Brother on the threshing floor, body like wheat,
and the red dirt that binds us, that nothing will release us
from. The fig tree, the date palm, the treacherous murder
unleashed into us now, the call blazing from vanity’s lungs,
jutting us to a future of mindless rain, wayward blizzards
of sand and snow. We were born to ward off this desolation
that grinds mountains into floss, bores into our books
for a whim that ordains blood, our blood
and others, our sisters, mothers. Without such fear
who will we be? What will we do without
this aching chord, without the bright morning that tore
the silver’s towers? Fire and the parched red dirt
that binds, the water stolen from our wells,
a black magic dredging the lower rungs of earth.
We dream of clover. The soft scent of young lambs
is the first letter of our alphabet, and the prophets
who tighten ropes around their waists to stifle hunger's
pangs, supplicant brows seeking light from earth’s core.
What will we do without the angel’s voice, a tide
sending us heavenward, a harmattan ushering us into the hell
of its lows. How can we live without such turbulent hope?
How can we accept the certainty of our quiet graves?
How can we stop waiting to witness the Lord’s face?
And what will we do without the hardened gaze?
The girls walk past, hair fluttering like commas
between poems of musk, a dream of touch like water
gently falling on smooth, warm stone.
What will we do without the anemones’ mournful dirge
stroking the dagger’s spine and the gelding’s nightmares.
Our hatred for our scoured hands, our love of the moment
when the sun drops only for our eyes? Who else will hear
birdsong as prayer, who will cleanse himself with the stroke
of sand? Who keeps the earth rotating with praise
of your name? And what will this spinning,
hurtling mean without our voices shouldering it
toward some ripe, sweetened pause?
What will you do, dear God, without us? How
will you fare, alone again in the empty vast, in the dark
of your creation, without us giving you your name?
Copyright © 2019 by Khaled Mattawa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Friendships—died June 24, 2009, once
beloved but not consistently beloved.
The mirror won the battle. I am now
imprisoned in the mirror. All my selves
spread out like a deck of cards. It’s true,
the grieving speak a different language.
I am separated from my friends by
gauze. I will drive myself to my own
house for the party. I will make small
talk with myself, spill a drink on myself.
When it’s over, I will drive myself back
to my own house. My conversations
with other parents about children pass
me on the staircase on the way up and
repeat on the way down. Before my
mother’s death, I sat anywhere. Now I
look for the image of the empty chair
near the image of the empty table. An
image is a kind of distance. An image
of me sits down. Depression is a glove
over the heart. Depression is an image
of a glove over the image of a heart.
Copyright © 2018 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in Kenyon Review. Used with the permission of the poet.
They say Satan teased Sarah while
her husband tied their son up on a mountain.
It's an old story: a man tests the limits of religion
while the devil’s on a mission to a woman.
The devil said He's dead! Oh wait! He's not!
Sarah heard a gunshot
and did the only thing she could.
She reached beyond herself and died.
Meanwhile Isaac sees a frenzy
on the face of a patriarch,
and an angel's screaming out a name
and everything's going dark. Afterwards,
they never spoke again. One went
his way and the other went another.
Isaac's mother dead, he followed Hagar
to the desert. Hagar married Abraham
but Isaac stayed away, didn't even send a
text. He pulled the blinds down, tried to rest.
Then his father died, so God blessed Isaac, Isaac
never quite recovered from the loss.
Then Rebecca came along and saw it all.
She'd studied Freud, so knew her boys would
tell stories that their father couldn't bear.
She tore her hair out, then devised a plan.
But even she was foiled; her boys grew up.
Her boys forgot the fights of childhood, spat out
bitter herbs, and limped towards each other
when the Angel settled down at last.
There may not be a God or a Sarah.
There may not be a garden or a man who
ordered soup up to his room.
There may not be a mountain.
But there’s always been a woman with the truth.
But there's always been a brother full of shame.
There’s always been a story, and there’s
always been a devil in the details.
“Family Tree” Originally published in Seminary Ridge Review. Copyright © 2017 by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.
A meeting place between the many times that came before it
These times, the trajectories that brought me to be here now
A passing form
like a flower
the slowest moment of rupture in a single time
in time—body as memory
through time—body as home
with time—body as matter
i am body, yet i do not claim body
i never meant to sever with ink
What is the act of mark making, if not to define?
And what is definition, if not without exclusion?
What is exclusion, if not the cutting of matter?
The abstraction of cartography occurs
when the difference of parts is blurred
and lines are no longer visible
and place is not but visceral.
From To Whitey & the Cracker Jack (Anhinga Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by May Yang. Reprinted by permission of Anhinga Press.
As I’m walking on West Cliff Drive, a man runs
toward me pushing one of those jogging strollers
with shock absorbers so the baby can keep sleeping,
which this baby is. I can just get a glimpse
of its almost translucent eyelids. The father is young,
a jungle of indigo and carnelian tattooed
from knuckle to jaw, leafy vines and blossoms,
saints and symbols. Thick wooden plugs pierce
his lobes and his sunglasses testify
to the radiance haloed around him. I’m so jealous.
As I often am. It’s a kind of obsession.
I want him to have been my child’s father.
I want to have married a man who wanted
to be in a body, who wanted to live in it so much
that he marked it up like a book, underlining,
highlighting, writing in the margins, I was here.
Not like my dead ex-husband, who was always
fighting against the flesh, who sat for hours
on his zafu chanting om and then went out
and broke his hand punching the car.
I imagine when this galloping man gets home
he’s going to want to have sex with his wife,
who slept in late, and then he’ll eat
barbecued ribs and let the baby teethe on a bone
while he drinks a cold dark beer. I can’t stop
wishing my daughter had had a father like that.
I can’t stop wishing I’d had that life. Oh, I know
it’s a miracle to have a life. Any life at all.
It took eight years for my parents to conceive me.
First there was the war and then just waiting.
And my mother’s bones so narrow, she had to be slit
and I airlifted. That anyone is born,
each precarious success from sperm and egg
to zygote, embryo, infant, is a wonder.
And here I am, alive.
Almost seventy years and nothing has killed me.
Not the car I totalled running a stop sign
or the spirochete that screwed into my blood.
Not the tree that fell in the forest exactly
where I was standing—my best friend shoving me
backward so I fell on my ass as it crashed.
And I gave birth to a child.
So she didn’t get a father who’d sling her
onto his shoulder. And so much else she didn’t get.
I’ve cried most of my life over that.
And now there’s everything that we can’t talk about.
We love—but cannot take
too much of each other.
Yet she is the one who, when I asked her to kill me
if I no longer had my mind—
we were on our way into Ross,
shopping for dresses. That’s something
she likes and they all look adorable on her—
she’s the only one
who didn’t hesitate or refuse
or waver or flinch.
As we strode across the parking lot
she said, O.K., but when’s the cutoff?
That’s what I need to know.
Originally published in The New Yorker. Copyright © 2017 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of the poet.