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— 2018 Whiting Literary Magazine Prize Citation
from the May 2019 issue

Like Any Messiah Taken Unaware by Death

After her father’s sudden death, the poet tirelessly seeks to reckon with what is gone.
 

1

Like any Messiah taken unaware by death
I saw my father                he was nodding to the palms, surrendered
To his sweet sad songs, was greeting
Happily the doves which settled on his shoulder

Alone     no shadow to soften his loneliness 
Alone the clouds    were praying to him

And I was calling    Father! Death is colder than a cup of water on my body, and
Fonder to me than sand

Father    the water surrounds me with longing and there is no time to shame the night 
With light, and melancholy with memories


2

My father, answering
What is gone     is gone


3

Prepare your exiles for the hard years, turn absence 
Into silver ribbons through your hair
Push your hands into the pockets of your shirt
Out comes your country 
Brimming ashes, fragment-crammed


4

Father     the directions have exhausted me


5

My father, saying  
What is gone     is gone


6

Distance has left me limp, father
Hunger is complete with me
And I am full with all the countries that threw me 
A babe into the river
This longing is no great thing to me
Earth switched on me, the skies
Are not the skies

No light to guard me     for distance betrays
No wind to bear me    for the clouds they age

Between my shadow and me / the butterflies    
Enchanted by the poems and the songs


7

My father, saying  
What is gone     is gone


8

Neither will the butterflies restore childhood to the water
Nor mother tongue loan you its ABC names
Nor dream pack your soul with clouds    Nor poetry, nor hopes


9

Like any Messiah taken unaware by death         My father
It was not a dream I saw, it was 
Reading the secret of drought on the palms
It was too much for poetry          but no great thing to death

I was calling to him: Father of wind
Father of water
Father of night
Father of hunger

                                      Father of death
                 Father of death
Father of death 

Surrendered to his sad yearning songs
Greeting the doves 
Which settled on his shoulders

Like any Messiah taken unaware by death

My father, saying
Be not afraid. Of mortal flesh is Man
Of mortal flesh is every son
Of Adam

What is gone     is gone
 

"كأي مسيح يداهمه الموت سهواً" © Aisha al-Saifi. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Robin Moger. All rights reserved.

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