Muse

- 1951-2018
I was young when you came to me. 
Each thing rings its turn, 
you sang in my ear, a slip of a thing 
dressed like a convent girl—
white socks, shoes, 
dark blue pinafore, white blouse.

A pencil box in hand: girl, book, tree—
those were the words you gave me. 
Girl was penne, hair drawn back, 
gleaming on the scalp, 
the self in a mirror in a rosewood room 
the sky at monsoon time, pearl slits

In cloud cover, a jagged music pours:
gash of sense, raw covenant 
clasped still in a gold bound book, 
pusthakam pages parted, 
ink rubbed with mist,
a bird might have dreamt its shadow there

spreading fire in a tree maram.
You murmured the word, sliding it on your tongue, 
trying to get how a girl could turn
into a molten thing and not burn. 
Centuries later worn out from travel 
I rest under a tree.

You come to me 
a bird shedding gold feathers, 
each one a quill scraping my tympanum. 
You set a book to my ribs. 
Night after night I unclasp it 
at the mirror's edge 

alphabets flicker and soar. 
Write in the light 
of all the languages 
you know the earth contains, 
you murmur in my ear.
This is pure transport.

Central Park, Carousel

June already, it's your birth month,
nine months since the towers fell.
I set olive twigs in my hair
torn from a tree in Central Park,
I ride a painted horse, its mane a sullen wonder.
You are behind me on a lilting mare.
You whisper--What of happiness?
Dukham, Federico. Smoke fills my eyes.
Young, I was raised to a sorrow song
short fires and stubble on a monsoon coast.
The leaves in your cap are very green.
The eyes of your mare never close.
Somewhere you wrote: Despedida.
If I die leave the balcony open!

Stone Oven

Kasr Avenue was where the birds lived,
In a mud silo millet seeds flourished
 
All winter long and through the dry season
Laila was in my soul, also Majnoon’s madness.
 
I was a girl growing up and you, crossing the
Nile—yes a flat boat is all you had—
 
Came in, trousers wet and flapping,
Sat down with your back to me.
 
Hunayn ibn Ishaq the great physician
Thought of the heart as the oven of the body.
 
In the Grand Hotel the waiters wear
Cummerbunds, always maroon, over tunics, white
 
I asked for a lemonade with crushed ice.
Majnoon lived with his goats in the desert north of here
 
On a mountain of sand, where the sky turns dark
The color of millet burnt in a stone oven.

from Grandmother’s Garden

8.

I am in another country. On a morning of clear sunlight, I walk into a garden thousands of miles from where grandmother lived and died. I speak of the Heather Garden at the mouth of Fort Tryon Park in upper Manhattan, a stone’s throw from my apartment. 

 

I stroll on the curved path past a lilac tree with its gnarled trunk. I stoop to touch purple fuzz of heather, I try to avoid earthworms twisted at the roots. In between the stalks of heather I see tiny snails. Their shells are the color of laterite soil in the garden of my childhood, a reddish hue with shades of indigo from the minerals buried in the earth.

Close by a baby gurgles, its limbs held tight to the mother’s chest in a snuggly, its tiny head bobbing. A dragonfly on iridescent wings glides by the mother and child. Overhead clouds shift and pass.

Later by stone steps that lead down to grassy knoll I see a child.

He wears clothing at least two sizes too large for him and on his feet are sneakers of a dull green color with frayed laces he has bound to his ankles. He is standing on his tiptoes, rooting in the trash bin.

He picks out a half eaten sandwich and clutches it tight. Then he brings it to his lips.

I stand very still. I do not want to scare him and I watch as he runs hard, a brown streak of light, past the lilac tree, out of the park.