4 poems by Tara Ballard


We sit in an upstairs room
where the air conditioner wheezes

a lackluster attempt
at cool. It barely rustles our seven

floor-length cloaks of black
hanging near the closed door.

Arabic coffee steams. Our thimble-like cups
half-full with golden-yellow, stirred

saffron, perfume of cloves. Cardamom
making thick

the heat-damp air
that Septembers us by the sea.


Dressed in black, a circle
of women sip from cups

of bitter coffee. No one
speaks as evening takes

shape in what is now
empty. I tilt the porcelain,

and grounds drift from
thumb to index finger.

I mourn with the other wives,
back turned to my husband

who drinks of a different kettle,
remembers the same man.

5:09 AM

The Adhan releases us
from sleep, remembers
us to place.

Cool under
bedroom fan and duvet
blue as above
will surely come, we
curl against one another
without clothing like
we are once more near
the beginning:

our legs and arms
nautilus. My husband, his hands
he travels across my skin
as I am mud and he
river. We shape
in the room’s dark.                        

Grains of sand
fold at the window sill,
cling to pulled security shutters
as we again immerse
in ritual waking.

Today one
hundred and thirty
mortars will fall south
of here. Fifteen missiles will break
the border. Evacuation
will continue.



You will smell the sand before it arrives.
It will wake you from sleep, tugging at window panes
like an orange blanket over the sky.

Your breath will catch. You might find yourself
thirsty, but the water bottle on the nightstand won’t quench.
You will smell the sand before it arrives,

and even though all windows are closed,
grains will filter through and on and in
like an orange blanket over the sky.

The front door begins to rattle and shake, heavy
frame of wood accosted by desert. Wind grumbles.
You can smell the sand before it arrives,

but all you can do is sit up in bed, stare
as the tide washes across your world
like an orange blanket over the sky,

and you think of pharaoh and the ninth plague
as you breathe in this different breed of darkness.
You can smell the sand before it arrives
like an orange blanket over the sky.