What is it that we owe to each other?

illustrated image of a field of bright orange and yellow calendulas with an eye in the center with long eyelashes and the reflection of the light of the flowers within it
Art by Kristina Closs

The First Toast

by Aria Aber

What is it that we owe to each other?
I drink to the moment that rises
like a calendula flicker
behind your eyelids.
I drink to the world
still veiled with the words
of childhood, our faces warm
in history’s collateral light.

from Hard Damage

you were still flying

If you remember the pictures you crayoned as a child, or have seen one recently, perhaps this wistful Lisel Mueller (1924-) poem will resonate with you, too.

“Drawings by Children”

1

The sun may be visible or not
(it may be behind you,
the viewer of these pictures)
but the sky is always blue
if it is day.
If not,
the stars come almost within your grasp;
crooked, they reach out to you,
on the verge of falling.
It is never sunrise or sunset;
there is no bloody eye
spying on you across the horizon.
It is clearly day or night,
it is bright or totally dark,
it is here and never there.

2

In the beginning, you only needed
your head, a moon swimming in space,
and four bare branches;
and when your body was added,
it was light and thin at first,
not yet the dark chapel
from which, later, you tried to escape.
You lived in a non-Newtonian world,
your arms grew up from your shoulders,
your feet did not touch the ground,
your hair was streaming,
you were still flying.

3

The house is smaller than you remembered,
it has windows but no door.
A chimney sits on the gable roof,
a curl of smoke reassures you.
But the house has only two dimensions,
like a mash without its face;
the people who live there stand outside
as though time were always summer–
there is nothing behind the wall
except a space where the wind whistles,
but you cannot see that.

and early I learned that wounds made me.

The poet, translator, editor, and theorist Adonis (1930- ) was born Ali Ahmed Said in Syria’s Al Qassabin village to a family of farmers. He is now often referred to as one of the greatest living poets of the Arab world. The incredible narrative that bridges those two facts is definitely worth a read. But first, this beautiful, chilling poem.

“Celebrating Childhood”

Even the wind wants
to become a cart
pulled by butterflies.

I remember madness
leaning for the first time
on the mind’s pillow.
I was talking to my body then
and my body was an idea
I wrote in red.

Red is the sun’s most beautiful throne
and all the other colors
worship on red rugs.

Night is another candle.
In every branch, an arm,
a message carried in space
echoed by the body of the wind.

The sun insists on dressing itself in fog
when it meets me:
Am I being scolded by the light?

Oh, my past days—
they used to walk in their sleep
and I used to lean on them.

Love and dreams are two parentheses.
Between them I place my body
and discover the world.

Many times
I saw the air fly with two grass feet
and the road dance with feet made of air.

My wishes are flowers
staining my days.

I was wounded early,
and early I learned
that wounds made me.

I still follow the child
who still walks inside me.

Now he stands at a staircase made of light
searching for a corner to rest in
and to read the face of night again.

If the moon were a house,
my feet would refuse to touch its doorstep.

They are taken by dust
carrying me to the air of seasons.

I walk,
one hand in the air,
the other caressing tresses
that I imagine.

A star is also
a pebble in the field of space.

He alone
who is joined to the horizon
can build new roads.

A moon, an old man,
his seat is night
and light is his walking stick.

What shall I say to the body I abandoned
in the rubble of the house
in which I was born?
No one can narrate my childhood
except those stars that flicker above it
and that leave footprints
on the evening’s path.

My childhood is still
being born in the palms of a light
whose name I do not know
and who names me.

Out of that river he made a mirror
and asked it about his sorrow.
He made rain out of his grief
and imitated the clouds.

Your childhood is a village.
You will never cross its boundaries
no matter how far you go.

His days are lakes,
his memories floating bodies.

You who are descending
from the mountains of the past,
how can you climb them again,
and why?

Time is a door
I cannot open.
My magic is worn,
my chants asleep.

I was born in a village,
small and secretive like a womb.
I never left it.
I love the ocean not the shores.

from Selected Poems, translated by Khaled Mattawa