Multiple voices haunt pain-wracked bodies and trauma-stored forms amid seaweed-strewn spaces in Sascha Akhtar’s beguiling short fiction.
Content Warning: References to suicide are made in the second piece.
Sarah is no more here. This other woman as yet remains nameless. A flash of a face, gummed mouth. I like a woman who takes charge. There is a brutality to a focussed action. If charged by deep care, this is the most effective method and a woman appears near violent in her love.
She is not visible. My optic nerve is not communicating information to my cognitive processes. What I learn is in the dark. No face. Just that dull flash, as my eyes were closing.
My body feels to be all listening ears. I sense internal movement as auditory attention travels to the place she is invisibly sending messages to with her body. Feels like an assault in darkness but I have submitted to this very pain.
Without optic input, lying completely still, how am I processing that she has climbed onto the surface I am prone on. I heard nothing, but I knew she crouched on haunches, contained to a narrow width. How is she on top of me, yet does not break my back? This is her allure. A travelling motion, miniature hop. Knee caps landing in the crook, they express. Messages to the fascia. Liminal pockets, the manifestation of your micro aggressions in the 3-D space have forged an uncomfortable home, hardened, knotted, bio-aggressions in my body. This is how all that I did not give permission to, did not allow choses to live on. A campaign of hurt, in me.
Predators. Kay is all up in my subtle matter, becoming creatures with tough snouts, firm pincers to gnaw on this so very gross matter.
My body is not mine. There is no need for me here. She is having her own murmuring conversation with it. Uncovering ancient maps of trauma, with knowing intent. No, there is no need for me here and that is some fucking relief. To vanish in plain sight.
And I’ll tell you why, because a body in trauma, is in a state of mistrust. A body in trauma feels unsafe. A body unsafe does not allow itself to rest. It is an inflamed organism with inflamed organs floating together loosely, threads and strands of stretch but not too much, keeping them in an oddly homogenous form, in this containment of the body.
Are You Losing/How Would I Know?
When the Div Co hits you,
be a river.
Don’t think of it as divisions,
but as places in which to surrender.
Marianne Morris from the poem Div Co Poet, Healer, Divine Emanation, Kindred
She calls it DivCo. As always her ability to read signs, feels chills-under-the-skin, canny. Aye.
I have not been the same since your man-made demon jumped me. In fact, I do now know in all certainty it has been programmed to murder me.
She & I, together are Cassandra, you see. I too read. I tuned into the demon. Sadly, in order to find the truth, I had to be jumped. Daughters of truth-bearers: haq nawaz, may well have that cross to bear. Yes, consider me crucified for the truth. In the mythology I am creating, this part of Cassandra was martyred & the other… love, keep speaking. There is now no time. None.
I felt it violate me. It was a roving presence like a heat-seeking missile, except it seeks weakness. I have an extraordinary body. Parts of it are irreparably broken. Living with pain moment-to-moment, can be a system. You can draw your life out, somehow. Not when an intelligence is willfuly seeking out your broken parts. This system of the broken fails under wilful malice.
If I tried to veil, it would find out. That badly sprained ankle from a few months ago. Apparently, so much healed, but the demon found it. The weakness. That ankle. I find myself limping.
& deeper, sweet friends. I regret to inform you. It has access to all your parts. Those ecstatic neurons. Where the traumas are stored, it found them. I re-lived the darkest ones, this time I may well have killed myself. You have no idea, this intelligence is programmed, it imparts suicide.
Divides. Conquers. This imperialist virus seeks only to swim in our rivers of blood.
Author’s note: When she read this piece the emanation that is Marianne Morris offered me a psychic healing from afar. What ensued was pure magic|K|. She saw with her powerful third eye a great darkness hanging over me and vanquished it.
It may well be that I am already dead and I am lamenting this, running as I am now free in second attention, on the sand, crying, crying —inconsolable; or I am alive and crying at the suffering of being ‘alive,’ while wishing I could always run this way, almost naked with the waves of the Atlantic thrashing my legs. It feels like real love. Violent, instant.
It is more likely though that I am already dead & my crying is me trapped in the bardos unable to recognize that ‘it’ has ended —whatever ‘it’ was — that existence thing & this bay, this beach is an illusion — every person looks different from me —every single one is unrecognizable.
I recognize myself in no-one and they look at me but they don’t see me — they don’t recognize themselves in me.
Perhaps only the children see me. I cannot tell — I may as well be a ghost wailing on this ‘beach,’ of which I have no proof of its validity.
That seaweed. I’m not sure if there is a specific kind of seaweed that this cove is known for but as I suspect that I am already dead, I begin to believe that those meaty parts of the seaweed seem uncannily like gnawed, butchered bones. As if someone were trying very hard to disguise the remains of humans to mislead me into believing I am alive when in fact I am a ghost walking in the bardos on the beach where the last humans in existence died.
And how I know these strange remnants of seaweed are bones is that even the world magician cannot hide death.
