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"The List/ of Things I’ve Done/ for My Body is Too Long" Read an Excerpt from Nisa Malli’s Bold Poetry Debut, Allodynia


AllodyniaNisa Malli’s follow up to her bpNichol Award winning chapbook, Remitting, is a tense, powerful collection that grabs the reader with razor-sharp, elegant forays into themes of pain and voice. Skipping from body horror to near future dystopias, Malli ruminates on the untranslatable; how we cannot truly understand or experience someone else's pain, how the future can only be understood in retrospect, how war is incomprehensible from within its midst.

Named for a condition in which everyday activities—even something as simple as combing one's hair—become painful, Malli's lyrics in the collection are bold and beautiful at once, bringing a melancholy wryness to her speaker's suffering, a glittering intelligence like a thin skin of ice over the deep, chilling isolation of living with pain. 

book cover_allodynia

We are proud to share an excerpt from Allodynia here today, courtesy of Palimpsest Press. These three poems are an enticing glimpse into a collection that represents an essential new voice in poetry. 

Excerpt from Allodynia by Nisa Malli:

L’Hôpital Notre-Dame

The angels of the triage station know you
are waiting patiently to be admitted
into their sanctum. They won’t judge you for slumping
in the plastic waiting room chairs meant to hold one body at a time
that doesn’t need holding up, for wearing nail polish that dulls
the pulse oximeter suckling your finger, for mispronouncing
the names of your possible causes. Sweet Miracle, they know
you are a medical mystery, permitted to plead
your case here many times over. Ahead of you: an axe-split
kneecap, arrhythmias, the worst half of a bar fight,
food poisoning, a suicide risk, second degree burns.

The waiting room is eternal and atemporal. You have always
been here. They have always been here. Here, everyone is always
in the middle of an emergency, neither dying
nor recovered. The most urgent cases are already inside; the well
are well on their way home. It is daybright, no matter what
time it is. The loved ones are coming or trying to come
or calling the signal-less phones of the eventual patients. Here,
the doctors are spoken of but never seen, hidden somewhere
behind the ever-swinging doors. Here, the waiting
room occupants are swaddled for warmth
in the hum of hospital machines. Here, the hymns are sung
in sync to chest compressions. Here, the angels move
like refracted light bent between the aisles, floating two inches
off the ground in cloud-like white sneakers.



Tongue mossed over and algae blooming
my eyes, skeins

of pond scum knitting my hair. I’m at the bottom
of the lake, swallowing

the night’s pill, zipping myself into a numb
bed under the current. The list

of things I’ve done
for my body is too long

to comb out and lay dry, so let
everything go to weeds: the shore walls

and the lake bed and the city’s
flood plans

unweaving around me. The collective
nouns for this

are all liquid. A flood
of pain. A drowning

of pain. A pummelling,
even underwater.


When Drought Dries Your Eyes

A diving bell too heavy to lift cups the bed
every morning.      Small fires

you can’t put out      wrestle your nerves
down to dust      near-ground turbulence rolling

dendrites like tumbleweeds.      A bulbar storm disinters
the atmosphere      sometimes squall, sometimes

fever, sometimes full force gale.      Diagnosis is half
superstition anyways      empiricism plus

hope plus the placebo effect      of naming
your enemy.      Have you tried sheathing

lightning in the soft
bellows of your cheek     gargling salt water

to read the residue?     These sudden seasons
of drought and drowning

are enough to steal
your balance on the backhand.

Your doctors keep trying
to set up an internal anemometer.     And you’re out here

in the weather station      unsure if you should survey
the cloud ceiling or your tinder lungs.


Excerpt taken from Allodynia by Nisa Malli, a poetry collection published by Palimpsest Press. Copyright 2022 by Nisa Malli. Reprinted with permission. 

Nisa Malli is a writer and a researcher, born in Winnipeg and currently living in Toronto. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria and has completed residencies at the Banff Centre and Artscape Gibraltar Point. Her first chapbook, Remitting (Baseline Press), won the bpNichol Prize and her work has been nominated for a Rhysling Award and the Best of the Net Anthology.

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Rooted in the indescribability and disembodiment of pain, Nisa Malli’s Allodynia looks outward to space and the future of humankind, as well as inward to the body. In “Pain Log”, a suite of body-horror poems, she explores illness as a haunting or possession: “At home, my stitches / undid themselves, fevers pet me // like a dog, my eyes opened / backwards. Sleep ghosted me // more than usual.” In “Ship’s Log,” a near-future speculative suite of poems, Malli turns to themes of alienness, artificial intelligence, and the impossibility of translation; danger, intimacy, and war; as well as the worlds we choose to build together. Allodynia is a highly anticipated poetic debut that more than fulfills the promise of its author’s bpNichol award winning chapbook Remitting.