Tell Life

By Fady Joudah b. 1971 Fady Joudah

For Ghassan Zaqtan

1


I now release from my blood                the bird of   thirty she wasted
that’s how wars                                        crumble us

I now tell those                                        who are exhausted from the expense
of children the secret                              of   happiness and happiness itself

from what is arrived at                          but doesn’t come
from the language                                  of   balance

defeat                                                        has the taste
of    being shrouded                                 with another’s banner
while your enemies                                chant your names

Some music                                              some shelling
will strike our dead                                 who flew off in the early raids
have you seen them                                return from their flying?

They stayed behind                                 hanging by the thread
of their surprise                                       and by their women’s hair

We will dance                                           in the wreckage drink the coffee
our dead left brewing                             we will open our tombs
to windows for the sea                            in order
for the sea to remain                               besieged

Right here                                                 right here
a corpse shook its trunk                         in the earth a corpse snapped
God’s ropes                                               houses gathered then hid
what’s easy to interpret                          of   people’s speech

Which mourners ebbed                         and turned the sea to tombstones
for our dead which poem                      was said and revived us?

And that huge rose of ours                    our only bewilderment
our offense                                                on earth our balcony
on the kingdom of   heaven                    the grandfather’s house

a hand that gestures                               farewell
in the roar of   the massacre                   a white hand like old time
a free hand like death                             after death

Tell my love                                              space has been plucked
tell her to sleep                                        on disaffection’s stone


2


Two raids three raids                             a whole morning
a year of   long                                           bombardment over your going

Did you forget                                          a newspaper of   palm fronds
a time of   white dawn                             some hay from last season’s siege
a brief greeting                                        like a mumbling
on mornings                                            of   slow advance

a suitcase a rug a palm                          with which you touched the evening
of shelling                                                 into a meaning
for a people                                              kind and assured and silent?

Whenever glass shook                           you would shriek
kid                                                              I pluck
your death’s anemone                           and eat it

Each land                                                  has its people
each time                                                  has its folks and time
for a while now                                        has been standing on our throats

As if   we don’t love                                  or hate as if we’ve seen the land
only as a bracelet                                    a house a dress a poem left filled
with those who were killed                   without war


3


Memory shrinks                                      until it fits in a fist
memory shrinks                                      without forgetting

a boy in a farm                                         a chicken on a roof
a dot on the planet                                  mysterious and intuitive like parents

or a tree for a hat                                     with prairies
for a dictionary                                         and days like sleeves

short in summer                                      cotton in winter
they resist when squeezed                     between our knees

A not so First World                               rains on a calm boy
torn apart                                                  like a tattered tent

The lily of words                                      enters his heart takes a wedding
by the horns                                              a well-trained bulbul
by the scandalous                                    fruit rush of the river

His return                                                 will be washed shrouded
a field’s first flower                                 guarded by dirt

Coffee coffee                                            for the beautiful one
whose heart’s                                           a tambourine this morning
while war                                                  shouts cold on slopes


4


In the saddles                                          grass grows
warmth matures                                     in oleander
the river pours                                        in your absence
everything                                                will happen

I exchanged                                             half of my books to sit near you
flung my hand                                         so that it may see you
then retrieved it                                      to touch what it saw

We slept like sponges                            near the river butterflies descended
from the ribs of shadow                        then left behind
a mirror pitched                                     like a house of   jinn


5


It’ll be difficult                                          that you go
before you choose a grave                      fit for sleep

It’ll be difficult                                         that you die
before you choose a grave                     fit for running
for flood swimming                                for dense reeds by irrigation channels
for bird snares                                         for the lettuce garden in the backyard

for old dry thatch                                    on mud roofs
for jujube shrubs                                     for climbing on trucks and holding on
to vegetable boxes                                   for the diffusion of secrets
loading and unloading                           in the big market

A grave fit for you                                    to see Jericho light up
through the windows                              as a neon garden
the refugee camps                                    by the marshes touch

A grave fit for you                                    to see Jericho’s convent toss
grass liquor our way                                fir for some arches
where oleander wilts                               near Bedouin tents

And their watchdogs                               will dig and dig
and dig and dig                                        and you won’t come


6


And the mules                                           in the junkyards
does anyone feed                                      their loneliness when they cry?

Or has anyone quenched                        their oneness or washed
their dead necks                                       or visited them to remember how
they blackened                                          in their sleep?

The mules the movie                               extras who fold their torsos
in the packed air                                       as lineage
floats on light                                            an icon
of wondrous dust                                     and riddles


7


And our neighbor                                    the one whose voice
fenced us with reeds                               all day and all night

She would forget                                      her rings in our hands
two boys                                                    who used to dance for her

Source: Poetry (November 2013).

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This poem originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Poetry magazine

November 2013
 Fady  Joudah

Biography

Fady Joudah is a Palestinian American physician, poet, and translator. The son of Palestinian refugees, poet Fady Joudah was born in Austin, Texas, and grew up in Libya and Saudi Arabia. He was educated at the University of Georgia, the Medical College of Georgia, and the University of Texas.

Joudah’s debut collection of poetry, The Earth in the Attic (2008), won the 2007 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition and was a . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, Time & Brevity, Youth, Love, Heartache & Loss, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Series/Sequence

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