These gently fragmented narrative lyrics pursue enlightenment in long, elegant yet plain-spoken, dark yet ecstatic lines. Ali travels by water and by night, seeking the Far Mosque and its overarching paradox: that when God and Self are one, an ascent into Heaven is a voyage within.
Moving between biblical and Qur'anic stories, sections of this debut explore questions of comparative faith: "Why not a religion of water in a time of great fires?" Painterly minimalism, open-field technique and Near Eastern traditions together give Ali a neatly varied verbal palette for his smart, quietly attractive poems. Single-line stanzas and unrhymed couplets portray visionary and partly abstract spaces where "all the eventual answers are nothing," and a questing reader "will sometime soon say: I am coming home now." A sequence set in France finds the same calm conundrums in its cathedrals and beaches, with their "silent groundswell, the swell of silence," while in later poems Ali pays homage by name to Emily Dickinson, to Rumi and to the painter Agnes Martin. Readers who seek explicitly Islamic material will find it near the end of the book, where unrhymed sonnets and an accomplished ghazal trace a search for spirit in nature and in the void: "Night" advises a rapt observer: "You are no plagiarist of dusk./ Nothing in the sky equals itself." Ali has also published a novel, Quinn's Passage; his unresting intellect and acoustic talents make him a poet to watch.