The evening I left, I went for a wash
In the neighborhood hammam. Lifted my dress.
Entered the water, which moved in rings
From me as though from a stranger, took a stick
To strip a layer of my old back.
In my bag lay a box of Turkish Delight
Meant for my parents, a book of notes, a passport
But I was holding nothing now as I floated
In pools upon pools of ancient tiled rooms.
There was a pigeon in an alcove making song,
Women in the shadows clucking disapprovingly
At me, unmarried and brazen
And free, in the windows a kind of violet smoke
I understood as twilight taking over the sky.
However hard I tried to erase the blot
My body kept bobbing back up.
I thought that’s what time was, you couldn’t lose it
Like a stone in water, that having been
Myself so long it would be forever.
And now Safranbolu doesn’t exist anymore,
At least not the one where my father
Still has years on the clock,
Where my mother’s unreason hasn’t begun,
The babies not sprung yet from their wherever,
City rich off spice, flame-colored threads of the crocus
That flowers on the hills around like blue light,
Whose gates I will pass through only in the mind:
When I slipped on my dress and reopened the door
Night had closed over the world that I knew.
Copyright © 2022 by Monica Ferrell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 23, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
I watched the dawn come,
Watched the spring dawn come.
And the red sun shouldered his way up
Through the grey, through the blue,
Through the lilac mists.
The quiet of it! The goodness of it!
And one bird awoke, sang, whirred
A blur of moving black against the sun,
Sang again—afar off.
And I stretched my arms to the redness of the sun,
Stretched to my finger tips,
And I laughed.
Ah! It is good to be alive, good to love,
At the dawn,
At the spring dawn.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 26, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated by George Dimitri Selim
Zaynab complained against me
to the judge of love.
“He has sly eyes,” she told him,
which roam around me
to devour my beauty.
Judge of love!
I am not safe anymore.
“I think his eyes are two bees
raiding the honey
which sweetens my lips.
I see them as two eagles
hovering in space,
descending to snatch me.
I think, and from my fear,
I think strange things.
God knows how much I suffer from my thoughts.
“He invaded me with his eyes
and, as if this weren’t enough,
he tried to lower my standing among people.
Hypocritically, he said
that I have stolen my beauty from the universe,
and that it was not created naturally in me.
That I have plundered the morning for a face,
the dusk for hair,
uniting both in me.
That from the gardens
I have stolen the flowers for cheeks
—my cheeks are rosy.
That I have covered my neck with pure snow,
and that my eyes are tinted with narcissus.
“When my voice enchanted him
he denied it, and said:
‘It’s a nightingale singing in the garden.’
With sword-like glances I struck him,
he said, and in his deep-red blood
I dyed my finger tips
and in his poems he chanted alluding to me.
So people said:
‘His meanings are necklaces of pearls.’
Lord of verdicts!
Administer your justice between us.
Enough of his straying in love.
I’ve had enough!”
When the time of complaint was over,
the judge asked me:
“What is your answer,
you who are so passionately in love?”
“I find…that I am a criminal.
My insanity may not be deferred.
She has dispossessed me
of mind and heart.”
From Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab-American Poetry (Interlink Books, 2000). Used with permission of the editors, Gregory Orfalea and Sharif Elmusa, and Interlink Book. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 24, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
The city breaks in houses to the sea, uneasy with waves,
And the lonely sun clashes like brass cymbals.
In the streets truck-horses, muscles sliding under the steaming hides,
Pound the sparks flying about their hooves;
And fires, those gorgeous beasts, squirm in the furnaces,
Under the looms weaving us.
At evening by cellars cold with air of rivers at night,
We, whose lives are only a few words,
Watch the young moon leaning over the baby at her breast
And the stars small to our littleness.
The slender trees stand alone in the fields
Between the roofs of the far town
And the wood far away like a low hill.
In the vast open
The birds are faintly overheard.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 8, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.