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.
Light falls from her voice and I try to catch it as the last light of the day fades … But there is no form to touch, no pain to trace.
Are dreams taking their seats on the night train?
She recites a list of wishes to keep him from dying.
The truth lands like a kiss— sometimes like a mosquito, sometimes like a lantern.
Your coffee-colored skin awakens me to the world.
We have only one minute and I love you.
All children are poets until they quit the habit of reaching for butterflies that are not there.
The moment you thought you lost me, you saw me clearly with all of my flowers, even the dried ones.
If you pronounce all letters and vowels at once, you would hear their names falling drop by drop with the rain.
We carved our ancestral trees into boats. The boats sailed into harbors that looked safe from afar.
Trees talk to each other like old friends and don’t like to be interrupted. They follow anyone who cuts one of them, turning that person into a lonely cut branch. Is this why in Arabic we say “cut of a tree” when we mean “having no one”?
The way roots hide under trees— there are secrets, faces, and wind behind the colors in Rothko’s untitled canvases.
Will the sea forget its waves, as caves forgot us?
Back when there was no language they walked until sunset carrying red leaves like words to remember.
It’s true that pain is like air, available everywhere, but we each feel our pain hurts the most.
So many of them died under stars that don’t know their names.
If she just survived with me.
A flame dims in the fireplace, a day slips quietly away from the calendar, and Fairuz sings, “They say love kills time, and they also say time kills love.”
The street vendor offers tourists necklaces with divided hearts, seashells to murmur the sea’s secrets in your ear, squishy balls to make you feel better, maps of homelands you fold in your pocket as you go on your way.
I am haunted by the melody of a forgotten song sung while two hands tied my shoelaces into a ribbon and waved me goodbye to school.
If I could photocopy the moment we met I would find it full of all the days and nights.
It won’t forget the faraway child, that city whose door stayed open for passersby, tourists, and invaders.
The moon is going to the other side of the world to call my loved ones.
The seasons change colors and you come and go. What color is your departure?