By Threa Almontaser
What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices? — Robert Hayden
In grade school, a boy heard me speak and asked, What are you? by the monkey bars. Really meant, Are we the same?
Did sabr work like patience with its Norman linguistic? Would mercy be as fervent as rahma?
Ms. Crawford threw a chalk eraser at my head for mixing up auxiliary and artillery.
Used cannons are heavier. The ones that have killed are aromatic. Watch the man in green kiss the artillery. Hug it. Suck the smoke it leaves behind.
I believe misery is not spoken, but found in every face like a king interpreter, a colander.
I want to tell Gedo about the day I dangled at the park, fingers slipping from each yellow bar. The desperate sound I cried in Arabic, hair on static, the power my word held. How the people
jolted from their spots like airbags and reached out, picking up my need in every language.
Ms. Crawford brought toy artillery tanks to class so everyone could see, What we fight the Middle East with. Knowing they weren’t real, still I couldn’t watch.
Gedo says every bullet has a worm inside, the fertile and damned flesh its new country. He crouches underneath the cypress tree, rolling tasbeeh beads, cracking walnuts with his nails.
O, those days he’d dazzle us with crumbs of poetry, of flying camels, cranes that talk. Gedo knows he’s losing his language. He crouches there for hours, waiting for something to hit him into remembering — hot smoke, a hymn, the drums.
Ruminates whenever he carries a bundle of plucked mint, hears the clink of our bangles, whiffs myrrh when boiling Mumtaz tea. I make it like his mother did. Put it in a gold-edged teacup. Put it on his tongue to drink.
Instead, he drinks the memories: it tastes of Red Sea salt and cock fights. Of mornings fetching well-water with a rusty bucket, boys butting heads with the toughest ram. Abu-Baker Salem drifting from a radio, tea sweetened and scalding in every hand. His whole hood speaking the old language the mouth loves most, its hard-beaded squabbling spilling from everyone.
He squats beneath the old tree as I boil the only constant in his life. Into his cup: cardamom, clove, pinch of nutmeg, palm of sugar.
Every evening, steady blue of stove light set low to the hot point of wounding.
THREA ALMONTASER is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection, THE WILD FOX OF YEMEN (Graywolf Press, 2021) selected by Harryette Mullen for the 2020 Walt Whitman Award at The Academy of American Poets, and a finalist for the 2020 Tupelo Press Dorset Prize. Her work has recently appeared in Passages North, Wildness Journal, Ninth Letter, Raleigh Review, Penguin Random House, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. She teaches English to immigrants and refugees in Raleigh and is currently at work on her first novel. For more, please visit threawrites.com.