What Can I Tell Her I’ve Learned
from all these love songs, from a lifetime of mornings
with Fairuz and the news that forces its way
into the house and razes the ground and collapses
the sky and in cycles, for no discernable reason, passes us by?
That love can replace sleep? That so much of a life
can be squandered for fear of forgetting?
That sleep is a staircase and many a grandmother
sat on its first step, keeping vigil, clicking prayer beads?
That in the evening an old bridge is the best place
to watch the fog swallow the road? that October’s clouds
are sorrowing vessels? That rain is an unreliable lover,
and the dry season, ever longer and more scorching, is the only certainty?
That in Arabic love and the wind share a name,
each a motion leaning toward what captures us?
That a breeze tender as July in the valley
can become a verb? That we make promises in the name
of love and its changing winds? That a land
in which our hands have planted an olive tree or harvested
leaves from the grapevine claims us
as mercilessly as a first love?
That a lover can ask for the moon, a metaphor
for sleepless devotion, or for a clear sky
without night raids which we can marvel together
at the burnished silhouettes of the hills?
That we can long for a love to return & to remain a longing?
That even though Fairuz sings Habibi, what’s the use of crying,
what, now, is the meaning of all these words? we return
to the laments, a teaspoonful in each cup? That we portion the day
between ablutions and the stirring
of coffee grounds into a slender-armed pot, troubling
our paltry water supply for alternating sacraments?
That in the eye of an unravelling we’re still singing,
as those before us did, that it buries or sustains us,
we cannot know.
Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is a poet, essayist, and translator. Her first book, Water & Salt (Red Hen Press) won the 2018 Washington State Book Award. Her chapbook, Arab in Newsland, won the 2016 Two Sylvias Press Prize. She is the recipient of a 2019 Artist Trust Fellowship and has served as the inaugural Poet-In-Residence at Open Books: A Poem Emporium, in Seattle. She holds a BA in Comparative Literature from the University of Washington and an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. She has been published in Barrow Street, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Kenyon Review Online, Michigan Quarterly Review, New England Review, TriQuarterly, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day feature.
Sarah Ghoshal’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Arsenic Lobster, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Empty Mirror, Red Savina Review and Broad! Magazine, among others. Her chapbook, Changing the Grid, is available from Finishing Line Press. She earned her MFA from Long Island University and teaches at Montclair State University. Sarah lives in New Jersey with her husband, her ten month old daughter and her dog Comet, who flies through the air with the greatest of ease.
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