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[Poetry] Two Poems by Nisa Malli

Standard Lesson


You take the monster to the sea

because the nervous system runs

on sodium: voltage-gated

channels conducting ions triggering action

potentials, discharging neuro-

transmitters from synapses – the gap across


which neurons talk. Too much slander and the body

makes seizures and disturbed

sleep, clutches the heart

like pearls. Too little and the whole grid

shuts down in protest. Your once lover


told you she wanted to set

your bar. That your expectations were hot

water in a rental – below the legal definition

of habitable. She could not offer a house


but she wanted you

to make herself at home

in hers, to sleep like the bed-

side wasn’t full of someone


else’s water glasses or in the guest

room in case of wives returned home

to shore. Like good patients, good girl-

friends ask nothing

but what’s offered, never back-

channel second opinions. No doctor


specializes in monsters so you become a one-

woman investigation: explaining physiology

to experts who insist no body can live

wired this way, testing to determine

it’s vital range, if blood

should be this labile, if it’s pearly white

eyes are meant to roll snakes. 



Transformation Lesson


You take the monster to the gorge

where oysters spit clean

water through closed teeth, transmute

discomfort into productive


coughs, nitrogen into stiffer

skin. The monster crawls

upcurrent like spawning fish. To you

there’s no difference between at or in


water, the former implies the latter

like a shadow. But illness took

your swimming breath, calc’d your lungs, lit

every hair on fire ‘til your mane

tore out in ember fists. Memories


come thick like a bad

blood draw or a stuck zipper. The infallible

logic of fevers. The months


you were too sick to know

the difference and believed yourself well

enough to bear bad news. You sleeping


beautied through hell and woke closer to middle

age, mistress twice over, whose lover who wished

she’d left before the spell broke. You look up memory


loss hoping to explain her

absence and the monster’s

presence – the apple to your tree – the dead

months her eyes won’t match her mouth.



Nisa Malli is a writer and researcher, born in Winnipeg and currently living in Toronto. Her first book, Allodynia (Palimpsest Press, 2022), was long-listed for the Pat Lowther Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Her chapbook, Remitting (Baseline Press, 2019) won the bpNichol Prize. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria and has completed residencies at the Banff Centre and Artscape Gibraltar Point.


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