In gratitude To my motherBernadette McGrath O’Rourke
How could this be?Up That frogs spew water from fictional noses and all I see is you? My eyes freeze the same scenes the Fuher must have seen so many years ago Frogs with noses of water and elephants with ivory tusksOver on alternating panels of blue, green, red and gold Canopies hanging gracefully on chains Latticed metal holding it all backthe East and West have collapsed into a tourist site How could this be?Body That since you left history has no gravity for me? The blood runs backwards in my veins The needle on my compass steadily and aimlessly flutters Earth runs directionless beneath my feet I sit in lobbies like this one Stamped with the irony of time I am told I am seeing what Alexander must have seen under the flamboyant Egyptian sun I retrace a gladiator’s footsteps And leaping into his cage Howl into an empty coliseum I breathlessly hunt Eric the Red Mock the mummy of Ramses and stand under Romeo and Juliet’s balcony cursing all of them for their vanity Unable to differentiate between history and fiction I stumble dutifully like a panicked Hajar weeping over the lost footsteps of prophets swaddle my son in tears drink imaginary waters and gaze numbly onto a gold covered kabah
What I do remember Is how I remember you now In a foreign city You never saw or cared about That has nothing And everything To do with you In a room thousands of others have slept in Where I have nothing and everything to do with others I remember how the skin scaled on your forearms The specks of yellow in your eyes Your voice on late September air Your warm smell under the covers in March And Your sigh An eagle A winged lion Ready to soar above the inane Your sigh Summarized the past better than any historian ever couldUpOverTheBodyThat’s where you told us to lingerI have been wingless too long, motherGrounded and magnetized by gravityA Believer in Events.UpOverMyBodyIs where history is waiting to be known and namedHow could this be?That hereWhere I know you never wereI miss you most?
o Your loss is like An empty hammock in fall Still swinging in the breeze With the memory of your body Arms hanging languidly Sustaining the sway The icy waters of a lake Blue and bottomless In early November Too early to receive the scars of skates Too late to receive the brown bodies of children Waiting for another season The trail of an airplane In a blue cloudless skyAbsence Flimsy and lasting Leaving behind an alphabet that makes no sense Ingested and chewed After the sound has gone
Rivers She watches the riverFlowing backwards and forwardsGreen, grey, purpleblue spirals of now A boy Bound in darkness Stone eyed Eyes wide open To greet the stench of errorA single gunshot The river ran through itBurning putrid across place Be it EuphratesA girl Or nameless water starved creeksCrouched in a corner All begin and end somewhereDry eyed Even Lethe, with all its blessings of forgetfulness, led to Hades.Eyes wide openTo greet the piercing of airThe river ran through it
Fish Eye The mood ring on her sister’s fingerThe bumble bee in her shoeHer grandmother’s comb digging the scalp of her tangled hairThe rusty nail through her footThe open legged fall on the red banana bikeThe heaviness on her chest under a weight she could not breakHer AngerWordless and flamboyantThe codfishSacrificed to prideDancing its rage against deathOn salt beaten woodShe reached out her fingerTouched its open eyeAnd pushedThe soft surrender of tissue to muscleThe prick of the gurgling bubble of privacyThe membrane of fish eye just under her nails
I woke upTo findThat everything was breakingFragments of dishes retuning to dust in the kitchenWater freezing itself on ceilings and floorsWindow panes cracking into sandWooden doors shredding and half openFor a minuteI was disassembledConsidered calling a plumberA carpenterA glassblowerAn exorcistA guru Falling in loveA philosopherA poetA prophetA childBut thenI crawled back into my placentaAnd watched my lover sleepingHis breath in fierce whirlwindsInside my womb
PiecesI once made a man ThenOut of pieces OneOf cloth. cold dayStitching him together When I had thrown him over shouldersOver long years He came undone.With threads of disillusionmentAnd needles of despair. Starting with one Simple threadA masterful artist HeI was. Unraveled Himself.Cross stitching And left meDouble crossing Uncloaked.And ignoring missed loops.So full of my masterFull of what he would beCould beIf I could wear him like a cloak
Raised spider veins Spindle outwards Under the surface of you Like leaves of a red maple Cracking under the autumnal touch of meExoskeleton Freckled biceps balled and hardening Under the surface of you Like full pouches in a fat hamsters mouth Tingling under the icicled taste of me Rise of bone in knees and elbows Intruding on symmetry Under the surface of you Like loose rocks in a mountain stream Roaring under the vernal whisper of me Inhaled breath Diffusing through chest Under the surface of you Like a maddened light loving moth Circling the midsummer shadow of me Vein Muscle Bone And breath Numb from seasons of desire In an exoskeleton worthy of worship
S(K)IN When I loved him he was a citrus, sometimes sweet as mandarin and sometimes as tangy as lemon, in shades of orange and yellow and greenish unhappiness, I once with a under layer of whitish words knew that I could peel a man who could lose his skin if I had patienceWhen I met him he was deep maroon,the color of ripe cherries,a small hard core and tangent fleshiness. But when I last saw him he had turned plum purple, seeping pulp from the centerBut when I trusted him, he turned an apricot yellow,translucent and gritty. I wonder what skin he now lives inside Now that the seasons of his country don’t change anymore And the harvest is delayed indefinitely?
