Mohja Kahf  [includes two new poems!]

 Snowfall on the Colossal Ruins

 In the Roman amphitheater in Amman,

 life is beautiful and sad. Unexpected snow

 falls like a gift from heaven, settles

 slowly on the hillocks,

 curves, and rumps of bodies

 strewn across the steps. The human floor

 stirs.  Thousands of Iraqis sleep here

 nightly, this winter of the year 2000.

 The proud, the dignified,

 the ones you might have met in gracious homes

 by appointment, bringing with you flowers,

 fruit, or any small token,

 to avoid arriving empty-handed,

 you will find them here, roseate cheek

 laid against the subzero stone.

 You will find them curled against each other

 in piles, so that a walker must step watchfully

 not to tread on arm or groin.

 You will find minds trained

 in the construction of buildings and poems,

 wrapped around a crate of unsold chewing gum.

 You will find them here, parentless girls

 and boys, who in former days

 were carefully forbidden

 to stay out past a certain hour.

 You will find them here now, some ready

 to sell to you for next to nothing

 anything they still own,

 snowflakes clinging

 to their lush Iraqi lashes, a bare leg

 here and there gleaming golden in moonlight.

 There is not cover enough to go around

 in the Roman coliseum in Amman.

 You will find them here coughing

 in the air of this winter, turning

 from one side to the other, exposed

 to whatever is to fall upon them next,

 and not upon us, not tonight.




At the Foot of Every Tree

I stand amazed at the foot of every tree
The down on the throat of a wolf cub staggers me
I am knocked off my feet by the red belly of a robin

Every mote in the air has a story, every cell
in a leaf has a system for converting light to energy
I stand amazed at the foot of every tree.

My amazement is a new weight; I'm like a mime
staggering under invisible stacks of boxes.
I am swept off my feet by the red belly of a robin.

I can't walk even a block from my home
anymore with a pretence of normalcy:
I halt amazed at the foot of every tree

Ever see a kid on his first trip to the boardwalk,
how he pitches from roller coaster to taffy counter,
then notices the fireworks, knocked off his feet?

When I think I'm done marveling, the bristling life
that's been there the whole time, only then hits me.
I stand amazed at the foot of every tree.

I pitch from thicket into stream. How had I
never noticed, cells turn light to energy?
I am brought to my knees by the red belly of a robin
I stand amazed at the foot of every tree.


Learning to Pray All Over

One of these days, I'll add
A spiritual dimension to my life
One of these days I'll learn to pray
Here's how it will start: Alone
In a great jelly of time and space,
I will wallow in formlessness

At first. Never having tasted time
Outside the running from task to task,
I will drink my fill. Summer shade
And popsicles beyond counting!
Nude I will go, everywhere, out-
rageous and inappropriate, reveling.

Slowly I will begin to want
A rhythm to shape and space my days.
I will wake a little earlier. Eat
A little less. A little less will do,
Because I will be so still inside.
As still as wonder, as the first daybreak.

Soon, like the second half of an eclipse,
The dark will shift. I'll come to know
That all this time I had been living
On a quarter of the light the real sun has.
That thing that trains and forces souls
to pray will move aside. I'll fall down,

as if blind, with my unused eyes. Groping,
I will discover the knobs and knots
In the wall of my own soul. Opening
Its door, I will emerge to fields
Of sorrows and wildflowers. I will find
Rock, stream, tree, wind, road

These, these will become my daily prayers.



On January 11, 1998, unidentified gunmen entered a movie theater and small mosque in Sidi Ahmed near Algiers and massacred 120 men, women, and children.

By the hunger of the children of Iraq

By the sound of frantic running in Kosovo

By the swollen bodies in a river in Rwanda

and Afghani women and the writers of Algiers,

I am a disbeliever

in everything that refuses to kiss full on the lips

the ones still living

and receive them in the bosom of the self,

no matter the religion or the nation or the race

I am a disbeliever in everything

that does not say "How was the movie? I love you"

I need a body outside my life to travel and kneel

on the sidewalk beside a movie theater in Algiers

over the bodies of the supple children

who will never be my children's playmates or marry them

over the bodies of the men and women

will never phone me from Algiers-

"How was the movie?  I love you.  I love you."

I need time outside the world

where I can whisper in the ear of each of them,

By God, you will never be forgotten

By God, I will make sure the world

buries its face in your beautiful hair,

sings to you, learns your name and your music,

lifts you up in the crook of its arm like a gift

I am a disbeliever

in everything but the purity of the bodies

of those men and women-with or without the veil,

with or without the markings of the right identity-

in everything but the suppleness of the children

I am a disbeliever in every scripture

in the world that leaves out

"How was the movie?  I love you. I love you."

* Disbelieverfirst appeared in Al-Jadid Magazine and is presented here with permission.



Mohja Kahf is an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas. She was born in Syria and immigrated to the US as a child.

Kahf's poetry is included in Naomi Shihab Nye's anthology,The Space Between Our Footsteps (Simon & Schuster, 1998), Khaled Mattawa and Munir Akash, eds.,Post Gibran (Jusoor Books, distributed by Syracuse University Press, 1999), and D.H.Melhem & Leila Diab, eds.,A Different Path (Ridgeway Press, July 2000).  She has poems forthcoming in The Paterson Literary Review, #29 & #30.

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