Light my face and light the flesh of my flesh

illustration of a sun shining over many tiny details that form the composite of a bird and a landscape, in yellow and red hues
Art by Kristina Closs

Devotional (after a Muslim Prayer)

by Philip Metres

Light my face and light the flesh of my flesh,
Light each my eyes and light inside my sight,
Light the light that makes me light in the bones,
And in my hands, light, and in my loins, light,

And light your light before and behind me,
Above and beneath me, light to my right
And light to left, light to my enemies
Who in the moral dark will use my light

Against me, light the dull swords of my ribs,
The thick fist within, light the blood-hot rooms
Pulsing there, light the gates when they swing wide
To the stranger, light more light on my tongue,

In the light, light more light, in the black, light,
and when it’s time to snuff this wick—light that light.

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

We have only one minute and I love you.

picture of a little boy in a doorway in Oman
Child in a doorway in Oman, 2007. Photo by me.

“Tablets V” by Dunya Mikhail (1965-)

1

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.

2

Are dreams
taking their seats
on the night train?

3

She recites a list of wishes
to keep him from dying.

4

The truth lands like a kiss—
sometimes like a mosquito,
sometimes like a lantern.

5

Your coffee-colored skin
awakens me to the world.

6

We have only one minute
and I love you.

7

All children are poets
until they quit the habit
of reaching for butterflies
that are not there.

8

The moment you thought you lost me,
you saw me clearly
with all of my flowers,
even the dried ones.

9

If you pronounce all letters
and vowels at once,
you would hear their names
falling drop by drop
with the rain.

10

We carved
our ancestral trees into boats.
The boats sailed into harbors
that looked safe from afar.

11

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”?

12

The way roots hide
under trees—
there are secrets,
faces, and wind
behind the colors
in Rothko’s untitled canvases.

13

Will the sea forget its waves,
as caves forgot us?

14

Back when there was no language
they walked until sunset
carrying red leaves
like words to remember.

15

It’s true that pain
is like air, available
everywhere,
but we each feel
our pain hurts the most.

16

So many of them died
under stars
that don’t know their names.

17

If she just survived with me.

18

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.”

19

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.

20

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.

21

If I could photocopy
the moment we met
I would find it full
of all the days and nights.

22

It won’t forget the faraway child,
that city whose door stayed open
for passersby, tourists, and invaders.

23

The moon is going to the other
side of the world
to call my loved ones.

24

The seasons change
colors and you come and go.
What color is your departure?