Crystalline lover, liquid vowels have no effect on you, ter freezing into consonants clipped and claustrophobic when they areMat poured over you. Amorphous lover, fluid rhythms State of have no effect on you, vaporizing and trickling down your glass panes in rivulets of neglect. The fact of the matter is Stateless Lover that your matter In the state of this affair is What does it matter? stateless, unbound by the molecules of belonging ostracized into the atoms of an outcast. The matter to be stated is that your state is matterless, melting out of empires and kingdoms, scooped up with the spoons of scoundrels and condensed into a State of forgetfulness.
With silver slippers on hands and feet crawl the path of the moon on the water white jasmine buds in your pockets and loneliness tucked behind your earDiscrete No primary colors here all silvers and purples greys charcoals Discrete No need to keep reminding me of who we are no need for your history lessons and political treatises its only you and me in black and white crawling the path of the moon on water Do you hear the water under the glass? In a few hours it will be daylight and blues and greens reds and aquas Will assault us In this onslaught of daylight we will stand and Sink
Halfway up the stairs she pauses to feel the flesh that has replaced her Indented, vein marked and bruised Everything downward Her eyes wide open meet his panicked and forgiving face On a soundless winter night that engraved lines onto ice caked windowpanes His love took away her passion Without even a photographThe Fat Woman She asked him to leave She reaches the top of the stairswith Beautiful and peers into herself in the mirror Even her eyelids are fatHair and her Lovers Shuttered pinholes in skin Obscuring her vision Her feet motionless stumps in sand With an overwhelming beigeness surrounding her In the cool water of his anger And his love enough for the two of them She leftShe walks heavy and begrudging Equatorial moonSteps suspended between minutes Silent winter iceBetween motion and memory Desert dawnUp the stairs in the house she was born You have left no marks upon herHer body naked and motionless under an equatorial moon There is no mistaking itReceiving skin drawn over bone and muscle There it isShe feels his tears on her neck In the mirrorWith his words crumpled The defiant bounceShe asked him to leave She still has beautiful hair
Desert You camouflage me Your desire over mine Like a lizard burrowing Toward life in a dune Your voice over mine Like the slither of a snake A monotonous zigzag Your Faith over mine Like the scorching sun Demanding a chameleon to transform at will Now that I am camouflaged Do you care to seek me out?
After TasteThe warm wooly comfort of wineFestering on the side of your tongueThe morning afterA guilty loverWho dresses hurriedly before sunriseThe morning afterThe sticky leftoversClinging like death and surrenderThe morning afterThe wind over the desertStinging and caressing with grains and stoneThe morning afterSweat and blood and memoriesCollected in your bellybuttonThe morning afterAnd wordsWhispered and screamedEchoed and silentForever freedAnd never forgottenEven in the morning after
Do you remember that spring dayWhen we undid our love? PlacentasThe city wet with birthThe earth crawling under usAs snow and ice metamorphosed?At night we slept raw and desirelessNaked on the floorWhen my first son was bornA nervous nurse dropped the placenta on the floorAfter my soundless infantHad been liftedWhite and disinterestedFrom my bodyWhile I was paralyzed and speechless to reclaim itWhen my second son was bornI had plans to crush the placenta into powderAnd eat itBut a shocked attendant called me cannibalisticAnd righteously placed my placentaPurple and aliveIn a silver metal bowlWhen my third son was born For years you have come to me in my dreamsOn a rusted bed stained with the lament of war Holding back your hood as you placed an infant in a basket on the NileI tenderly guided out my placenta Leading sheep to slaughter in celebrationIts cord thick and hard Carrying frankincense and myrrh to cloak your intentionsAnd laid it on my stomach You with yoursThe silence with which it spoke And me with mineHas left me motionless ever since Terrified to see us before you
The Scent ofI put my nose in the nook of your neckThat private place between bone and voice a Boy on aAnd smellThe world you have brought into me SeptemberThe powder on the underside of a moth’s wingThe succulent white of freshly pulled grass oozingThe dense salty death in a water dog’s peltThenYou put your arms around my neck EveningLegs around my waistAnd hug meCompletelyYouFull of SeptemberYour tough little armsThin with muscle and sinewYour olive skin untainted by livingYour hair that smells only of airThe fine shell of your chestPressed against mePorcelain on glassYou are my placentaFragments of selfLost before youReturned in your arms
