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Sofiyah Ruqayah

in the beginning you are walking
you notice sand
you notice gulls

words are exchanged
between you and your love
and the gulls

now you are swimming
away from your love

you keep swimming backwards
even though you’d just swum from there
and it had taken you ages

you think that if you just keep swimming
you will be able to trick time
and eventually reach the amnion itself

upon your swim
you encounter two men
a father and son

they are also swimming
and each drag a long chain
behind them as they swim

each chain is connected
to a tugboat
they are tugging the tugboats

you swim against the tide
together for a short time
before you get bored

you decide to swim on
because they are very slow
and have other plans

you have been swimming upstream
for a long time now
the water is still saline

but less so than
where you left your love
you call it ‘brackish’

you are shaded here by tree branches
stretching out above the water
you are looking up into the canopy

there are many intricate flowers
growing there with whiskers
you are dazzled

now you are treading water
now you are beginning to notice
that the flowers are rotting

their petals are scorched
and what you mistook for embellishment
reveals itself as an elaborate mould

you note that the flowers do not thrive here
you begin a critical analysis
out loud

now you and the flowers
are in space
they have always grown here

you are presenting your findings
to your crew
aboard your spacecraft

you write the word ‘sadness’
in your lab notes
there is discourse

you are mumbling amongst yourselves
as to the events and climatic variables
responsible for this immense loss

after some time, your mind drifts
and you turn your head
away from your crew

you notice a small purple cactus
it is in the sink
to your left

it sits above the drain
it reminds you of a sea urchin
it is starting to behave strangely

parts of it are moving in different directions
causing the whole to vibrate erratically
you know it to be the CIA

its tremors are increasing
with meanness
it means you harm

your leg hurts
the more the cactus vibrates
the more your leg hurts

you look down
you realise your left thigh is being pulled
into the cabinet under the sink

the cactus is doing this
it is driving sharp needles
into your leg

now you are alerting the captain
now the crew are having a broader conversation
regarding constituents in the cabin atmosphere

that could have caused these plants
to become ‘maladaptive’
there is concern

nobody remembers who is responsible for what
nobody remembers their training
the captain becomes uncomfortable

he disappears
nobody remembers anything
you discuss this

none of you remember how long you’ve been in space
you assume you’re on your way to where you’re going
the captain emerges

he is sorry
he thinks he might have changed the in-flight settings
without telling anyone, quite some time ago

he suggests that this function
may involve a daily automatic
memory reset for all staff

he suggests he may have thought
it would make this all
a bit more manageable

he admits this may have caused
a shift in the cabin’s air pressure
he is sheepish

now you are in the cockpit
he has agreed to return the settings to the way they were
you are making sure

the old settings are returning
they are a blue giant
you watch them take their position

at the bow of the ship
where they just dangle
while holding onto a rail

the blue giant deflects asteroids
and maintains a general protective barrier
as you hurtle through space

they don’t need oxygen
they are speaking to you through the glass
they are so happy to be here

they love their job
they’re not very good at it, or,
there’s only so much they can do

now you are watching your ship get swallowed whole
by something much larger than a giant
inside it is a place



you are in an apartment
you are in another city
you are there for love

someone is showing you around
they gesture for you to join them
on the balcony

now you are standing together on the balcony
looking out onto a vacant lot
they warn you to be careful

there have been reports of ‘imitation people’
waiting in the wing
to rob new arrivals

now they are pointing into the lot
you notice some ‘imitation people’
they are crouching in the long weeds

others have disguised themselves
as gardeners
armed with weed killer

others have disguised themselves
as property managers
and bosses

they are surveying the lot
they are discussing the weeds
you note their poor range of motion

now a bird is flying into sight
it is clutching a branch
of cherry blossoms

the branch is much too big
for such a small bird
it seems clumsy

now it is flying over the lot
it is swaying with the weight of the branch
which it almost drops, many times

now some of the blossoms are falling
it happens very slowly
many years pass

they land in your hands
now you are taking the flowers inside
now you are eating them

now the red one arrives
he has been here for so long
he belongs neither to this time nor place

he is the source of all your sorrows
he sits at the kitchen table
he pours a bowl of cereal

he says your waiting has called him
you tell him to go to hell
he says he’s just been, actually

now you are turning away
you are looking in a mirror
he is looking at you through it

he asks you what you’re thinking
you think he’s full of shit
you say we’re all a bit shit

now he is asking what you’re doing here
you say you do not know
you say you do know

that you must be here
to justify yourself
according to your best knowledge

now you are pouring
the last of the flowers into his bowl
now you are watching him eat


the red one’s reprieve


he is the source of all your sorrows
he sits at the kitchen table
he pours a bowl of cereal

he says your waiting has called him
you tell him to go to hell
he says he’s just been, actually

he says for a day he was green
and without it now (he is no longer green)
he knows nothing

