Poetry: Raina León

To celebrate National Poetry Month, this week’s installation of OmniVerse will be a poetry double feature. Click the link below to see new work by Raina León.

Between the sea and prayer

The muezzin chants the adhān, which propels
the body down. Intimate invasion
through shuttered windows and though

the covers are pulled high and thick,
Allah waits on the floor, in the dust.
Purple stones, wind-whisper trees

and towering minarets, all holy.
I climb the steps of the hotel
to the roof garden with a view of the sea,

Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace,
the Blue Mosque. They rise from the burning
mist while the sun gilds the earth with tender light.

Somewhere a child says his first prayers
on fatty knees as he sits between his father’s thighs
on the fabric of his mother’s hands.


This poem comes from my third manuscript, How to Live Forever: A Tango Criollo, which centers on revelations of spirit that occur through immersion into the other. An awe of the natural world intermingles with narratives centered on the brutality that occurs within it. The tenderness of a lover’s touch is corrupted by the violence of an artist’s color, splashing, like blood, on a canvas. There are these dances between self and other on an ethereal floor of mist, which stem, partly, from a view of the world influenced by travel. Previously, I had been overly concerned with the mysteries of death, but in this new work, I find myself more vibrant and inquisitive in poetic approach. In “Between the sea and prayer”, a family is portrayed at dawn, surrounded by the understated majesty of Istanbul. A city becomes resonant within holiness, which extends from voice, calling the divine into the body, architecture, and the very dust. Still, there is this mystery: is the mother there? Has she been transformed into the carpet only? How does a mother’s love support prayer? The poem represents a new way of understanding and questioning that I am attempting to cultivate.


Dr. Raina J. León, Cave Canem graduate fellow (2006) and member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, has been published internationally as a poet and writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her first collection of poetry, Canticle of Idols, was a finalist for both the Cave Canem First Book Poetry Prize (2005) and the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize (2006). Her second manuscript, Boogeyman Dawn, was a finalist for the Naomi Long Madgett Prize (2010) and will be published by Salmon Poetry. She has received fellowships and residencies with Cave Canem, Montana Artists Refuge, the Macdowell Colony, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, the Tyrone Guthrie Center in Annamaghkerrig, Ireland and Ragdale. She is currently an assistant professor of education at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is a founding editor of The Acentos Review.