After the Children She can finally hear the voices of traffic outside the window And imagine other people in carsare Sleeping Men and women Their ringed fingers touching briefly on the spaces between their seats The house cracking under the weight of comfort The water dripping from the tap downstairs The dog barking next door The sound of fingernails on her scalp massaging away memory She can finally feel her body Reshaped by years of giving it to others Their legs around her waist and bums on hips Permanently redesigned her waistline Her body lets go of its duties Allows the tongues of words to kiss her goodnight To lick her eyelashes and the soft skin behind her knee joints In the language of her world and the now of her body Words and her in stillness Moving to the moans of sleeping children Laughter and whimpering The hiss of air through nostrils
Rashidieh In the evenings she visits the graveyards of martyrs Placing neat configurations of stones, Not flowers,On the roof TrianglesAfter midnight CirclesShe can see her wire-connected world clearly. SquaresAntennas, clotheslines, electrical wires The perfect geometry of deathA jungle of connectionsInside the barbed wire barriers And at nightSeparating past from present She sits on the roofHopes of a future Eyes traveling the antennasBuried alongside the living Patrolling the alleys below Barefoot childrenBefore midday she likes to journey underground Young man with permanent grease stains under their fingernailsTo her place of security playing dominoesA dark damp enclosure of blood, feces and snot Women with marks of childbirth and lossA memory now Taking in clothes from neighbors’ roofsConsciously brought into the presentLike the splash of a child jumping into a swimming pool Alone in her bed She finds herself.She brings her visitors here A body scarred but untouchedNurses from Denmark, doctors from France, journalists from Sweden Feet swollen from marchingEager to treat this malady Tongue thick from preachingOf homelessness and ennui Fingertips moist from their underground journeysShe proudly exhibits the blood stainsKnocks on the concrete When the generators are turned offAnd smells its memories on her finger tips Dominoes packed awayInto the evening And the whispers of men and women no longer creep down the olive vines,She tells the story of the 40 day siege She sneaks undergroundOf how rats were eaten in this very place Closes the hatch over herOut of desperation Until memory,She knows the story in three languages Her lover,And smiles as she tells the tale of terror to the doctors in despair. wakes her at sunrise.
ArdhaWhen he dancedHe erased historyCenturies of placesExile had etched on his bodyDissipatedWhen his limbsReclaimed their countryWhen he dancedHe erased my historyShadowsExcusesIdeologiesShyly slithered backward into my soulI held Herodotus in my handsAnd ripped out his pagesDigging my heels into his alphabetThen in silence I satWeaving the fabric of a foreign alphabetInto a sweater for my shattered spine
AgainChain Lightning A few seconds of brilliance before alliance and then invisibilityCold stone on forehead Such perfect symmetry of Dissolving and Becominghands balanced to form a triangle of faith Becoming and Dissolving(or is it practice?)And I remember the Sky My face reaches the sacred Stonethat night I smell the scent of Ibrahim his aged hands cracked from the desert shamalsthe murmurs of the Believers perfumed with the waters of Zam Zamand the smells of their eager bodies and the young Ismaelbehind me fingers soft brown and quickaround me smelling of garlic and onioncarrying the scents of India – dripping jasmine and coconut oil thensweat barely dried from their journeys up through Africa the sticky congealed smellacross Arabia of the sacrificestill wet on their upper lips not so long agocarrying with them small grains of sand in the creases between their toesthat ablution could not wash away and I remember that nightAnd I remember the light touch of Father’s tobacco-stained fingersthe purplish hews permanent orange traces on my lower backelectricity against moist landscape the coffee and cigarettes of his mouthevery droplet of fog suspended in a moment of arid lucidity open in wondermenthills of the forefront, usually green, sloping and defiant as we watchnow a backdrop, a purple mass of finger-paint the Sky togethereverything a backdrop forthe Sky And nowand the fine lines of silver Bodies Unknownone embracing the other §against mefor perfection I feel only their silver and purpledisintegrating as the other emerges as my lips are pressedin brilliance against The Kabaah
Expatriate Do not be afraid She is only a woman Too laden with memory With place and time To ever turn you towards herFrom across the beach Too burdened with ageShe feels the weight of your eyes And self deprecation To ever return your gazeYour gazeIs like the sting of salt water between her toes YetThe languid lapse of calves and thighs Under the promise of your averted eyesAs waves caress and retreat She is young againLike your eyes Emerging from the waves like a butterfly from a cocoon And with the twitch of her wingsYour back is stiff and ashamed you open your arms to the rainHalf turned toward her and half turned toward the eastHalf eager to turn aroundAnd face herNot eye on mouthNor eye on breastA voyeur’s glimpse full of regret and longingBut a full stareOf you into herShe hears your voice whisperingLike a shamal through the cracks of the Saudi desertEarth ripping open from withinSo deprived of moisture that it has cracked through the coreShe dives into the water to hear your voiceTo give to it her memoriesThe morning dew clinging to the oil paint of a clapboarded houseSalty residues of water on earth
