Burnished in Future Time
after Abdel Hadi El Gazzar's Two People in Space Outfits
some say we came from nowhere
traveled beside meteors
a light between dark matter
the occupiers followed too, close
on our tails always
their tongues and hands laden
copper pots, a replica
of the first lock and key,
silly to be so unafraid
of cosmic dust, mouths
opened in song
long ago the first recipe
was carved in earth, now plucked bare:
stuffed pigeon in clay pot
whose ingenuity will be lifted
through the narrowing window,
author, museum, thief or bird?
Self-portrait at 56, (under the wire)
I guess I’ve found myself,
music paused, in the right square,
growing bit of flesh murmuring
above beltline, and ahh,
these lines down the center
of my face, eyes off kilter, they say
now there’s no symmetry in space, I relate
floating green earth. I want to melt
some days into a passing bus,
once in Prague I nearly died, felt
the wisp of the tram at my neck
so close my hair moved, daughter
and husband stunned on the far curb
amazing, really, how little I still notice
my surroundings most days
save the random, like a handprint
left on a wall, press me to say
what that wall means to me
and I can’t.
Our daughter was born without a sense of smell in spring,
came home on the hottest day, a record-breaking spring.
At three, she pressed a fistful of lilacs to her face, inhaled hard
an imitation of what it is to smell, what I did, at the start of spring
to find flowers were color, texture only, trying embedded in her heart,
like this virus too, steals all scents, that sudden loss springing
ahead of the other symptoms; there’s missing something and there’s
never having it, she’s old enough to know this, her eighteenth spring.
Every sense a balm and bane, hers more pronounced, that pink too
bright, hard sound of paper against itself. She lifts from a different spring.
Memory a story of want and sound, like those small figures
she gathered around her as a child, paused before the story flowered.
Now she startles us predawn, breaks her fast alone downstairs
the lunar cycle, dates and yogurt, her ode to this pandemic spring.
The condition’s name we hear all year but never speak,
echoes of our late insomnia, lost lull, want of sleep.
beautiful Iraqi girl never appeared in a book before then. she was in a poem. the man who wrote her was a famous poet, and before that, a journalist. his poems looked like boxes. justified. all the words pooled around her that first time.
beautiful Iraqi girl became my shadow. she was more dedicated to her family than i was back then. i was passing through, always on my way to someplace else. nights on the floor, or when lucky, tucked into the guest beds in friends’ houses. in the afternoon, tired of waiting for busses, i’d walk to the next stop, throw away my transfer. i left school before it ended. i disappointed my family up close. they wondered what i was looking for, anyways. I found her in the main library. she stuck out to me, like a gap-toothed smile. a sign of royalty.
for a while, I talked about the poem to men at parties, felt it under my shirt when I walked away from them. it was written before the first desert storm. I never wanted to emulate it. my hands became other sparer poems. about the day-to-day. war. not a sudden tragedy that brings you close to someone you’d never sit next to otherwise.
something tragic happened to her. a family member murdered. that’s why he entered the house. sat next to her on the couch, noticed her beauty. he did not comment on the food. its smell or the offering of it. never mentioned religion. he was there to cover a story. I do not know if he asked after anyone else. what became of the w’s, the h’s, the a’s in his story. he moved on. won awards for his poems. maybe he forgot her. that poem no one asks after anymore. it’s so long ago now.
Based in Detroit, poet Alise Alousi is the author of What to Count, a collection forthcoming fromWayne State University Press. Her work has appeared most recently in Mom Egg Review and Four Way Review online, and is forthcoming in the anthology We Call to the Eye & the Night (Persea). Alousi works at InsideOut Literary Arts and is a 2019 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow.
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