lord knows I have been called by what I look like more than I have been called by what I actually am

Today I share just one from a stunning series of poems with this same title from the collection A Fortune For Your Disaster, by the the great writer, poet, and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib.

illustration of a dandelion with thick green stems
art by Kristina Closs

“How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This”

dear reader, with our heels digging into the good 
mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something 

about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself 
but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown 

& lord knows I have been called by what I look like 
more than I have been called by what I actually am & 

I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this 
exercise. which, too, is an attempt at fashioning

something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anything 
worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics arrive

 to the tongue first. say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out grandfather 
clock. he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent

heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning, 
you could scatter his whole mind across a field.

from A Fortune For Your Disaster

An Arab who can’t eat has lost control of their heart.

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.

abstract image of lacy bandages with pink buttercup on the side
Art by Kristina Closs

“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.
Hope–Darwish’s incurable

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.

from The Wild Fox of Yemen

I could see the points on the flower’s stately crown soften and curl inward

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.

Art by Kristina Closs

“Wedding Poem”

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.

from Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude