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Jemshed Khan

Jemshed Khan lives and works in Kansas and Missouri. He has published in diverse magazines including Unlikely Stories, Rigorous, Rat's Ass Review, Chiron Review, Clockwise Cat, shufPoetry, Barzakh, pureSlush, Fifth Estate, and califragile. He also has work slated to appear in Coal City Review, San Pedro River Review, I-70 Review, and Writers Resist. He has served as a guest editor for Glass: Poets Resist, was nominated for The Pushcart Prize XLIV, has completed a chapbook, and is mulling a book-length collection.

The poem's title refers to the tattooed numbers on the arm of Sonia Warshawski, a survivor of the Holocaust who is Jemshed Khan's tailor and the subject of the movie Big Sonia.


She was nearly seventy and catching the evening news
when the buzzcut Skinheads appeared on the big screen TV
gathering to explain that it was all just a hoax.

She had thought the Dead dead,
but now the remnant past prickled about her
and the peephole of memory swung open.
Tiny white bones began rising up to consciousness
and she journeyed back into cattle cars
and marched again through the fresh and falling snow.
When tilling fields for crops she was startled again
by the tiny white bones of babies turned into fertilizer.
She revisited the half-living around the edge of fire,
and heard voices from her childhood
that had gathered to the chambers.

Now, when I walk in her sewing shop
she looks up and her pale eyes flash and smile.
The bulb of the vintage Singer machine
blazes yellow on the backs of her hands
as her fingers draw thread
through a needle’s eye.
Her veins are old, full and blue like tattoos.
When her hand feeds fabric to the seam,
the veins bulge and I see the dull blue numbers
on her forearm are ink from another century.

She tells me that a few survived the chambers:
Those bodies that still breathed
were dragged out no differently
and stacked with the dead;
all then doused for the burning.
After the blaze of fuel was spent
and the fiery core had sunk to ash,
the edge of the smoking heap was mostly char.
Little survived past that smoldering edge –
Just the upper body still alive
with a hand that moved a bit
and a face tilting upward.
The eyes locked intently upon her,
sharply holding her witness.

The following poem is an oddity: a sestina written in authentic period 1600's English language and narrating the Mayflower journey and introduction of pox into the native population. According to the author it is historically accurate in all details, and the language, syntax, and spelling are based on the period writings of Wm Bradford.

And We By God Do Claim This Land

Ye Mayflower's packed: Pilgrims, adventurers, sheep and
goats: cannons, artillery & gunpowder stored below.
She skims west across ye faire Atlantic until trew
to September, windes bluster, waves batter, smash upon
ye decks. Gales crack ye maine beam midship, she nigh turns
back. Mr. John Howland washes overboard, nearly dies.

Weekes at sea, weake from scurvie, and who shall die?
Her caulking leaks. We're shivering wett, little food, and
skin turns bloody, teeth fall out. Breath turns
labored and hurt anchors in our bones. Downe below,
passengers & crew affix a great iron jackscrew upon
ye splintering Mayflower beam. Now she sails trew.

Knotted rope & hourglass keep our charting trew.
Without sextant, stars, and compass we would die.
We aime for Hudson's River, but a storme's fast upon
us and we drift north. We spy land at last, Cap Codd, and
helm south along ye coast, but she scrapes hard below,
nearly wrecks on shoals, in rip tide seas we turn.

We saile her back, round Cap Codd Hook after a day, turn
into harbor. Mayflower shall winter here. Trew,
ye arctic wails, timbers groan, a newborn cries below.
By grace of God, neither Susanna White nor baby die.
We christen him Peregrine, meaning raptor, and
gather round this son yt God doth smile upon.

Winter corners us here. Provision's slim. Chill upon
our souls. We drop ancor and wait ye sun's return.
The mood grows foule: arguments, mutinous speeches, and
biting cold swirl ye ship. No man finds another trew.
For generall good we agree to lawes & acts, yt less may die:
We fashion ye Mayflower compact, our names scribed below.

Our shallop's in disrepair so a few jump in ye water below.
We wade to shore, find maize stubble, then come upon
seede corn in a mound, buried alongside an Indean yt died.
We take colored beans from a Wampanoag house, and return
to shipp. Six months later we repay ye debt because we are trew.
By now halfe our colonie's dyed of scurvie & buried in New-england.

But by ye harvest season our pilfered seede returns
thousandfould from our fields. A pox fell upon ye Indians, trew,
they by thousands died, and we by God do claim this land.

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