Mothers Arrange Their Aches at Night

translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah

Joint pain, high sugar,
rheumatic ailments,
a boy who missed school because of a cold:
mothers feel sadness for mysterious reasons,
like sadness over other mothers
who stand in public streets
holding photos of their sons’
well-groomed faces
with sideburns and mustaches,
waiting for the cameras to capture them
and their chapped hands.
Mothers who hold up the house beams,
open windows,
air out carpets on roofs,
expel moths from the hearts
of abandoned mattresses
in case a visitor arrives.
Mothers, who stipulate
no conditions for return,
arrange their aches at night
and wash their daughters’ hair with oil,
in bed they toss and turn.
And when they fall asleep
they snore
and give the house a name and a voice.


From You Can Be the Last Leaf (Milkweed Editions, 2022) by Maya Abu Al- Hayyat and Fady Joudah. Copyright © 2022 by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat and Fady Joudah. Reprinted with the permission of Fady Joudah.