Vola

By Louay Khraish

I wonder
If you still take a spoon of honey
At sunrise
Before you light
Your first cigarette
And if you still put cold yogurt
On your face
Every morning
Sitting against the open kitchen window
Picking the stones from the lentils
On a tray
In your lap
Letting the new sun
Dry your face

I wonder
If you still stand
Facing the clock
With your two fingers
On your left wrist
Counting
While you cook the best stuffed stomach
Or chew on your home-grown alfalfa sprouts
Or your left-over macaroni with no sauce

I wonder
If you still have your hair
Neatly pulled back
And the gold cross
Hanging around your neck
And the Heart of Christ
Pinned inside your warm bra
And if you still gently beat
Your chest
As you pray your rosary
Lighting a candle
For Mar Charbel
And one for Mar Elias
Pleading
For cures
Safety
And money

I wonder
If you still get scared
Every time
A door is slammed
Or one of us kids cry
Thinking of bombs
Jumping on your feet
Calling Jesus
Mary
And never forgetting Saint Joseph

I wonder
If you still sneak to the closet
To take a sip
Before you make a wish
On the deck of cards
In your rough hands

I wonder
If you still sleep
With the radio on
Next to your ear
Listening to the news
And Sainte Rita
Under your pillow

And I wonder
If you ever knew
You would be the first to leave
If you ever knew
You were leaving
And if you really wanted
To burn
All the saints
Before
You died

 

 

 

Attrition

By Helen Wing

                                   ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant

Peace comes

when everything else

is

destroyed,

when we have killed

the colours

and we stand

swaying

in a symphony

of greys.

 

When we walk

our steps are soft

like biting into pears,

feet crunching

through beaches

of ash

and

bone.

 

Peace comes

when

there is

quite simply

no

other

option,

when

there is

nothing

left

to burn

and we

can

no longer

live

here

anyway.

Interview with Naomi Shihab Nye

“Poetry flourishes in the margins”
Interview with Naomi Shihab Nye
BY REWA ZEINATI

In the world of poetry and writing, the name needs no introduction. In the world of art and photography, Nye has been an active participant, offering image after image, using the tools she uses best: words. Currently a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she is author or editor of 33 books, including Transfer,A Maze Me, Honeybee, Different Ways to Pray, Yellow Glove, and 19 Varieties of Gazelle, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Born to a Palestinian father and an American mother, she regards herself as a “wandering poet,” which is probably the very best kind a poet, an artist, could hope to be.

RZ: In one of your earlier poems you’ve said, “Love means you breathe in two countries.” How does your background affect who you are as an artist?

Naomi Shihab Nye: It seems it would be impossible for most artists and poets to separate from background. Background is always the soil, the nourishing, complicated earth, we spring out of. What we do with it? Blossoms have many shapes and colors. Our eyes learn to see, through what they have already seen, what they are given to see. And if we are lucky, we never stop looking for more. Truly, I think love means we breathe in EVERY country. Somehow.

RZ: We find a longing in your poetry, a strong sense of exile. Your first experience with your roots was when you were 14 years old, where you lived in Jerusalem for a year and met, for the first time, your grandmother, who had a huge impact on your writing. How did going back (or forward!) shape your craft?

NSN: Well, that’s not quite accurate. My first experience with my roots was when I began to know my father, so, from the very beginning. To live with a restless person, a beautiful, humble, funny, magnificent person who is always longing for his homeland, for justice for his people, marks someone. You can’t pretend it isn’t there, even if you haven’t been there yourself yet.

RZ: How necessary are words? How necessary is art in a fast moving, zero-attention-span, consumerist existence?

NSN: Words are extremely helpful. Art is immensely necessary. A way to slow down, to hold, to connect, to contain – we are never bored and we don’t need anything we don’t already have. Hardly an advertising tool, but a way to live, for sure…

RZ: What do you think about Arabs adopting languages other than their own, mostly by choice, for their writing?

NSN: They are smarter than I am. I think it’s fine.

RZ: How important are literary journals, if at all?

NSN: Extremely important. They have given us so many ways to find one another.

RZ: Ironically enough (considering the history of Arab poets!) in the Arab region, poetry is considered at most, a hobby, a pass time. Not a lot of people take poets seriously. (Who makes a living out of poetry they think!) Especially poems by Arabs written in English. How do you recommend this perception be changed?

NSN: I don’t think you have to make a living out of something for it to be crucial. No one makes a living out of staring at the sky, but what would life be like, if we couldn’t do that? A lot of people make a living out of making war, making and selling weapons, and how great is that? I have never been bothered by the sidelining of poetry – poetry flourishes in the margins. Reading Walt Whitman – will restore all the hope anyone has lost.

RZ: Unfortunately, we live in increasingly hostile times, politically speaking. As writers or artists with Arab roots, and those who’ve lived in the Arab world, but have been influenced by the West, there is a cultural dichotomy, a mass schizophrenia almost. If we adopt anything from the West, be it cultural/social/educational, everyone freaks out that we are “losing our culture.” As a writer how do you think we can remedy this dichotomy?

NSN: I think we need to keep sharing our indelible, beautiful habits, customs, graces, details, foods, music, spirits, and nothing does it better than art. Art has a lot to balance out in our world. We should focus on the positive as much as possible – focusing on the negative only erodes our energy.

RZ: As a prolific writer of poetry, essays and novels, what advice would you give to emerging writers/artists in the Arab region, and/or in general?

NSN: Write more! Write on! Read as much as you can, write regularly, find a way to share your work. Wishing you the best! We need your voices!