Synonyms for Human, Corruption, Literacy


Faisalabad, Pakistan, 2007—
Boxed in a four-door sedan.
A ratty, bright-eyed girl
raps twice on the closed
window. Rolled down,
I give her a packet of crackers,
absurd red wrapper
with blue Urdu letters
I’m ashamed
Amreekan, American
I can’t remember
how to read.

She won’t take the crackers.
Why, girl.
I eyeball her ribs, her sockets,
her cheeks, her scabs.
Why, girl. Take the
damn crackers, there is
fat on me everywhere.

Paisa dayNA!

Her command
is a beggar’s
my fingers dig
in my right pocket
and pull a few
tattered rupees.

When she runs away
to the paan shop
and turns the corner,
a grown man’s fat
fucking abusive head
appears and smiles
fat fucking abusive,
money fondled
in fat fucking abusive
exactly where
it belonged
all along.



Sparta, New Jersey, 2016—
Ashley mispronounces jihad
and tells me what it means.
She sends me links to YouTube
and JihadWatch to back that shit up.

Stephen calls everything burqa
and tells me who’s oppressed.
He beats me over the head
with his knowledge and experience.

Stacey goes, I’m not racist but
there’s nothing wrong with tracking
them until we know what’s going on,
you know, and if you’re not a criminal,
you have nothing to worry about.

Ashley, Stephen, and Stacey
go work their five jobs
and barely make it through the holidays.



America, Now—
In my office
by artificial light
hunched over
the Kindle edition
of Cormac McCarthy’s
The Road
devouring it
by candlelight
during the rolling
in Pakistan.

How is it
that such
different worlds
seem to converge
at the centerfold?



Alia Hussain Vancrown

Alia Hussain Vancrown has published in journals and magazines in print and online. Her poetry has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She was selected to participate in Winter Tangerine's 2018 workshop, Singing Songs Crooning Comets, featuring seminars by Kaveh Akbar and Aricka Foreman. Alia works at the Library of Congress in the Law Division. She currently resides in Maryland. For more, please visit and Instagram @aliagoestothelibrary. Alia recommends her late cousin's scholarship fund: The Daanish Khan Memorial Scholarship.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Saturday, December 17, 2016 - 23:28