We said there isn’t any worse to come.

The Iraqi American poet Dunya Mikhail (1965-) gives me the chills. There will be more to come from her on this blog as I work through the stack of her collections currently on my nightstand.

“My Grandmother’s Grave”

When my grandmother died
I thought, “She can’t die again.”
Everything in her life
happened once and forever:
her bed on our roof,
the battle of good and evil in her tales,
her black clothes,
her mourning for her daughter who
“was killed by headaches,”
the rosary beads and her murmur,
“Forgive us our sins,”
her empty vase from the Ottoman time,
her braid, each hair a history —

First were the Sumerians,
their dreams inscribed in clay tablets.
They drew palms, so dates ripen before their sorrows.
They drew an eye to chase evil
away from their city.
They drew circles and prayed for them:
a drop of water
a sun
a moon
a wheel spinning faster than Earth.
They begged: “Oh gods, don’t die and leave us alone.”

Over the Tower of Babel,
light is exile,
blurred,
its codes crumbs of songs
leftover for the birds.

More naked emperors
passed by the Tigris
and more ships . . .
The river full
of crowns
helmets
books
dead fish,
and on the Euphrates, corpse-lilies floating.

Every minute a new hole in the body of the ship.

The clouds descended on us
war by war,
picked up our years,
our hanging gardens,
and flew away like storks.

We said there isn’t any worse to come.

Then the barbarians came
to the mother of two springs.
They broke my grandmother’s grave: my clay tablet.
They smashed the winged bulls whose eyes
were sunflowers
widely open
watching the fragments of our first dreams
for a lifetime.

My hand on the map
as if on an old scar.

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Take the word of my pulse

Stunning and severe. I would expect nothing less of the influential poet and essayist Adrienne Rich (1929-) who turned down the 1997 National Medal of the Arts because she believed ”the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this Administration.”

“Art, she said, ”means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner-table of power which holds it hostage.”

“Implosions”

The world’s
not wanton
only wild and wavering

I wanted to choose words that even you
would have to be changed by

Take the word
of my pulse, loving and ordinary
Send out your signals, hoist
your dark scribbled flags
but take
my hand

All wars are useless to the dead

My hands are knotted in the rope
and I cannot sound the bell
My hands are frozen to the switch
and I cannot throw it
The foot is in the wheel

When all is over and we’re lying
in a stubble of blistered flowers
eyes gaping, mouths staring
dusted with crushed arterial blues
barred with tiger-lily reds

I’ll have done nothing
even for you