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?”
“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?”
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.
“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.”
Originally published in the Boston Review. Copyright © 2019 by Khaled Mattawa. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.
Born in Benghazi, Libya, in 1964, Khaled Mattawa is a poet and translator of contemporary Arabic poetry. He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2014 to 2020.
Date Published: 2019-10-28
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/beatitudes