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from the April 2006 issue

from “Nettles”

At what line and on what page did they begin their emigration
the mother asks herself
ought one to connect it to the windows which reflect and stare at each other
to the rains which jump feet together on our roof
the mother had neither pencil nor blackboard to count their leaps
the mother didn't know how to count
she took them for cats when they were warriors
they weren't warriors either but curved lines walking in their sleep

Statements of small importance
spreading like phosphorous fire on dry grass
made by someone who soliloquizes underground
her voice imitates the stones in seasons of avalanches and lack of air

The gardeners who fear fires
dig a hole
fill it to the brim with bees
come back the next day
give the honey to the ants
tie the buzzing up in a bundle
they walk with their feet wide apart for fear of being spotted by the fire
and solitude wraps the dead woman who asks for a mirror to re-do her hair
for fear that the drone will take her for a beggar

Tomorrow it will be day
she says each time a sun devours a sun
tomorrow the visitors will go away in turn taking their roads with them
like the walls
like the children
God knows where

Leaning on her broomstick like the Turkish Giaour on his bayonet
the mother would exchange her life for a book
Night, she says, is a blackboard
give me a piece of chalk to write you a letter
what was the weather like the day of my burial?
Did they remember to have chairs for visitors who came with dogs?
did they grind coffee for the insomniacs?
did they wipe their feet on the doormat before crossing the threshold?
Coffee grounds were her only reading matter
she said night
and we would bring in the clouds and laundry hung out on the line

she said sea
and we would pull ourselves up to the skylight and
that milky odor of waves never seen close up

she said gap, said hole and
we would dig furiously to make sure there was earth in the earth

she said letter
and we'd wait on the doorstep for the bad news
the death of a relative or a goat in the snow-bound houses

The mother who lit the oil lamp would turn her back to the sun which dived twice into the
pond at the orphanage
the first time to wash
the second to lift its weight of discontent

Dead, she continues to read the grounds in my morning cup of coffee
the house continues to turn in her head
she lines up silences that have no connection between them

Bent over my shoulder
the illiterate dead woman watches over what I write
each line adds a wrinkle to my face
each sentence brings her one step closer to the house of NETTLES
She would have reached it if the birds hadn't pecked up the pebbles on her path
she says birds so as not to say war
she says war so as not to say madness of the son and the pomegranate tree

Sent home from the bombed asylum
he squatted at the foot of the tree which bled when his mother did
no one recognized him
no one drove him away
there was a war and the house had lost its door
"Ma - ma" he said in two syllables
he wanted the dead woman to give back the poems he wrote before the asylum
though she had forbidden him to utter that word
her daughters would stay on her hands forever
no one would marry them
what an idea to ask for poems written before the bombings
"You'll write other ones, more up-to-date
with no scribbling and no crossings-out
in the third person so no one will know it's you
in the present having wiped the slate of the past"
that's what she might have said

Two acrimonious dead people argue in my head
"who's talking up there ?"
heavy rain answers my question
calling up the discontented dead is enough to bring bad weather

Our cries follow me panting
changing cities or countries does no good
lined up outside my windows dead neighbors keep on putting out the fire
while the real fire was in our mouths
in the loins of the father tying up his son to bury him under the nettles
neither myrrh nor frankincense for the poet who brandished his words like a lamp in the
Buckets of water took the place of tears

Mother of nothing at all
who crosses the years in her faded apron
a washrag in one hand
her dignity in the other
mother honoring the night with her triple-wicked lamp
beating down the gray weather
laying it down on the bare
earthen floor
the better to hear the breathing of the dead
the arguments of underground winds

Time up above was for contemplation
the laundry could wait
the women would hang it out the next day on very high clotheslines
for fear that beetles would nest there

Motionless with the city before her
the mother only traveled in her dreams
stepped across streams
trod on thorns
told off the jackals
threw stones at snakes
the devil's grass dried on the roof with thyme, and basil cured migraines
made peace among the winds at each other's throats in the valley
"Throw them out!" the mother would exclaim
no wind is trustworthy
and she pedaled harder on her sewing machine
aprons shrouds bridal gowns one after another in disorder
she cut the thread when night fell
when her lids dropped sewed shut with a fiery thread

A rake in one hand
a pencil in the other
I draw a flowerbed
write a flower with one petal
weed a poem written between waking and sleeping
I make war on snails and adipose adjectives

bitter couch grass grows between my sheets
recalcitrant words go on down to the garden
I hoe
I prune
I weed
replant in my dreams
morning finds me as exhausted as a field ploughed with a rusty harrow
dreams the only means of transportation to reach my mother who lives beneath

She said she was the mother of anyone who could draw a house
that she milked the moon for them
kept its milk in a female jug
far from the sun which had eaten her two windows
and belched up a shard on her doorstep

Seated on the same doorstep
the words of my mother tongue wave to me
I move them away slowly the way she did her kitchen utensils
pot soup bowl ladle basin have traveled from hand to hand
what words will recall the migrations of men and women fleeing genocide drought
children and chickens tied up in the same bundle whether they spoke
gravelly Aramaic
the choppy Arabic of warring tribes
or a language jingling like marbles in our childhood pockets


Read more from the April 2006 issue
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