My copy of Louder than Hearts, the new and potent collection from Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck, arrived in the mail just last week–and it’s been traveling close by me from room to room ever since.
“I Dreamt We Threw Bread Crumbs”
I dreamt we threw bread crumbs
in the sea, waited to catch
a glimpse of our hunger, our hope,
rising out of this dark.
You fished out a tin can;
before we ate it
you told me to listen to the prayer
inside it—our prayer.
You mapped my body in chalk
on the sidewalk. My longing
was ruby-colored. I wore it
around my neck, and everything
was drunkenness and dance, every day
a kind of drowning—
the shawarma on the skewers,
the plastic roses in the children’s hands,
the antennas scribbled across the sky.
Only the clotheslines knew
of our leaving and returning,
and they wept.
“I still feel that poetry is not medicine — it’s an X-ray. It helps you see the wound and understand it. We all feel alienated because of this continuous violence in the world. We feel alone, but we feel also together. So we resort to poetry as a possibility for survival. However, to say I survived is not so final as to say, for example, I’m alive. We wake up to find that the war survived with us.” —Dunya Mikhail
Today, this essential X-ray from the staggering exiled Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail (1965-) via her 2007 collection, The War Works Hard.
“Bag of Bones”
What good luck!
She has found his bones.
The skull is also in the bag
the bag in her hand
like all other bags
in all other trembling hands.
His bones, like thousands of bones
in the mass graveyard,
his skull, not like any other skull.
Two eyes or holes
with which he listened to music
that told his own story,
that never knew clean air,
a mouth, open like a chasm,
was not like that when he kissed her
not in this place
noisy with skulls and bones and dust
dug up with questions:
What does it mean to die all this death
in a place where the darkness plays all this silence?
What does it mean to meet your loved ones now
with all of these hollow places?
To give back to your mother
on the occasion of death
a handful of bones
she had given to you
on the occasion of birth?
To depart without death or birth certificates
because the dictator does not give receipts
when he takes your life?
The dictator has a heart, too,
a balloon that never pops.
He has a skull, too, a huge one
not like any other skull.
It solved by itself a math problem
That multiplied the one death by millions
to equal homeland
The dictator is the director of a great tragedy.
He has an audience, too,
an audience that claps
until the bones begin to rattle—
the bones in bags,
the full bag finally in her hand,
unlike her disappointed neighbor
who has not yet found her own.
Today we move from Khaled Mattawa to one of the poets he translates: the Egyptian writer Iman Mersal (1966-). This eerily lovely poem is just one of many that’s lingered with me since I checked her collection out from the library a week ago.
“Sometimes Wisdom Possesses Me”
The light is self-obsessed
on the ceiling, in corners, on the table.
Pleasure has brought them to the edge of sleep.
Of course this is not my voice.
Someone is singing
behind the black curtain I lean on for support.
If I look down
I will see worms flee the floor
and climb my nakedness.
I will not pay attention to how I look
so that they don’t either.
The men talk of the nation’s future,
the wives help the lady of the house,
the cat sits to a feast of garbage
and the more than one spider on the ceiling
make no fuss.
It seems the family’s children liked me.
After I gave them a paper boat
I failed to convince them
that the copper tub they filled with water
is not a sea.
“Then a heavy silence prevailed.”
knew early on that words fly
and cannot be weighed.
And for other reasons
I did not hear a revolutionary talk
except to defend his old revolution
to new silent listeners.
Prophets are quiet by necessity
as they get closer
to the one who sent them.
The difficulty was not in keeping their mouths shut,
in where to place their hands
when they fall quiet.
One day wisdom will possess me
and I will not go to the party.
I will have to date the onset of my freedom
with the moment
I became no longer indebted to your ears.
from These are Not Oranges, My Love