October 27


Poetry : The War of Alphabets

Listen to the author recite The War of Alphabets


The War of Alphabets


Like any other war, this war
began with an aliph, the first
letter in Arabic,

the beginning
of a slash.
It is 632. Islam splits

into two denominations.
Abu Bakr takes
over, Ali is stalled.

Rulers continue
to battle over
numbers, throwing

poison into seraphic
feuds after the Prophet’s
demise. Today,

we wonder why numbers
collide, why the difference
between one and four,

first and fourth.
We wonder why fire
meets flame

in a thrombosis
of lies. We



To examine this war, we
must look at meem,

the letter of creation,
a winged M.

Meem is moom,
sliding wax,

or maang,
a parting,

or Muslim, the one
that surrenders.

It is 1992. A Bazaar
in Cairo. One

woman humiliates
another, claiming

her hijab is incorrectly
worn, and should purchase

longer yards of silk
in the future to cover her face.

Only her pupils
free to gaze.

We notice how both
women hold identical,

pale apricots
in their palms,

juice dripping into
rounded meems.



Let us sail
to seen, the sharp
letter derived from
a tooth, sometimes
seen as sheen, three dots.

Seen is for siraat-
the straight path.
Seen is for Sunni.
Sheen is for Shia.

It is 2007. The muezzin’s cry spills
from the minaret, calling us
to Friday’s holy sound.
A compass of black
abayas and white

kandoorahs curve
like braided hooks beneath
a dome, beads of mud raining
from knuckles, rolling
with the twists of mouths.

One mosque.
One prayer.
One God.

But our hands strike
against thighs, jutting out
like the spring
of Zamzam
on velvet mats.

Theirs? They speak
in anchored fists, palms
beating against the
threads of their robes.

Even their moon
appears late.



Unlike any other
war, this one
refuses to end
at ya, the last
letter in Arabic,
Persian, and Urdu,
an arch divided,
the why, a question
mark, used
to open chapters.

2010: Dozens die in Iran during an attack on a Shia Mosque
2011: Shia sectarian protestors attack Sunni women in Bahrain
2012: Pakistan bomb blast during Shia procession leaves 18 dead
2013: Iraq mosque bombing targets Sunni worshippers celebrating
2014: Iraq rocked by bombs during Shia festival

What is interesting
about yas is their
cyclical nature.
We notice how
a ya stretches into
the linear slash
of an aliph, but we
keep charging
along, never
This alphabet
never ends.

Mariam Zafar a Masters of Fine Arts candidate with a Creative Writing concentration at The New School in New York City. She is interested in the intersection of landscapes and culture in poetry, and enjoys collaging together languages and scripts in her work.