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Empathy for Cathedrals & Other Musings

By: Khairani Barokka

Empathy for Cathedrals

For EC


We come here looking

To stab down

Mystery in the eye,

Pursue it to the cemetery end.


Venerable abbeys

Always still dying

A whole four centuries

Before the year

The Duomo is spent

With its own construction,


Pried from God’s will

    First decreed

And into the 20th century,

The year faith in stone

Is sighed out.


Ribcages enter the hollow en masse.

Candlelight on wrinkled moles.

The troubles crackling

Through the congregation,

Piercing the leather of holy books,
Letters scrubbed raw from the inside;


Eau de camphor,

And all the Marys draped pale.

            Jesus has been

            Black sometimes,

            Why not his mother?


Observe glass stained with quiet,

And cracked palms on the seats,

And confession box.


From a childhood of Eids in fields,

And the courtyards of mosques,

I try to suck in this grown fear

Of darkness cramped into rectangles,

Of spiritual claustrophobia.

            Makes confessing difficult.


I prefer the heights

Of ceilings over pews,

Reminding us:

Vacuity might breed awe.



Video Collage


Tripods are lugged around

In order to modify

The contours of geology.


At some point in the unfathomable future,

Past any surviving relic of human species,

The universe will turn to liquid.



Three prongs dig lightly into uneven hill;

I stand before a camera; she nods,



Equipment is meant to suffuse

A catchment of all-but-stable minerals

Underneath our sandals, ground into

Distillable certainty: stand still.


At another point, time itself will cease.

A second is a mark in the universe

Incomprehensibly minuscule;

To carry pronged things across seas,

To then catch a blink to be edited—

Faces stitched together

In recollection bricolage

Of feelings traced by Kuala Lumpur—

Is a form of embalming,



Our faces in pixels


“Now, just stare.”


The Argentine marks

Slowness with rapidity,

Forests and our mouths aswirl.


The space-time continuum,

Stretched out digital.


Today, I read an article

That said, “The hydrogen

Of the universe will be exhausted,

And so all remaining stars will die.”


Living, evidence of.


All of us asking to stay.


Chéf de cuisine


Braised artichoke. Lamb hearts tossed with a sprinkling of aceto balsamico tradizionale, but not without the special ingredient slashed over both meat and vegetable—a secret from childhood, invented in the kitchen where she first saw death, swallowed grief by eating the carcasses of living things until the weight of killing lessened, and life became pains and fatigue she had earned the right to from decades of sweat. Such liquid out of her pores from trying, a straight line through to glory without looking to left or right, loves thwarted, uterus protected from end-bringing life, all time sucked into a licked-clean plate, a greasy pot, presentation that reminded one enthusiastic diner of a Goya. Enough perspiration to refill the basins of prehistoric oceans, now deserts where patrons flew in to taste her wares, adding, she knew, with the fuel of those planes to the weight of the change that would render us extinct, where she remembered for only one minute now, each slab of day: the sweet blood of undercooked chicken on her tongue the night her mother had slipped with the knife.BW


Khairani Barokka (b. Jakarta, 1985) is a writer, poet, artist, and disability and arts (self-) advocate. Among her honors, she was an NYU Tisch Departmental Fellow for her masters, Emerging Writers Festival’s Inaugural International Writer-In-Residence and Indonesia’s first Writer-In-Residence at Vermont Studio Center.


Okka is the writer/performer/producer of Eve and Mary Are Having Coffee, which premiered at Edinburgh Fringe 2014. She was most recently Artist-In-Residence at Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia. Okka has performed and taught across Asia, the US, Australia, and Europe, and is published in anthologies and literary journals in print and online. She has completed two full-length poetry manuscripts seeking publication, Pilot Light and Oil and enamel on linen: poems, and is working on a collection of lyric essays, among other writing projects; more info at / @mailbykite.




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