• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 07

SAP

'The walls have ears.'

I have heard this often enough, and it is how I have come to see the rough-hewn stonework and the intricate lattices that surround us — covered in hundreds of tiny ears, curls of curious flesh, lobes that hang in wait.

The walls have ears. And so we have to drift beyond the gates, through the meadows, on to the higher ground, where hares scurry through the scrub, where kestrels swoop down in pursuit of voles.

'They are unmistakable,' she tells me. 'You will know as soon as you see them. The flowers droop like bells, the berries are a brilliant green, the leaves are large and flat.'

I wish I shared her confidence but I nod.

'You can return early in the morning when it's safer. Be careful of the sap as you cut. A handful of berries and a bit of root will be enough. For now, I'll just show you what they look like.'

'Will she suffer?' I ask.

'Yes,' she says, with evident satisfaction. 'She'll probably become confused and distracted, maybe begin to sweat with fever. She'll want to hide from the sun and cower in a darkened room. There will be terrifying visions. Limb by limb, she will be struck down.'

She looks at me, as though expecting a response. But I have nothing to say. I have, after all, my own secrets to keep.

'She'll probably wail until she loses the use of her tongue too.'

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1

Glimpsed through the veil

Jag

'Safiya, I missed you,' you tell me. Tell me so easily. Your veil clasped in your hand as though freedom were something silken, to be taken on and off.

'I missed your smile,' my words catch in my own covering. But your smile grows, glows brighter than the sun, even through the haze of stifling sheer cloth spun fine as a spider's web.

Your other hand clasped over the hidden swell of your breasts, I feel you yearn for me, but I hold tight around myself.

Mustn't touch. Mustn't be seen. Mustn't let the veil drop.

Let me keep myself.

You talk fast, muffled words tripping over each other in your excitement. I pick out, 'escape,' 'run,' 'forever.'

Forever, forever, forever.

Do you even know what that means?

To be judged by eternity.

'But our families,' I say, 'we have responsibilities,' I protest, 'it is haram,' I plead, 'Allah would not understand,' my words scatter and fade as I do, 'it is not safe,' the sun scorches me to ashes on the ground, 'we mustn't…'

And your look of horror grows as you fall into my silence. Already I miss your smile, the sun disappearing behind clouds.

You reach out to lift my veil, too close, the smell of jasmine and memories of stolen kisses cut me open. Your lips brush my cheek and it burns.

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2

étude

'I kill it because it will not speak to me.’ - Jo Shapcott, Scorpion

Because I want to see its hands.
Show me your hands.
What have you got there then?
Figure this: every wind is the sea
Without the salt in it. Telling
You stay very still, do not
Struggle then static.

I have not existed for so long. Open
Your mouth and show me the surface
Of your tongue. Back of your throat. Sinews;
Muscle to bone. Figures
Do not move. Now how about this then?

3

Let the Document Show

Men and women, their hands
held fast, folded. One nation
to another, concealed,
disguised as ceremony, the sharing
of some great thing. And our burden
comes down to this: in the distance
water flows unbidden by land or moon,
mirroring the sounds of our mother
tongue. It runs the spine of slipped
plates collecting the sky. Do you hear it?
Yes, it is so close. And yet for centuries
now so out of reach.
4

Ripening

I don’t know who you are.
I look at you every morning,
I kiss when you let me,
I steal a hug when you are mellow.

I called you my sunshine
when you were little,
a smile that made my life worthwhile.
Is it because of me?
Have my burdens sunk into your heart?
Have I managed to teach you
how profound every day is
that you forgot to smile?
I wish I could take it back,
I wish I could sing with you
and dance in our living room,
swirl you around,
as I did when you held onto my skirt.

Maybe tomorrow
when you cradle another life
close to your heart,
you will become a child again
my serious daughter.

