An Arab who can’t eat has lost control of their heart.

I had trouble choosing just one poem to share with you from Threa Almontaser’s devastating and brilliant collection, The Wild Fox of Yemen, published just a few weeks ago. Described as “A love letter to the country and people of Yemen, a portrait of young Muslim womanhood in New York after 9/11, and an extraordinarily composed examination of what it means to carry in the body the echoes of what came before,” this collection by the Yemini American author is definitely one you should purchase or urge your local library to order.

abstract image of lacy bandages with pink buttercup on the side
Art by Kristina Closs

“Hunger Wraps Himself”

    with bandages, hobbles into a hospital
in Yemen like a zombified mummy

and bombs it–
   the citadel in lieu of scarcity. Magnesium echo.

Have the people ever told you what else they felt

when the underworld let out its minacious burp?
   Now they are wary of the space a body occupies.

Women dab themselves in rosewater,
               become a fajr

of primal mumbling,

      prayers inconclusive in their grips.

Emptiness throws on a thermite gown
and enters a crowd. War waifs fight wild dogs

      for what remains.
Hope–Darwish’s incurable

malady. I see it when my cousins turn to me,
      plates beaming their faces rapturous.

The motherland is ironed flat: unclaimed
edges, hand-dug wells, a grandfather’s

skeleton. I peel the skin off everything,
even the grapes. I want to bend my neck

below a faucet for the gush that isn’t bottled
or boiled, every sip cool, American, blessed

by God. In the souk are dragon trinkets,
painted sand, raw supplications to bring back,

place on a nightstand, say I was here.
Aunties crease in dark corners. Left alone,

they grow a fungus. I give one’s daughter
the bruised banana in my bag. She kisses

her fingertips and taps them to her heart.
I note closely the footprint and fragrance

she leaves. Soon she will dwindle to a gentle
zephyr, a nostalgic pang that ghosts this street.

All these kids tapering back to the mind
who made them. There, Allah will give

their stomachs solace and shish-kebabs.
Thi khalaqah razaqah. I buy a man a foil

of lamb dumplings. He returns half, says,
We don’t eat to be filled. We eat to not go

hungry. I want to forgive the word devour,
cheeks qat-stuffed with grape leaves, Baba

at the table saying, Less, habibti, less.
Who finishes each grain we abandon.

Who used to mash grass into soggy bread
to stretch it. We show love through our appetite.

Famine happens when we can’t remember our
name, the village we come from. I want to deserve

eating. An Arab who can’t eat has lost control
of their heart. What can a girl learn from her cravings

once the begging gut goes quiet? By now,
she has grown intimate with starvation, wears it

like a pink buttercup behind her ears, handpicked
by a shy boy, later lost in the nest of her curls.

from The Wild Fox of Yemen

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You’ve got to put your pants on in the house of fact

I plucked Tom Sleigh’s new collection House of Fact, House of Ruin off NPR’s free shelf when I was visiting a dear friend who works there in D.C. this winter. I brought it to a cafe with me the next morning and when I came to this poem, I read it again, and again, and again.

tomsleigh_newbioimage_2

1\HOMILIES FROM HOME

You’ve got to put your pants on in the house of fact.
And in the house of fact, when you take off your shirt,
you can hear your shirt cry out, Facts are the floor, facts
are how you make the right side talk to the left.

I’m washing my naked belly clean, and doing it with dignity.
I’m turning around, trying to see the filthiness
that keeps making me filthy. I’ve scraped away
my molecules right down to the atoms’ emptiness

and arranged the map’s folds so that nobody
can see it breaking into fits of weeping.
Now that even our eyes have their dedicated poverties,

now that even our eyes are chained to their slavish occupations,
whatever the soul lacks drains the soul to nothing.
I hate to admit it, but even the house of fact is a house of ruin.