There is no world in which I am not haunted

My copy of the new chapbook TUNSIYA/AMRIKIYA by the Tunisian-American poet Leila Chatti (1990-) arrived just in time for the weekend, and it was so hard to choose just one from this stunning collection.

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“Night Lament in Hergla”

This is what the fearful do:
when a burning star torments them, they go to the sea.
–Mahmoud Darwish

There is no world in which I am not haunted,
no willing God to relinquish me.
My mother taught me death comes
wailing from the shadows, my father
all ghosts exist in smoke. I search
the sky for light long extinguished,
make wishes on their bright graves.
In the dark I try every language you might
recognize but nothing calls you back;
the words hang in the air, their own
brief phantoms. The ocean offers
no solace; I stand at its black edge
as it retreats, draws close, backs away again.
Like this, your memory wavers
in the threshold. How many nights
your name appeared on my lips
like an incantation, how many times
you’ve arrived in a dream pale
as prayer at dawn–your absence
burns its hole through my waking.
I stalk the shores of your sleep,
which allow no entry. The moon
reveals nothing of heaven, a brined window.
You are gone, in this country and all others.

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We destroy ourselves for splendor

I had the chills as soon as I started reading this devastating Tiana Clark poem from her collection, Equilibrium. 

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“A Blue Note for Father’s Day”

Because I don’t know where you are–
   I send you a letter of tree leaves

I heard this morning harmonizing
   like emerald waves above a pond.

I send you John Coltrane,
   who locked himself in a room of amethyst

for days with no food or mercy to write
   A Love Supreme

We destroy ourselves for splendor–
   emerging from the buried deep

like cicada song to mate & disappear again.
   Today, I will not be bitter

about this holiday or the Facebook posts.
   No, today I send you a roofless church,

a grotto with fuzzy moss & trickling water
   that sounds like wet piano keys.

Please know–I’ve made good with my life.
   With or without you, I know how to kneel

before imperfect men. I know this pond can carry
   cold morning skin like blue blue notes

pressed from warm saxophone buttons for:
   Acknowledgment, Resolutions, Pursuance, & Psalm.

Dear father, I hope you know that I can love
   the absence of a thing even more than

the thing itself. That I can have one day a year
   that doesn’t beat like the rest.

& friends, don’t ever wish to be me.
   You don’t want this sunless song.

There is no number in my phone to call
   There is no home with his face I remember,

just a place called Nowhere & this is where
   I find & lose him like a savior.

The sound of rain outlives us

This gorgeously layered Li-Young Lee (1957-) poem felt right for this rainy day in a draught-stricken landscape, in any landscape really.

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“Water”

The sound of 36 pines side by side surrounding
the yard and swaying all night like individual hymns is the sound
of water, which is the oldest sound,
the first sound we forgot.

At the ocean
my brother stands in water
to his knees, his chest bare, hard, his arm
thick and muscular. He is no swimmer.
In water
my sister is no longer
lonely. Her right leg is crooked and smaller
than her left, but she swims straight.
Her whole body is a glimmering fish.

Water is my father’s life-sign.
Son of water who’ll die by water,
the element which rules his life shall take it.
After being told so by a wise man in Shantung,
after almost drowning twice,
he avoided water. But the sign of water
is a flowing sign, going where its children go.

Water has invaded my father’s
heart, swollen, heavy,
twice as large. Bloated
liver. Bloated legs.
The feet have become balloons.
A respirator mask makes him look
like a diver. When I lay my face
against his—the sound of water
returning.

The sound of washing
is the sound of sighing,
is the only sound
as I wash my father’s feet—
those lonely twins
who have forgotten one another—
one by one in warm water
I tested with my wrist.
In soapy water
they’re two dumb fish
whose eyes close in a filmy dream.

I dry, then powder them
with talc rising in clouds
like dust lifting
behind jeeps, a truck where he sat
bleeding through his socks.
1949, he’s 30 years old,
his toenails pulled out, his toes beaten a beautiful
violet that reminds him
of Hunan, barely morning
in the yard, and where
he walked, the grass springing back
damp and green.

The sound of rain
outlives us. I listen,
someone is whispering.
Tonight, it’s water
the curtains resemble, water
drumming on the steel cellar door, water
we crossed to come to America,
water I’ll cross to go back,
water which will kill my father.
The sac of water we live in