In Plain Sight
No matter what I do, it always begins
in sleep: a ceramic poplar convulsing under clouds,
betraying all its leaves that fall over the same question again
and again, this twilight tremble of dreaming.
Forty-seven streets bent like my mother’s laughter, of marigold eleven
gardens, I count cleaving of the moon, two thousand and twenty killed.
my breath as an offering, I hold
a globe in my palms and press my fingers onto your name, I spin it,
gentle, unyielding, until every border blurs into another. Badaun
brushes against the cheek of Jaffa—all history prancing giddy.
Along the horizon, a man turns into an hourglass
in wait, emptying time, licking every grain of sand.
Birds plummet into an alchemy of clouds and consonants,
each branch curls into scaffolding to hold the sky
from falling, his tongue mists into silence.
In the archipelago of rubble, what remains moving is impatience of
bulldozer jaws hungry for more life. Squirming through the veins of
dust, each thing chants its elegy, aching for the touch
of careful hands that once arranged them inside rooms.
Only grass survives to lift its head up, to still pronounce home.
My city is a blue sweater that an old woman has not stopped knitting
since her first winter. She begins anywhere she likes:
between the screeching of buses; inside the reek of hospital
corridors. Crowds of streets pass under her fingers, a quarrel
limps through her yarns, where horns and hawkers grow, the lichen
of hours swelling green into needles, spat on by her regrets. She knits
roofs of soot and the chamber for fugitives to keep their heart.
The night’s ear grows
thick with blood and stone,
calls us in to descend
into its wheatfield labyrinth,
stars exploding into whispers,
we march into its listening.
We sit inside the armpit of childhood proverbs closing in on us like a warning.
“How long will it take?” I had asked my mother on summer’s balcony
as she pulled my curiosity into braids. I was bored and she was
teaching me profanities as a method of survival.
“How long will it take?” Yesterday demanded as it left
the door half-open to come again, coughing. At the
checkpoint of midnight, death enters everything unbidden.
“How long will it take?” The soldier repeats while reloading his
rifle, his exhaustion echoing in the eyes of children cowering
behind the butcher’s shop—each knee folded for an answer from god.
There is a house burning, there is him
carrying its embers as mnemonics
of a sigh. Marble repose of a statue looking at the city
with odd disbelief, as if it never knew
this could happen too. In the hair of fire, I rush
with my palms stunned with water,
so wet, my fate swayed.
There is him, roof to roof, catching each burning,
tracing the constellation of a wound. Houses grow
bigger each time a person is missing:
they make room for absence. How hard
to become a fossil of sensations and call it heaven.
My city is a word that Sappho wept
because she could not say it. Quaffing dewdrop after dewdrop,
it grows windows, under whose toes all our dead are born
into a rose and their evidence. There is no better mirror
than a dagger, stabbing everything in its shape.
In this word sits my blind neighbour lifting the curtain again,
restless to check if it is still raining, if shrouds will melt into her
Eternity is a lie that prophets invented. When a city is razed it takes away
with it the afternoons haggling over the price of a cucumber; the tailor
trying to confess his love; the queue of donkeys teaching patience
to a scalding road; centipedes from earth’s ribs humming on our skin their
ancient complaint; takes the muezzin who stutters his way into prayers; blue
fingers of the old woman; the little boy dancing on a broom; dying, it takes
with it all its songs and its lanes of cables wilted into notations.
I gather shards of ceramic washed under my scream and forgive
all the temples of law, all the graveyards, all the torture centres,
mouths of all the gallows, all the ammunition, finally. How could I
forget that it is so simple to kill a city: all it takes
is an obedient head nodding.
Instructions for a Shadowsmith
Waves coil in a cobalt alarm. The sea goes on muffling every howling of the seeds. Do not let that stop you from holding yourself still, crouched on one knee, fingers stretched enough to slice the breeze. In this craft, your ear is your only reliable tool. For when a shadow approaches, it first coagulates the air surrounding it and the trees begin to snore like your father after long hours at the factory. Stay put. Hold. You will know the time is right when the sound of the silhouette begins taking shape in your ear until it drums. Twist your ear once, if you want to be sure. Now, pull your body back a little and pounce. Now, with the precision of pliers, shove the shadow into your jar. It will feel as if the waves have suddenly been wrung out and are running after you like a scandal. Now, endure.
You have no friends—you must learn to fall on everything with the indifference of rain. Shadow precedes presence. Shadow, our nights growing towards our echo and its negation, shadow, the girl your mother was before she was your mother, shadow, the cloth on the hangman’s face. People go by, shadows remain, panting behind them.
Wait for two hours and a song. Empty the jar on your table. Then, slit the shadow open with the eager edge of the knife. Repeat until klgshhhh—all its mist is leached away. Use your tobacco thumb. Hurry up! The belly of the boat is wincing and on your knife depends the mercy of a coincidence. Klgshhhh, sometimes you may find it difficult to move your hands around the shadow, even harder to assign touch to its periphery. Continue to cut as per measure. The part where light strokes the shadow’s hair slips the fastest. You risk dissolving it into the salt of the moment if you move your fingers with too much hope. It will feel as if you are gesturing in the dark, calling for help. Ignore. On certain dusks, shadows are malleable and durable at once. Dim the bulb further and proceed to make of your mouth a forge. Heat the shadow with the translucence of your breaths. Keep pressing it with your fingers. Bend it against its penumbra. You do not need screws or rivets, all shadows turn obedient under a thicket of tenderness. Fasten its parts together in the shape of a wild tulip.
Chisel until it is prepared to strike back.
Careful, finish your task because the world is yet to wake up and there await strangers and trespassers flecked against an impossibility, these wayward passengers on the boat. Make something of this trembling. Make out of the shadow oars which strike the sea.