I had trouble choosing just one poem to share with you from Threa Almontaser’s devastating and brilliant collection, The Wild Fox of Yemen, published just a few weeks ago. Described as “A love letter to the country and people of Yemen, a portrait of young Muslim womanhood in New York after 9/11, and an extraordinarily composed examination of what it means to carry in the body the echoes of what came before,” this collection by the Yemini American author is definitely one you should purchase or urge your local library to order.
“Hunger Wraps Himself”
with bandages, hobbles into a hospital in Yemen like a zombified mummy
and bombs it– the citadel in lieu of scarcity. Magnesium echo.
Have the people ever told you what else they felt
when the underworld let out its minacious burp? Now they are wary of the space a body occupies.
Women dab themselves in rosewater, become a fajr
of primal mumbling,
prayers inconclusive in their grips.
Emptiness throws on a thermite gown and enters a crowd. War waifs fight wild dogs
for what remains.
malady. I see it when my cousins turn to me, plates beaming their faces rapturous.
The motherland is ironed flat: unclaimed edges, hand-dug wells, a grandfather’s
skeleton. I peel the skin off everything, even the grapes. I want to bend my neck
below a faucet for the gush that isn’t bottled or boiled, every sip cool, American, blessed
by God. In the souk are dragon trinkets, painted sand, raw supplications to bring back,
place on a nightstand, say I was here. Aunties crease in dark corners. Left alone,
they grow a fungus. I give one’s daughter the bruised banana in my bag. She kisses
her fingertips and taps them to her heart. I note closely the footprint and fragrance
she leaves. Soon she will dwindle to a gentle zephyr, a nostalgic pang that ghosts this street.
All these kids tapering back to the mind who made them. There, Allah will give
their stomachs solace and shish-kebabs. Thi khalaqah razaqah. I buy a man a foil
of lamb dumplings. He returns half, says, We don’t eat to be filled. We eat to not go
hungry. I want to forgive the word devour, cheeks qat-stuffed with grape leaves, Baba
at the table saying, Less, habibti, less. Who finishes each grain we abandon.
Who used to mash grass into soggy bread to stretch it. We show love through our appetite.
Famine happens when we can’t remember our name, the village we come from. I want to deserve
eating. An Arab who can’t eat has lost control of their heart. What can a girl learn from her cravings
once the begging gut goes quiet? By now, she has grown intimate with starvation, wears it
like a pink buttercup behind her ears, handpicked by a shy boy, later lost in the nest of her curls.
The poetry and prose of Ross Gay (1974-) so often reminds me of all the beauty and joy in this intense world we navigate every day.
for Keith and Jen
Friends I am here to modestly report seeing in an orchard in my town a goldfinch kissing a sunflower again and again dangling upside down by its tiny claws steadying itself by snapping open like an old-timey fan its wings again and again, until, swooning, it tumbled off and swooped back to the very same perch, where the sunflower curled its giant swirling of seeds around the bird and leaned back to admire the soft wind nudging the bird’s plumage, and friends I could see the points on the flower’s stately crown soften and curl inward as it almost indiscernibly lifted the food of its body to the bird’s nuzzling mouth whose fervor I could hear from oh 20 or 30 feet away and see from the tiny hulls that sailed from their good racket, which good racket, I have to say was making me blush, and rock up on my tippy-toes, and just barely purse my lips with what I realize now was being, simply, glad, which such love, if we let it, makes us feel.