About Sascha Akhtar
Sascha Aurora Akhtar’s poetry has been widely anthologised, translated and performed internationally at festivals such as the Emirates Festival of Literature 2022, Poetry International Festival Rotterdam, Avantgarde Festival Hamburg and Southbank Centre’s MELTDOWN festival London curated by Yoko Ono. Akhtar has been part of political poetry protests — Against Rape (Peony Moon, 2014) and Solidarity Park Poetry — Poems for the Turkish resistance (Ed. 2014). Solidarity Park Poetry was a project set up with poet Nia Davies and holds a permanent space of 60 protest poems curated by Sascha and Nia from global poets in solidarity. Akhtar was part of the seminal Catechism: Poems For Pussy Riot anthology supported by English Pen. Her poems were translated into Polish to be included in a zine distributed on a day of Women’s Protest in Poland. Her work was also part of The Chicago Review’s #MeToo protest edition (#MeToo, The Chicago Review).
Akhtar has authored six metaphysical poetry collections with Salt UK, Shearsman UK, Contraband UK, Emma Press, Knives, Forks & Spoons Press & ZimZalla UK. The first, The Grimoire of Grimalkin (SALT UK, 2007) was called ‘a contemporary masterpiece,’ by the Chair of the Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture at New York University, Phillip John Usher.
Akhtar is a Poetry School London Tutor and lecturer at the University of Greenwich. She has been a judge for the Streetcake Prize for Experimental Writing for 2019 and 2020. Her custom-made course Breaking Through Writer’s Block has been published by The Literary Consultancy, London as part of #BeingAWriter. In 2019, Poetry Wales named Poems For Eliot as the number one poem of the last five years and Only Dying Sparkles was featured on the Southbank Poetry Library acquisitions & at the University of Leeds Poetry By Design Exhibit in the same year.
Akhtar continues to develop as a creative force, having recently published a prose collection set in the country of her birth, Pakistan. The collection Of Necessity And Wanting (October 2020) is a study of the economics of want and the politics of need in a post-colonial environment.
2022 should see her book of translations of pioneering feminist fiction writer Hijab Imtiaz coming out with Oxford University Press, India. Akhtar’s fiction has appeared in Storgy, The Learned Pig, Tears In The Fence, BlazeVox, Anti-Heroin Chic, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and The Fortnightly Review. Latest writings appear in the Prototype Annual 4, Cut-Purse (Tangerine Press, 2022) and Of Myths and Mothers anthology 2022.
Akhtar is an ACE-supported artist having received the #DYCP grant both in 2018 and in 2020. In 2019, her poems appeared in the Blackpool illuminations. Click on the links to read Matthew Haigh and Babel Board‘s interviews with Sascha. Read more of her work here: https://poetrywales.co.uk/sascha-a-akhtar-on-how-she-writes-a-poem/ and here: Poetry International
Follow Sascha on Facebook @ChoisirLeMotJuste, Twitter @AkhtarSascha, and Instagram @sascha.akhtar
These short pieces were commissioned for our latest mini-series, Our Body’s Bodies
Everything is written on the body – but what does it mean to write about our bodies in the era of Covid-19? And is it possible to write about bodily experiences in the face of such pervasive and continued violence? Using different modes of writing and art making, Lucy Writers presents a miniseries featuring creatives whose work, ideas and personal experiences explore embodiment, bodily agency, the liberties imposed on, taken with, or found in our bodies. Beginning from a position of multiplicity and intersectionality, our contributors explore their body’s bodies and the languages – visual, linguistic, aural, performance-based and otherwise – that have enabled them to express and reclaim different forms of (dis)embodiment in the last two years. Starting with the body(s), but going outwards to connect with encounters that (dis)connect us from the bodies of others – illness, accessibility, gender, race and class, work, and political and legal precedents and movements – Our Body’s Bodies seeks to shine a light on what we corporally share, as much as what we individually hold true to.
Bringing together work by artistic duo Kathryn Cutler-MacKenzie and Ben Caro, poet Emily Swettenham, writer and poet Elodie Rose Barnes, author Ayo Deforge, writer and researcher Georgia Poplett, writer and poet Rojbîn Arjen Yigit, writer and researcher Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou and many others, as well as interviews with and reviews of work by Elinor Cleghorn, Lucia Osbourne Crowley and Alice Hattrick, Lucy Writers brings together individual stories of what our bodies have endured, carried, suffered, surpassed, craved and even enjoyed, because…these bodies are my body; we are a many bodied being. Touch this one, you move them all, our bodies’ body.
We also welcome pitches and contributions from writers, artists, film-makers and researchers outside of the Lucy Writers’ community. Please inquire for book reviews too.
For submissions relating to trans and non-binary culture email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Submissions will open again in mid-autumn 2022.
Feature image: detail from Fabien Gautier-Dagoty, L’Ange Anatomique or Dissection of a Woman’s Back, 1746, via Wiki Art (see here).