top of page

Published on 10 July 2024

ISBN: 978-1-915108-14-2

All profits from this book will be given to Young Minds, a mental health charity for children, young people and their parents, which makes sure young people can get the mental health support they need.



Her father said she was the way she was
because of where they had ended up. Told her 
she had simply soaked me through her pores.


Banned her from the garden where fresh grapes hung,
her feet upon them as though a monster bathed within.
She had crushed them past pulp, wiped the oil down her arms. 


Her father’s prophet spoke of two women grinding grain,
bed-fellows, one taken and the other left behind.
He searched the books and found it. Come again?


These are the words of the prophet who also spoke
of vultures who have nowhere to gather. I find her
in pieces, her bitter carcass on my tongue making room.


I grip the bed frame, its structure there to give me meaning.
I touch the saucepan, my home’s deeds. I see bricks fall
from the sky, if you believe me. It could be true.


This could be anywhere, vultures parading the street,
looking for a sin to punish. They set fire to cars,
take swords to the heads of our men that don’t join in.


I am scared of what comes next. I hear the voice from heaven
appear on my arms, scrawl a word there and I know its meaning
before it has even come into being. Come again?


The air is dry as androgyny. The winds septentrional guests.
I see their backs as they leave me behind. The prophet said
it’s the generation left behind that speaks wisdom most clearly.


Lightning creaks the sky in the day, she turns back to look.
I keep her myth as saucepan swirls. There will be children
who hate us, not ours, rather generations far down the line.



Shereen Akhtar’s tragic death in October 2023 means that this book of poetry will be her first and last full collection. Anyone reading it will immediately sense what a loss that is, but also what a gift she has passed on. Shereen was a lesbian, a Muslim, a human rights lawyer, and had a passionate interest in environmental issues – all of which inform her work.  Relationships, including one with a female Jewish rabbi, are dissected fearlessly and compassionately. She never shirks from complexity when grappling with spirituality, mortality and religion. Many poems in the opening section are set in Israel and Palestine and unpick the oppressions and contradictions there. It’s rare that you’ll find language used with such economy, dynamism and intelligence, in ways that also pierce the heart.

Complex, melancholic, and sensual, the late Shereen Akhtar’s Rabbi / Robin is at a continuous crossroads of reckoning with queer, interfaith love, addiction and channeling “the expansion of this mysterious darkness and light,” in which the speaker invites us to “kiss the calligraphy/ on her skin too holy to touch. The words burn. The words are moot.” But Akhtar’s words themselves ask the reader to give so much more of themselves, to consider and make real a world beyond geopolitical boundaries and intuitional divides, to speak up and out even when “some nights one should be silent, but that, my love, was a lie.” Rabbi / Robin reimagines torn, weary landscapes with equal scrutiny and generosity where "there's a party on the moon" but also "the day of revelation" in which "the Swans ask me questions/with such love I give them answers." Imaginative as it is confrontational, and full of candid curiosity, Rabbi / Robin is about euphoric flight into the beyond and meditative trajectories that return us here, to right now, these troubling times in which “we even hold our patchwork souls/ tight behind our teeth, firm in the cheeks.” 
Rosebud Ben-Oni

Rabbi / Robin by Shereen Akhtar

  • Jerusalem 

    Tiny steps 
    to enlarge 
    this surprising 


    Over there – 
    a long, low wall 
    filled with dust 
    and rolled up 


    prayers, for us, 
    each other and peace, 
    and over there – 
    a secure checkpoint. 


    We walk in circles 
    looping back on 
    a visiting
    boy’s choir –

    singing nafshi 
    the song I would 
    die to 
    if I could. 


    You ask me 
    to kiss you, 
    then say, 
    “actually, not here.”




    Toast: to a Long Life 

    I want to live long enough to be slapped by the                                                                           sea 
    instead of my own palm to the temple. 
    I want to live past the cigarette orange, the beige                                                                 belly, 
    and call myself “former” 
    as in former addict, former fat person, 
    former manic depressive, 
    though their numbers dwindle. 
    I want to live past the frozen aisle shelf-life 
    of the voices in my head. I want to walk around 
    the lake without remembering 
    my search for the most vicious song 
    in my brother’s borrowed playlists and 
    falling to my knees in duckshit to ask forgiveness 
    for the major sins of a previous life 
    spent watching the face of a woman 
    in the sunlight streaming through 
    an oblong dormitory window, 
    opposite twin armchairs still singed with joint ash, 
    and three desks full of textbooks untouched 
    for weeks, the same pages earmarked 
    the way I am, reliving the same moments over. 


    I want to live through my still spread legs and sigh 
    and breathe, and run more than a mile 
    every other month. I want to live free 
    like a regular woman. I want to worry 
    about running out of petrol, running 
    an office calendar or their sustainability policy 
    like if I could save the Earth, I could 
    save myself without needing to be 
    corrected for all the recurring mistakes. 

    I want to live alone now. 
    I want life to be more progressive, 
    to reduce its beating so that I can 
    get up on my hind legs and evolve. 
    I want to have diamonds on my fingers 
    when I leave, to have put a careleaver 
    through university so that they 
    can design technology before I give up 
    my small fortune of non-stop facts 
    about the environment and its mind, 
    and my anti-narcotic lectures, so that 
    they can live a long life, on and on. 
    And so then can you. I want life 
    to guarantee me that, at least. 
    And I suppose, if it does,        this? 
    won’t have been too much to sacrifice.


  • Shereen Akhtar was a gay British Pakistani writer and poet. Her work was published in Ambit, The Masters Review, Magma, Palette, Wasafari and Poetry Wales, among others. She was longlisted for the Women Poets’ Prize 2020 and won a London Writers Award 2021 for her novel in progress, Something in the Wind, set in Cairo in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.


    Born in Birmingham, Shereen studied Law at Cambridge University and Panthéon-Assas in Paris. She practiced for five years as an Immigration Law barrister in England and Wales, specialising in defending clients seeking asylum on the basis of their sexuality. She was the editor of Earth Journal, which combined literary and scientific approaches to address issues related to climate change.


    A deeply compassionate and endlessly original thinker, Shereen was keenly interested in religious history and interfaith relations and had a passion for social justice. She spoke several languages; volunteered for charitable causes throughout her life; travelled widely; ran marathons; loved to play tennis. Rabbi / Robin is Shereen’s first full collection. She died on 15 October 2023, aged 34.

bottom of page