V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





Beneath a wet harvest of stars in a Gaza sky, 
my mother tells me how orchards
once hid the breach of fallen oranges,
and how during a glowing night

of beseeching God in prayer,
when the night nets every breath
of every prayer,
my uncle, a child then, took flight

from the roof of the house.
The vigilant earth had softened
just before his body fell to the ground,
but still there's no succumbing to flight's abandon;

our bodies keep falling on mattresses,
piles of them are laid out on living room floors
to sleep multitudes of wedding visitors:
the men in their gowns

taunt roosters until dusk,
while women taunt
with liquid harvest in their eyes,
and night spirits and soldiers

continue to search the house
between midnight and three in the morning.
On the night of my uncle's nuptial,
I watch my mother as she passes

a tray of cigarettes to rows of radiant guests
with a fuschia flower in her hair . . . .
Years before this, I found a photograph
of her sitting on my father's lap,

slender legs swept beneath her,
like willow filaments in river light.
His arm was firm around her waist;
his eyes bristled, as though the years of his youth

were borders holding him back
and waiting to be scattered.
Those were the years when my mother
drew curtains tightly over windows

to shut out the frost world of the Potomac;
she sifted through pieces of news
with her chest hunched over a radio,
as though each piece when found

became a story and within it
a space for holding our endless
debris.  But in truth,
it was only 1967, during the war,

three years before I was born . . . .
But tonight, in Gaza beneath the stars,
I turn towards my mother
and ask her how a daughter

can possibly grow beyond
her mother's flight.  There's no answer;
instead she leans over me 
with unreadable long-ago eyes

and points to the old wall:
the unbolting of our roots there,
beside this bitter lemon tree,
and here was the crumbling

of the house of jasmine
arching over doorways,
the house of roosters
and child-flight legends,

this house of girls
with eyes like simmering seeds. 

© by Deema K. Shehabi


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