In the ن of it all
two arms in air,
in dance, after catastrophe.
the body the universe the body
the fabric held at two points:
i am lamb. i am shepherd.
a star waits.
the stars are a map in the noon of it all.
a letter, a relic from a gone civilization.
a ن holds the tail of the snake.
a ن holds a star in its ark.
a ن is a prayer before Time.
hearsay: the whale swallowed the sun.
there, an eclipse, the sun’s wispy corona.
hearsay: the whale spit it out.
returned our sun to us, this time.
a small circle silences.
a set of small teeth doubles.
this, the machine,
my grandmother’s language,
gifted her by holy fish,
forbidden her by man.
in a dream, she and i,
two pisces fish, whispering friends
in the noon of it all.
a ن today
on my brother’s door.
a ن between my legs.
a ن on my neighbor’s cheek.
you, you hold the broken in me.
you, you hold the setting sun.
you, you escape
the mouth of death.
in the noon
of the universe.
single seed. bijou in float.
there, there waits the ark.
A note on this poem, an invitation:
Oh noon, the letter ن, intoning the -n- sound, pronounced noon.
A Semitic letter, really, in Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, and through some
starcrossed lineage, it has a cousin in Sanskrit, maybe even the same DNA.
Some say the letter got its shape from an Egyptian hieroglyph of a snake.
Some say the snake morphed into a whale, a fish, a dolphin. In the Qur’an,
the Surah of The Pen begins by saying that the ن and the pen are in the act of
writing, as if the ن were capable of script, were it not script itself. Were it not
a snake, a whale, a palimpsest. What writes us as we write it. In Arabic class,
Professor Hani drew a ن on the board and asked us what it looked like.
He wanted us to say a cup. We saw an ark instead, a boat. And true,
the ancients believed it might be a cup. And true, the scholars
believe it to be a boat, holding a seed, the seed of the universe,
awaiting rebirth after apocalypse. Birth, as in pregnant
womb, though this isn’t in the scholarly texts.
Some liken it to a setting sun.
And Jonah, prophet who found God in the whale.
The floating diacritical dot, Jonah escaping death.
A noon as the beginning and end of existence.
These days, in Iraq, in Syria, elsewhere
being ravaged by death squads,
a symbol is painted on people’s doors.
For anyone who does not submit to tyranny.
There, there waits the ark.
Copyright © 2021 by Kamelya Omayma Youssef. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 15, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
“Language holds. I feel a duty to find out what it’s carrying, whether secrets, violence, or transcendence. I keep trying to find a way through empire. Looking at the letter ن gives me a bit of peace. It tells me something else existed, that something else is possible, beyond what is in immediate sight. This is also built into the form of this poem—there’s what we show, and then the process that made the product; I’m interested in showing both. People keep trying to hide truth, which is filled with error, apocalypse, and transcendence despite. We need to face it. Free Palestine.”
—Kamelya Omayma Youssef