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Social Distance Theory

By Ashna Ali

On an assemblage of screens on another firework evening
Ruthie Gilmore reminds us that abolition is not recitation.

Abolition is not recitation of catastrophe. Abolition is not recitation
of catastrophe or culture of complaint. She describes the day;

organized abandonment as condition of neoliberal austerity.
Organized abandonment as made manifest in organized violence.

We gather around the Zoom room to discuss. Remind ourselves
to be reminded of the organization of the familiar familial.

Remind ourselves to be reminded of subtexts of care that feed
on the fiction of scarcity. The closed circuit that makes of itself

protection, the conditions for micro contracts to be kept.
We gather around the Zoom room to discuss.

We discuss living the thinking as the only cure
for failure of the imagination. This looks something like not

being afraid. There are sirens in the back
of more than three unmuted microphones.

Someone asks who has felt cared for lately,
and no one raises their tiny digital hand.

Everyone can find the moment. The total loss of belief
in one’s own real, a frequent symptom of the first break

into traumatic normal. It is not only the infected
national collective but the connection

between loss of real and loss of god
and loss of words. Someone says,

we are born creative creatures whose first and only
desire is love
. If we were free?

I would not overwork. I would keep more love,
save it up for where it can cast most light rather than burn it out

quickly, leaving me digging at the wick every morning.
I’d tear more open with my teeth. I would keep my knees

slightly bent, ready to slam into anything
that smells good enough to smother with kisses.

I would glisten my pelt with rain
and finger tangle its warmth from sun basking.

I would dig for ancestors. I would swim into low dark
to commune with the eldest lightmakers,

entrust them with my treasures.
In loving and feeling others as I was not,

I can be free and contagious. Together, each time failing again
better, and better, even as they tell us that we do not exist.

Even as they tell us that we are so laughable
that we are deluded. That they’re the ones

who know what we really are, who pin price tags
to our skin. I feel proud and strong as much as faint,

skittish. For all this talk, in the pit of the stomach
alongside love sits the naked evidence:

Our destruction does not require imagination.
So many dead, broken, transformed into something

that looks like its master. A tradition.
But we are capable of our own ritual affirmation.

Ruthie reminds us, abolition is presence.
I’m talking about being here in the full flesh

of your body in all of its brokenness
and beautiful mess.

We gather around the Zoom room
to discuss.





Listen as Ashna Ali readsSocial Distance Theory.”

Added: Friday, November 4, 2022  /  Used with permission. Previously published in "The Relativity of Living Well" (The Operating System, 2022).
Ashna Ali
Photo by Nicholas Tong.

Ashna Ali is a queer, disabled, and diasporic Bangladeshi poet raised in Italy and based in Brooklyn. They are the author of the chapbook The Relativity of Living Well (The Operating System, 2022) and hold a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Their poems have appeared or are forthcoming from Indiana Review, Sundog Lit, Nat. Brut., Zoeglossia, and Kajal Mag, among other journals. For more information visit their website.

Image Description: A headshot of Ashna Ali, which is close up and shows their head and torso at a slight angle to the left. They have brown skin and short hair. They are wearing a sleeveless purple turtleneck and smiling slightly at the camera.

Other poems by this author