From the dirt beneath a grandmother’s nails to a certain slant of light, Jess Rizkallah so gorgeously captures the tangible and intangible aspects of our lives that anchor and protect us.
“when they ask who i pray to”
i say patron saint of the gap in my mother’s front teeth
i say patron saint of the long-last gap in my teeth, who took it back
but left me with a whistle. a reminder of the resemblance
i let myself forget.
i say patron saint of my grandfather’s forehead,
who whispers about the heart on fire
under formaldehyde & earth.
patron saint of my sister’s bitten nails that never catch dirt when she lays
flowers at the base of a stone that took five months to arrive because
no one else came around.
saint of the lemon tree his father put there
saint of the ripest tomatoes
saint of the shrapneled kitchen tile their baby feet slapped
saint of the blue peaks by the ocean where we began
saint of the way we say what again
and again as plea, as demand.
i know there are saints of light not written about.
saints of walking sticks falling against floors not holy.
the saint of the self as god when god has done enough
to be reshelved and left dusty
when they ask me, i say patron saint of teta’s hands.
small hands that beaded and embroidered
and kneaded and carried and learned the alphabet.
a for apple. b for box. c for candle.
d for dog. d for death. d for dirt
under the nails. a hard day’s work a picture frame
and his cold wedding band. this is how we compete
with the silence that wants to take us.