A Muslim-American poet and novelist of Indian descent, Kazim Ali's work has been featured in Best American Poetry and the American Poetry Review. He teaches at Oberlin College.
For Ali, the assignment became deeply personal. About his poem, "The Wrestler," Ali writes that he found inspiration in an ancient Greek mythological story about Meleager and Atalanta wrestling — and themes of power and love. "The wrestler of my poem," Ali writes, "does not believe what he's read in 'heaven's books,' but rather the intuition that his own breath and body, in movement with another, offer him."
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
One Olympic competition with ancient roots kicks off this weekend. The first medals for Greco-Roman wrestling will be handed out in London on Sunday. And it's the sport of wrestling that's being honored today in MORNING EDITION's Poetry Games.
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MONTAGNE: All this week, we're hearing original poems about Olympic sports. Today's is titled "The Wrestler," by American poet Kazim Ali.
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KAZIM ALI: "The Wrestler." (Reading) My flat breath grows flatter. Who am I now, thick in the tricks, the body plays? No matter. The fact of this day on fire and these arms twisted in the effort to master another draws me in time breathless to the afternoons as a boy slick with sweat and laughter, horizontal in a spin, one of us in control and the other on his back and bested.
Later, I would read in heaven's books how my body was wrong, though limber and strong. In the web of our efforts, I aim to fix a position where the other's strength ebbs and mine kicks in. Strength splintered to pieces, a shard in the other we each struggle to reach. We give in turn, strip down and shift. I reach for one limb with my right hand, grip harder to another with my left. Our bodies flash their thunder and lack. I strain for what I'm owed. I read heaven its riot act.
MONTAGNE: Poet Kazim Ali representing the United States in MORNING EDITION's Poetry Games. Tomorrow's final entry into the competition comes from South Africa and pays tribute to an Olympic amputee. Read all five entries in the Poetry Games at npr.org. There you can vote for the poet you think should wear the victor's crown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.