“Reaching Guantánamo,” a sequence that runs from pages 45-50, is an erasure epistolary poem. The letters are to Salim, the writer’s husband, imprisoned in Guantánamo. Words, phrases, entire sentences are cut. Erased, in the tradition of erasure poetry. “Censored,” says Sharif.
Here’s the first letter, published in Paperbag. “Love, are you well?” “Do they _______ you?” asks Salim in the first line. “I worry so much. Lately, my hair _______ [these underlinings don’t appear in the original text, but WordPress, unfortunately, autocorrects long, empty spaces, so I have to fill it in with something], even my skin ________.” Devastating, terrifying, how the cuts from each line might have their own physical echo on Salim’s own body. It’s what surely occupies his wife’s every thought, her every waking second. How else can a poet show that kind of thing?
Not with words. Words won’t do. That’s what fascinates me about erasure poems. And erasure art, more generally. Poetry gives language to those experiences a dictionary simply cannot define. But some experiences deny us access to language altogether. Sharif writes around the parts that can’t be shaped by sound or letter. It’s not that the experience is inexpressible. It’s that no evidence of the experience even remains. Neither “erasure” nor “censor” quite fits. “Annihilation” is more like it. Annihilation poetry.