5

A Head of This

And in the only way it could,
makes me try. The way this adult does.
“Don't cry, my child, don't cry”.
Forewarned.
And see. And listen to, “I can't bear it.”
And I think. This. What is it, looking? At?
My shape? The indent of loss? Margin of great?
Now, it’s Spring.
And so my turn, just. I can't bear. Quite.
Sure, all this medicine, making me ill,
the way a thread is
pulled. Held so, snapped. Dismembered,
we are dissolving. I remembered that.
So in a way, away from all these whispers
sprung and swept aloft soft dew, I saw.
Ask me if I care?
I would be in.
I'm.
Last night
I dreamt of Lewis Hemp; forest man,
shifts in tone, for wolves chase,
my mother chaste
tripped over scrunched up words,
poked me with my shame, slaughtered
sounds to render new, b-o-l-s-c-h-e-d-up bro-
-ken foot.s.S.S. Boarded hopeless 'Brookes’.
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6

Sisterhood

Closer still, she kept her secret
Arms enfolded around an unseen heart
Its beat unheard by none
But herself

Loud to her ears, the steady drum
Pounded a rhythm recognising her fall
As she neared the abyss
And the stone-raised hand

Face veiled against accusing eyes
Three had spoken of her betrayal
And here was the fourth
With the crocodile smile

A sainted sister with an even darker
Secret, hypocrite of the faith
Deflecting the rocks
From her own glass house

7

Les femmes de Sourie, elles sourient

He sketched them quickly, quill scratching furiously on the page – drawing just the women, their clothing. Trying to capture that quality of grace.

He would add in the landscape later. An imaginary but typical piece of scenery would do it. No, what he needed to concentrate on were the two women standing before him: their poise, their robes, that gossamer veil.

They had agreed to pose for the foreigner that afternoon under the pulsing sun of Apamea, without really understanding his purpose, he was sure. Flattered, he imagined, by the intimation of beauty in the request.

Of course, the father of the younger one had to be persuaded with a few coins and, once he had returned satisfied to the group of men keeping watch nearby, the husband of the older one with a few coins more. The two women, he noticed, averted their gaze while these transactions took place, speaking to each other in lowered voices.

He felt he ought to explain himself to these women, his women of Syria. To sow within them an idea of what he hoped his picture would show those who would leaf through his books, in libraries a thousand miles west. But he had tried too many times, in too many broken and mangled sentences, to explain his project. Too many times he had failed to convey his vision, stymied by his reliance on a tongue that never could wrap itself around the sounds and syllables of these corners of the Earth.

So he simply asked, with gestures and signs and paid off their men. He bowed deeply to the women, to show his gratitude. He hoped they understood. When he showed them the sketch, they smiled.

He would add the colours later, from memory. Sun-rich, jewel-like, regal. The damned paint box was inadequate. He spent three hours mixing indigo and violet until he was satisfied.

8

Ottile

August 20, 1893

My dear mother Josephine,

I write you today in all good hopes of your good health and happy temperament. The weather has been mild and fine, and early-season troubles with the natives have given way to what looks like a bounty. There is quite a bit of hustle and bustle, imagine it!, with the movement of almost a million plants to the fields all the Leggett boys had a hand in the work.

The children are growing like tobacco themselves – tall and hale striplings under the care and attentions of our negress Jenny Lee. We’ll be pegging four of the boys to the military academy soon, and little Kenneth will stay here with me one more season. The children are doing quite well at their and letters.

Louis has imported a Javanese man, of Sumatra, who has brought with him some interesting methods to the crop. He says, “wheat may be wheat the whole world over, and bake a bread just the same in any place, but tobacco is as native as you and I and must be respected as the mayor of any great land.” His first command as overseer was to cease the rotation of indigo crops. Louis agreed immediately, and they are always in thick consult in the offices.

But that reminds me that I and Louis are a different flavor from the natives. I see it in the way my children have bonded to this land and this people in ways beyond my grasp. The games they play, the language at the dinner table, the quickness to forget prayers at vespers. I see it in this Sumatran, who became one with the soil with his first bootprint. I sense it in the way the negress looks through me when speaking with me, and how her buck is quick to leave when I approach the pantry.

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9

Meeting At Tartus

You have returned, my sister, from forbidden lands
where you have driven men to hell
with temptations beyond imagining.

You have remained, my sister, in a walled land
where men have driven you to hell
with binding beyond humanity.