Allow me to be sentimental and shower you with words Call me what you like A fool or a decaying idealist It’s all the same when the time is right What are you expecting this to be my dear? A sonnet, a haiku an ode Or the nothing that I love to write Maybe I’ll paint a picture for you of our shared memories in watercolor, chalk, or ink But that would get rather complex don’t you think? Since we both remember different things Don’t laugh at me now I’m being quite serious you know Don’t tell me your loins ache Or your member is misbehaving And I’ll promise to tell you the truth When I find it. So loveClash of Civilizations Are you preparing for the clash of civilizations? I suppose it’s necessary I have cold coffee, dry toast and some dynamite in my tote bag Dynamite to fend them off Dry toast should last a few days though it will be a bit burnt And cold coffee is thick and I never drink it You see I’m sentimental today So take it all I don’t need it I’ll just eat my philosophies
Expatriate part II The landscape of your country already knows me Its proud cliffs are imprinted With the footsteps of my childhood feet That have never touched them The volcanic springs are heavy with scents of my many repetitive deaths The underwater forests still resound with the echoes of my fears lost in their depths This landscape holds memories of me That I don’t have of myself I am wiped blank And recorded here like etchings on a wrinkled parchment, I am indecipherable
GrravityI sought you out on my bookshelves YouFingers lingering over the spines of books As soft as the pads on a newborn’s feetLooking for the one through which I could enter you Air blown from a saxophone Raindrops on a windowpaneI dreamt you into life Smoke from a pipeA fine boned child in a body of armor Strings on an oudA fine fingered musician dancing to the rhythms of war Drops of sweat on an upper lip Specks of yellow in the eyes of a catI envisioned you in my arms Foam on the crest of a waveYour eyes rolled back Soft moss on the underside of a boulderYour raw heart pumping blood into my open veins YouI sniffed your fears Who I entered at first sightAnd leaping over shadows of places and pasts And swam under your twin riversI pursued you and howled at the moon Holding my breath all the time Weeping by your monumentsYour senses electrocuted me Eating greedily from your orchards Worshipping in your desertsYou, so full of yourselves: Sleeping in your valleysWorms inside a rusted tin can UntilA school of fish darting here and there GravityA bundle of soft kittens sucking ForcedBlind mice in a nest MeLizard eggs OutPetals on a rose OfSpecks of dust in sunlight YourPatterned threads on cloth MouthA flock of geese flying in a V
I should have known Arabianever to love a man in exile Forgive meHe will reinvent you as his country I should have known my placeAnd carve his memory on your body Not struggled against the gravity of historyWithout mercy he will give you the names of his cities, villages, And the black hole of the present.childhood friends, loversThen he will curse your foreignness. Arabia Show mercyArabia And sleep in meMerciless lover My final exileWill you ever give me peace? for a woman fated to be exiledA woman who learned love in your men from exilePoetry in your miseryHope in your childrenFaith in your prophet?ArabiaI emerge from your mouthPack my lessons into suitcasesRealign my senses to what once was familiarAnd swear to rewrite the woman on these pages
Writing The drops fall panicky onto the back porch And the tar starts to glisten brighter than sunlight Somewhere the rumble of thunder begins Like the turning of a page of an old dusty book Soon it will come crashing at my window There is nothing to be done It will sweep in and send my papers scattering There is nothing to be done It will knock me to my knees and burst open my seams There is nothing to be done It will turn me over like a frying egg There is nothing to be done Once I believed the new born comfort in the eye of a suckling kitten as it drove its claws into its mother’s breast Was happiness Once I thought a slither of ice clinging like slime to a dying leaf was beauty Once I thought young hands clasped like knotted ropes on a crowded street was truth Now I don’t. Now I just open the window And with arms outstretched Invite my melancholy friend to carry me home
A Dying DuckNeither young nor oldStill and quiveringYou limp away from my outstretched handYour maimed bodyOnce limitless and weightlessNow lopsided and ruffledDragging itself toward solitudeI feel the hot burden of embarrassmentAnd turn my head awayLike I did when I saw my grandmother undressingAnd my mother dying
About the authorJacqueline O’Rourke has lived in Canada, Africa and theMiddle East. She has pursued various academic interestsand is completing a PhD in contemporary cultural theory.She has written poetry since childhood and findsinspiration in the interconnected worlds of art, music,mysticism and literature. She lives with her sons in Doha,Qatar. This is her first collection of poetry.