Although I grew up in a home that celebrates mothers daily, I want to take this national day of reflection on motherhood to share both a scene from life with my mother, and one of her favorite poems. This weekend I published an essay in Serious Eats about how my mother’s baking ritual taught me how to love what we create–and when to let go. Amidst all the heartbreaking realities of today’s world, I remain ever grateful for the power of food, and for those who nourish us. I hope you enjoy this bit of prose that snuck into my poetry blog, and some insight into the person posting if you are one of the lovely readers I don’t know!
As for the poem, here are the incredible words of one of the most beloved voices of Palestine, Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008). He wrote this poem while in prison for his political activism, poetry, and travels without a permit.
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.
I’m forever living between Aprils. The air here smells of jacarandas and lime; it’s sunset before I know it. I’m supposed to rest, but that’s where the children live. In the hot mist of sleep. Dream after dream. Instead, I obsess. I draw stars on receipts. Everybody loves the poem. It’s embroidered on a pillow in Milwaukee. It’s done nothing for Palestine. There are plants out West that emerge only after fires. They listen for smoke. I wrote the poem after weeks of despair, hauling myself like a rock. Everyone loves the poem. The plants are called fire-followers, but sometimes it’s after the rains. At night, I am a zombie feeding on the comments. Is it compulsive to watch videos? Is it compulsive to memorize names? Rafif and Ammar and Mahmoud. Poppies and snapdragons and calandrinias: I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you under the missiles. A plant waits for fire to grow. A child waits for a siren. It must be a child. Never a man. Never a man without a child. There is nothing more terrible than waiting for the terrible. I promise. Was the grief worth the poem? No, but you don’t interrogate a weed for what it does with wreckage. For what it’s done to get here.
Check out more of Hala Alyan’s gorgeous, necessary work, including her two novels Salt Houses and The Arsonists City and poetry collections The Twenty-Ninth Year and Hijra.