You have gifts for me?
Before we part and never speak again.

I have freedom in my pocket.
And a pretty yellow scarf I bought
with my own coin.
It makes it all the sweeter
for it comes from my sweat alone
and it is my labor I give to you
as well as cloth.

I have safety behind my veil.
And a pretty mystery that I was given
by the one who I rely on.
Whose gaze is all the sweeter because
no other sees my charms or my tears.
What need have I of freedom?
But I will take the scarf.

We part forever, my sister.

Which of us, I wonder, has chosen better?

10

The Genie out of the Bottle

He took the shape of a cloud and hovered over her head. Her veiled face struggled to hide blank features. I wanted to drag her to my body, to feel her substance and know that she still lived. The cloud changed shape, cumulus arms emerged, gathering her essence, pulling it through the top of her head. Before I blinked a puddle of clothing lay in front of me; a royal blue swirl rippled with red and lavender. The sleeves remained folded as though her hands still clutched each other. On top lay the veil and the mirage of blinking eyes.
11

A bunch of chaos

Chaos 1:
When the gloomy sunlight
Falls upon the broken shadows
My heart unleashes its madness
And I become a prayer
Lying flat like an open highway…

Chaos2:
I’ve known what this huge outcry means to the crowd
‘Coz it rapes a thousand miles of silence
‘Coz it plagiarizes a rendezvous of doubts
‘Coz it merges with U and it merges with me
In this virtual world of broken agony
U become a link yourself
To link with a thousand links…

Chaos3:
The smoke rings that smell like sounds
The quantums of my thoughts that break like thunderstorms
With dewdrops of silence that unbreaks U of my heart
Memory becomes a revealing with mighty shrieks

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12

Bee Line

It's the stings - they send me
straight into anaphylactic shock, dear,

that's why I always cover up in virgin blue
and narcotic pink, a colour combination

sure as honey's a cure-all, to distance the bees.
The pointy hat and black mourning veil?

an heirloom, passed from mother to daughter
down six generations. Oh, yes, the bees -

the same line my dear, or so I'm told,
since Noah's flood. Do you hear their hum?

A hum they've perfected in their bee tree
for as long as it has stood, this sycamore,

its roots in Dickbrook and its head
swathed in a pure neonicotinoid cloud.

13

Open Up

"'Open up'
'It's not for me to-'
'The hidden is always revealed!'
'We can wipe it clean?'
'We can wipe it.'
'I can't'
'It's not for you to-'
'Then speak to him!'
'Can I?'
'You can through me.'
'I killed my son, but no one saw. Not one.'
'Where is he?'
'He's not here!'
'But where is he bu-'
'He is not'"
14

The Sixth Day

“Are we on the same page?”

Maybe it was the purple that led her to think that the woman was a kindred spirit, or perhaps it was the sparkle she caught through a chink in the netting that covered her face – the presence of another who was awake and here, right here, right now.

The woman both smiled and shrugged her shoulders. Then gestured at her veiled face, smiled some more, and continued on her way.

The next day, again, they crossed paths.

“We must stop meeting like this!”

Again, the smiling, a gesture to the sun – eyes rolled upwards. “Ah, yes – it is beautiful, a beautiful day.”

This brought more nodding and smiling, and they stood there, outside, under the warmth of the beautiful sun. A peaceful moment spent together, before they smiled at each other, and continued on their separate ways.

The third day, though she meandered as slowly as she could, the woman never appeared, and she felt sad and anxious. Her planned words lay unspoken in her head, and she began to lose the carefully composed questions she had wanted to ask.

The fourth day, there was a curfew and it was not safe to go out.

The fifth day, the smoke from the burnt out cars sat in the air, soldiers with guns loitered around the streets; she did not linger, nor see the woman.

