Unexpected by Shereen Akhtar


Your mother was here today, she squeezed my leg under the table,

to stop the anger becoming permanent. Outside was a sandcastle moat

with a leaf in it putting up a finger. God keeps a basic distance

at times like these but I prefer my brand of fervour – like cigarettes,

cellulite and aches collecting and escaping over the months, unsure,

the way time glitches for a squirrel. I asked her what makes nobility,

she said it’s a lottery. Plus, she’s always been a coercive force, eyes

burning to a quick. I was reminded of the fact that lightning strikes

a thousand times a second or five percent of the time, depending.

And the five rivers of Punjab echo with the laughter of the little boy,

Imam Ali. She nods. God runs simultaneous experiments on us, wondering

which of us has steel balls and which of us learns to run and dodge.

Hers is a lost diplomacy, born of bright stars who also desire to be fed.

I put on oversized pajamas and walk to the burger joint, stopping for

smokes for tomorrow, potentially. A boy walks past in shorts and flip-

flops and true, it is a mild December. If this worldly game is played by hosts,

I appreciate the humour of it. As I consider quietly topping a top,

a song arrives on the algorithm that sounds like N*Sync meets Tiesto

in Egyptian, and your voice sings along with mine, our breath snaking away

into the Christmas air where the pressure is rising heavenward constantly

and this water vapour that once fed dinosaurs is expanded in to cold electricity.


About the Poet

Shereen Akhtar is a writer and poet. She identifies as queer and British-Pakistani. She has had work published in Ambit, The Masters Review, Magma, Palette and Poetry Wales, among others. She is the recipient of a London Writers Award 2021 and is currently at work on her debut literary fiction novel.