Beatitudes

- 1964-

1.

My child wants to know if the mountains really cowered.

“How do you know when a sea or a river is afraid?

How do you know when the sky is thinking yes or no?

 

And why did Adam say yes—Did he know that

all the other creatures refused? Was he arrogant

or just ignorant? Was he God’s last choice?”

 

2.

“Did you really have a party the day the dictator died?

And you had a cake decorated with all the flags?

Did you think his death will fix everything?

 

Why did we spend all that time there?

Why couldn’t we just stay here?

Isn’t this our country too?

 

And all these people fleeing and drowning,

what are they hoping for? Whose fault is it?

How long must we wait for things to improve?”

 

3.

She speaks to me in our language

in front of her friends, to share a secret,

or—cool and beaming—to show off.

 

I wonder how long it will last, this pride,

this intimacy. Sometimes she puts her arm

next to mine and tells me I have the lighter skin.

 

“Why are you doing this,” I ask.

But she doesn’t point to the flag

or say, “It’s the way of the world.”

 

Instead she tells me not to worry, that she is “the most

kid kid in my class, the least mature one, Baba!”

Not all kinds of wisdom console, I tell her.

 

Then I begin to think of words she’ll soon hear

that can make her wish she wasn’t who she is.

Lead me to virtue, O love, through the smoke of despair.

 

4.

“Let’s walk through the woods,” she tells me.

“Let’s walk by the rocky shore at sunrise.”

“Let’s walk through the clover fields at noon.”

 

In the rainforest she is silent, mesmerized.

She’d never prayed—we never taught her—

but she seemed to then, eyes alert with joy.

 

She points to a chameleon the size of a beetle,

teaches me the names of flowers and trees,

insects we can eat if we’re ever lost here.

 

“I’m teaching you how to entrust the world

to me,” she says. “You don’t have to live

forever to shield me from it.”

More by Khaled Mattawa

Ecclesiastes

The trick is that you're willing to help them.
The rule is to sound like you're doing them a favor.

The rule is to create a commission system.
The trick is to get their number.

The trick is to make it personal:
No one in the world suffers like you.

The trick is that you're providing a service.
The rule is to keep the conversation going.

The rule is their parents were foolish,
their children are greedy or insane.

The rule is to make them feel they've come too late.
The trick is that you're willing to make exceptions.

The rule is to assume their parents abused them.
The trick is to sound like the one teacher they loved.

And when they say "too much,"
give them a plan.

And when they say "anger" or "rage" or "love,"
say "give me an example."

The rule is everyone is a gypsy now.
Everyone is searching for his tribe.

The rule is you don't care if they ever find it.
The trick is that they feel they can.

Lyric

Will answers be found
like seeds
planted among rows of song?

Will mouths recognize
the hunger
in their voices, all mouths in unison,

the ah in harmony, the way words
of hope are more
than truth when whispered?

Will we turn to each other and ask,
how long
has it been...how long since?

A world now, a world then
and each
is seeking a foothold, trying

to remember when we looked
at one another
and found—A world again—Surely

what we long for is at the wheel 
contending.

Surely, we'll soon hear 
its unearthly groan.

Airporter

Yardley, Pennsylvania, an expensive dump
and the van seats shake their broken bones.

Duty-free liquor and cigarettes,
the refineries and the harbor's cranes.

The moon digs its way out of the dirt.
The branches of an evergreen sway.

She's nice
the woman you don't love.

She kisses you hard and often
holding your face in her big hands.