e-l-s-
-l-i-k-e-
-f-o-u-r-
-h-u-n-d-r-e-d-
-y-e-a-r-s-
Then the white hostess with bouncy hair whisks us back
straight as the crow flies to the last side booth—
the one nearest the galley and clashing silverware
—the one that takes us both back again


Jemshed Khan: "I was born overseas but live and work in Kansas and Missouri. Much of my writing deals with ethical misgivings. I have published poems in Number One Magazine, Wittenberg Review of Literature and Arts, Pharaohs, Unlikely Stories (#BlackArtMatters September, 2016), Read Local (2016), Rigorous (Jan 2017), Rat's Ass Review (Mar 2017) and the chapbook NanoText (Medusa's Laugh Press, February 2017), Clockwise Cat, Issue 36 (2017), shufPoetry (Issue 8, 2017), Pilcrow & Dagger (July 2017)."




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