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Alien of Extraordinary Ability

Editors' note: The following is an excerpt from a longer work-in-progress called "Alien of Extraordinary Ability." The artworks at the beginning and end of the poem are a result of a collaboration between the author and artist.

Alien of extraordinary ability is an alien classification by United States Citizenship and ______________ Services. The United States may grant a priority visa to an alien who is able to demonstrate "extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics" or through some other extraordinary career achievements. The ________________ version of the classification (EB-1A), which grants permanent residency, additionally requires the alien to demonstrate "sustained national or international acclaim", "achievements recognized by others in the field of expertise", and "a level of expertise indicating that the individual is one of that small percentage who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.”


When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut.

-Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali

“Why do you want this visa?”

a home. is it here? is it here? is it here?

“Why in this country?”

everyone likes sweet stuff sometimes.

“What are your plans?”

To build a spaceship out 

of the years named Solace.


so it is to be born a particular

particle to no particular address on no

particular day of a less-than particular week.

so it is to be star-seer, sin-shelter, flower 

named nayantara, a rearview.

so it is that the name∞ You were given

is not the same. nonetheless You are chosen.

so it is to sense in an other

an otherworldly sweetness.

Have we met? You ask. No—

for I am talking to myself. Before You,

Idea. so it is to walk towards a frame

hoping for image vs error . . .

for don’t You want to see Your own 

particles pictured in the museum mirrors?

No? Ok.

then forget continuum. be disruption

∞ go back to sleep Ms. Chowdhury, the American situation is strange


Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers form is a part of a longer poem.


but we have not met yet. this is a museum. i am making a list∞ 

  • Personal ornaments 

  • Collared disks 

  • Scepters & early imagery 

  • Neolithic axes of the _______________ culture 

  • Blades 

  • Dagger-axes arrowheads & knives 

  • Serrated disks 

  • Ceremonial blades 

  • Serrated and ________________ axes 

  • Handles 

  • Animal heads and masks 

  • Dragons 

  • Fish 

  • Birds 

  • Naturalistic animals 

  • Insects 

  • Surface decoration 

  • Dish with coiled bird & dragon interlacery 

  • Plaque 

  • Shroud∞

∞this is a list to keep thoughts of you at bay

∞so it is to imagine your death. to hold a conversation with your absence:


so good, this gallery, You say—

yes, it is quite the door

to a thousand years ago! cries the Past.

sshhh, begs the Future. let’s watch the wall open . . . 

see, we’ll have time for the fields! 

see, we’ll consult the sun re the moon! 

see, now we’ll “see” other families. our own. 

is this a museum or a border? where there 

is a border, does there need to be patrol?

“no touching the heart! i mean art!” security cries. 

okay, i say, okay. and part the regions of my torso 

that is how i learn the guard is blind 

to my mockingbird inside. 

“now walk towards flowering cherry 

and autumn maples,” Mockingbird commands. “do it. alone” 


∞idea-You disappears. I leave the museum or linger. i become or engage in: 

  • an etching

  • window shopping

  • allusions to the sea

  • light palette

  • ewer & basin

I once was and will never again be:

  • virgin & child

  • the rape of ____________ by _____________

Are you also trying to understand what it is to be:

  • a master

Artwork showing woman reflected in abstract fashion to depict immigrants to the United States
"Alien (Reflection)" by Saniya Kamal for SAAG. Mixed media, 2020.

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"Error" by Saniya Kamal, for SAAG. Mixed media, 2020. 


TARFIA FAIZULLAH is the author of two poetry collections, Registers of Illuminated Villages (Graywolf, 2018) and Seam (SIU, 2014). Tarfia’s writing appears widely in the U.S. and abroad in the Daily Star, Hindu Business Line, BuzzFeed, PBS News Hour, Huffington Post, Poetry Magazine, Ms. Magazine, the Academy of American Poets, Oxford American, the New Republic, the Nation, Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket, 2019), and has been displayed at the Smithsonian, the Rubin Museum of Art, and elsewhere. Tarfia is currently based in Dallas.


SANIYA KAMAL is a writer and artist, currently and MFA student in Fiction at Brown University.


"Go back to sleep Ms. Chowdhury, the American situation is strange"

VOL. 1
13 Oct 2020
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