he says he returned to hell
and just sat there
with his thousands of fingers

pointing outward in every direction possible
and everyone there had thousands of fingers
pointing outward in every direction possible

he says it was cold
and there were many fingers pointing at him
you are not surprised

he says that when the clouds (which in hell
which is hades
which is pluto

are cyanide) part, that the blade-carving
will shortly begin, which means
you will have to use all of your fingers

he says that the worst thing about hell is
not that you have thousands of fingers
or that everyone in hell has thousands of fingers

that are all pointing outward
or that in hell, shadows have nerve endings
and there is a bed shortage, meaning

you will step in the shadows
of everyone whether
you mean to or not

nor is the worst part about hell
that shadows do not offer shade
or that they are colder and louder than death

which does actually offer shade if you let it
or that each finger is an invitation and a blade
he says and it’s not really worth mentioning

that a blade can both cut and be grass (which is green)
or that before you lie in it
you will have to fall on a few

he adjusts his hair in the mirror
you hate him so much
he continues

he says the worst thing about hell is
the carving of the blades
not only do all of your fingers get in the way

and there are so many fingers
pointing at you
while you carve them

he says in hell they make you carve
the blades from your own flesh
which is actually frozen

because you are in hell
which is hades
which is pluto

and you hate it there
and you hate everyone so much
you can’t stop hating and neither can anyone else

so you all sit together and carve
blades of frozen hatred from your flesh
which when you are finished carving

will hurl at one another
with all your thousands of fingers
for not being good though you said you were

and for being bad though you said you weren’t
and there is so much blood
you can’t tell which is yours, and afterwards

you have lost so much blood
that some of you start
thanking each other

he’s not selling it but
being the red one
he continues

he says the worst part about hell
is also the best part about hell
because the blades are frozen

and made of flesh
and because they only do the blade-carving
when the clouds part

and pluto gets its puny 60 lux of sunshine
which is the equivalent
of moonlight on earth

your daggers, although now crusty
give off a reflective gloss
which is the only treat they allow you in hell

and the clouds don’t part very often
so you have to try really hard
to catch the light at a certain angle

to catch yourself
at a certain angle
because if you miss it

you’ll have to wait
which is to suffer
through the waiting

until the suffering
which is the next round
of blade-carving

and though the blades are not yet green
it is still not a bad thing
to be holding and beholding and beholding

yourself in this way is not green
but it does have something
to do with getting there (he has forgotten)

he asks you to keep in mind that at this point
you have lost so much blood
from the blade-throwing

that you will probably not
remember the details either
but what he does remember is that

to get to green
you will have to enter the abyss
which you will find at the bottom of the abyss

and it will not be without torment
and it will not be fun, for the abyss
will swallow you whole for sure

and though some of you
might make it out alive
this is not really the desired outcome

because stepping into the abyss
and greeting death
is the only way to know green

so you will have to decide
if you are willing to die
which is not actually a life spent in the abyss

however it is a life spent in the abyss some of the time
and knowing green depends on visiting the abyss
and not confusing visiting for living in

you are looking out the window
into the vacant lot
the bosses are still acting like sims

the red one continues
he says death will green you
but only if you grieve your constant deaths

and you can’t just say you are grieving
you will have to actually live
through each of your funerals

as long as you live
so you will always be dying
he says but grief (which is the same as love)

will green you and it is worth it
and once you are green
you will shrivel and die again

and burst forth green and wilt and die
and unfurl slowly green and decay and die slowly still
he says so basically we’re trees

now you are rolling your eyes
you know the red one to be an arborist
you know him to cleave limbs

you wonder if he remembers
you can’t decide if he looks smug or naive
he continues

he says he thinks that as trees
we provide shelter in life and
kindling in our death

but what is more loving
than living and dying
in service

now you are turning away
you are looking in the mirror
he is looking at you through it

he asks you what you’re thinking
you think he’s full of shit
you say we’re all a bit shit

now he is asking what you’re doing here
you say you do not know
you say you do know

that you must be here
to justify yourself
according to your best knowledge

now you are pouring
the last of the flowers into his bowl
now you are watching him eat

Sofiyah Ruqayah is an artist living and working on unceded Gadigal land. Ruqayah works across a range of mediums to engage with ideas of personal and collective entanglement. A reverence for the nonhuman world underpins her practice, as well as a curiosity for ‘irrational’ cultural practices such as fortune telling and dream interpretation. Recent work explored these practices using obsolete fisherman’s weather instruments that house crystals that slowly mutate in relationship with their environment.

She recently completed a 12-month studio residency at Parramatta Artists’ Studios and presented her first solo exhibition at 4A Centre for Contemporary Art in 2020. Ruqayah has exhibited both locally and internationally, including group exhibitions at Lubov Gallery (New York), Peacock Gallery (Sydney) and at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (Sydney) with Woven Kolektif.