I sift the shards of you

This gorgeous poem from the incredible writer, editor, translator, and former tenant lawyer Martín Espada (1957-) moved me in ways I cannot even begin to articulate this morning.

martin-espada

“Haunt Me”
              for my father

I am the archaeologist. I sift the shards of you: cufflinks, passport photos,
a button from the March on Washington with a black hand shaking
a white hand, letters in Spanish, your birth certificate from a town high
in the mountains. I cup your silence, and the silence melts like ice in a cup.

I search for you in two yellow Kodak boxes marked Puerto Rico,
Noche Buena, Diciembre 1968. In the 8-millimeter silence the Espadas
gather, elders born before the Spanish American War, my grandfather
on crutches after fracturing his fossil hip, his blind brother on a cane.
You greet the elders and they call you Tato, the name they call you there.
Uncles and cousins sing in a chorus of tongues without sound, vibration
of guitar strings stilled by an unseen hand, maracas shaking empty
of seeds. The camera wobbles from the singers to the television
and the astronauts sending pictures of the moon back to earth.
Down by the river, women still pound laundry on the rocks.

I am eleven again, a boy from the faraway city of ice that felled
my grandfather, startled after the blind man with the cane stroked
my face with his hand dry as straw, crying out Bendito. At the table,
I hear only the silence that rises like the river in my big ears.
You sit next to me, clowning for the camera, tugging the lapels
on your jacket, slicking back your black hair, brown skin darker
from days in the sun. You slide your arm around my shoulder,
your good right arm, your pitching arm, and my moon face radiates,
and the mountain song of my uncles and cousins plays in my head.

Watching you now, my face stings as it stung when my blind great-uncle
brushed my cheekbones, searching for his own face. When you died,
Tato, I took a razor to the movie looping in my head, cutting the scenes
where you curled an arm around my shoulder, all the times you would
squeeze the silence out of me so I could hear the cries and songs again.
When you died, I heard only the silences between us, the shouts belling
the air before the phone went dead, all the words melting like ice in a cup.

That way I could set my jaw and take my mother’s hand at the mortuary,
greet the elders in my suit and tie at the memorial, say all the right words.

Yet my face stings at last. I rewind and watch your arm drape across
my shoulder, over and over. A year ago, you pressed a Kodak slide
of my grandfather into my hand and said: Next time, stay longer.
Now, in the silence that is never silent, I push the chair away
from the table and say to you: Sit down. Tell me everything. Haunt me.

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you lived around the edge of everything we did

This month would not be complete if I did not post something from Naomi Shihab Nye (1952- ), who has always been one of my absolute favorite poets. Today’s piece comes from her newest collection, Transfer, a beautiful, book-length elegy for her father.

“Haunted”

We are looking for your laugh.
Trying to find the path back to it
between drooping trees.
Listening for your rustle
under bamboo,
brush of fig leaves,
feeling your step
on the porch,
natty lantana blossom
poked into your buttonhole.
We see your raised face
at both sides of a day.
How was it, you lived around
the edge of everything we did,
seasons of ailing & growing,
mountains of laundry & mail?
I am looking for you first & last
in the dark places,
when I turn my face away
from headlines at dawn,
dropping the rolled news to the floor.
Your rumble of calm
poured into me.
There was the saving grace
of care, from day one, the watching
and being watched
from every corner of the yard.

childhood memories grow up in me

Have you heard of Mahmoud Darwish, who died less than a year ago at the age of sixty-seven? He was considered by many to be the voice of Palestine; whether he was constructing poetry or prose, he was always writing as a fiercely proud Arab (he was born in Western Galilee). Look him up. Read his words. Let his poetry gift you with a different lens into a situation you may have only been exposed to through the news. I offer one of his more subtle poems to you tonight as I think about my mother, who is also a proud Palestinian.

First, in Arabic:

darwish


“My Mother”

I long for my mother’s bread
My mother’s coffee
Her touch
Childhood memories grow up in me
Day after day
I must be worth my life
At the hour of my death
Worth the tears of my mother.

And if I come back one day
Take me as a veil to your eyelashes
Cover my bones with the grass
Blessed by your footsteps
Bind us together
With a lock of your hair
With a thread that trails from the back of your dress
I might become immortal
Become a God
If I touch the depths of your heart.

If I come back
Use me as wood to feed your fire
As the clothesline on the roof of your house
Without your blessing
I am too weak to stand.

I am old
Give me back the star maps of childhood
So that I
Along with the swallows
Can chart the path
Back to your waiting nest.


[….Did I say I was only posting one poem? Well surprise. Here’s one more…]

“I Belong There”
Translated by Carolyn Forche and Munir Akash

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird’s sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to
her mother.
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a single word: Home.