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15

Journey to a New Land

Two ladies had a lengthy chat about plants as
they journied to a new land. They discussed different
remedies as they walked. The townfolk need more medicine
and certain berries could only be found in the early morning.
Everyone in town had been looking for this Syrian plant.
The roots were also needed to make their top secret potion. Roots were also needed, but not too many.
This plant had to keep surviving and they were
the only two ladies that found it every year.
The journey ended when a bag of berries
were found.
The secret was in the bag.
16

A Death in the Family

Sometimes it helps to learn
a relative has died
a close relative you haven’t

seen in years and didn’t plan
to see again because
you haven’t talked in years

and wouldn’t talk again unless
you met in heaven or perhaps in hell
and God or Satan said

it’s too late now to harbor hate
why not shake hands -
and that may happen yet

if the two of you should soar
beyond the clouds or
plummet to the coals

and find yourselves together
in the same place forever.
The two of you always knew

where the other one would go
and too late now you both
may be surprised.

17

The Reflection of Reincarnation

A little Girl in India was born with a special gift of discernment. At 5 years old she would tell her parents things that happened before she was born, knowing the specifics. Her mother asked how was she able to do such a thing. She said mommy when I go to sleep my twin sister talks to me the one that died when you were in labor! The mother started to cry, saying, I was never pregnant with twins! The little girl replied, saying I'm the reincarnation of the thoughts you had when I was born. You're the Reflection of Reincarnation making us sisters in a lost atmosphere. It's been 200 years since our last meeting. I'm now pregnant! At the end it's all a dream! Closed Eyes create fantasy stories.
18

INDESTRUCTIBLE

Two women in darkened robes,
Standing contrast, against the lightness of azure blue and white-plumed sky.
Heavily swathed, in cloaked identity.
One, with matching closed posture – to protect.
Protect against what?
…..The sun?......Men?....Each other?.....Life?......

Relaxed and carefree showing,
And display of body or beauty - strictly forbidden!
Her Soul even shrinks, as she is bound by heavy robes,
And bound by life-long, male dominated, religious ideology.
Eons of suppression, make it difficult for her to fully embody herself,
Or to stand up tall.

She dare not open. She dare not display.

Their secret rendezvous, the only solace and partial freedom,
In this war-torn place of desolation and fearful hiding.

The other – a little less rigid and fearful,
Dares to partially remove the golden-garb, that has hidden her face –
Adorning her with such great heat and restriction.
And, as she removes it - she b-r-e-a-t-h-e-s- freedom;
Even as the stifling air brings little relief, and negligible breeze.

Stolen moments, to kindle,
A forbidden friendship;
Which is the only sanity, amidst the daily terror, carnage and suppression.

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19

Deer

We are also getting used to living in the margins,
being gnawed at by an anxiety we have no name for,

governed by atavistic programming based on your
suburbs still being pasture, your wheatfields forests.

We’re not unlike you; we’re frequently dazzled by something bright
hurtling our way in the darkness; then we’re just another

part of the wreckage. Unusual hungers, ones you don’t
all understand, have forced us out of the shadows and

into the open, into pockets on the edge of your cities, parks,
roadside verges. It amazes you, doesn’t it, seeing us there?

Just imagine us with hands instead of hooves, with
hydrocarbons, fire. Picture us gripping the wheel.

20

the hunters

It was by chance I stumbled into this valley protected as it was
by thorny bushes poisonous snakes and scorpions a sting from them
and you had five minutes to scan the sky looking for an answer
Intrepid is my name and my dog's name is fearless.
Tired and battle scared we came down to the well and drank till
we needed water no more.
We met a 60 year-old camel a survivor of a circus I put my dog
between the camel's humps to scan the landscape.
I swam in the pond among amorous crocodiles till the dog barked
and morally reminded me I was a human.
How happy we were back then thought we had found blessedness
until a shot was fired and the came collapsed blood coming out of
its nostril running into the lake and forever it was polluted
This the last explored place for hunters had been breach by a tractor
the Portuguese hunters hated us, I picked up the dog and us
found our way back to the main roads finding another valley was
Not easy but we had to try… perhaps Spain it is not like Portugal
with inbred people who love killing things.
But my dog was not well I carried it home gave it water and it did
not want to eat, in the morning it was dead in my arms I think
looking for bliss became too much for her tender heart.
21

The Cost of Freedom

I pulled my hood up, as the Syrian desert wind whipped against my face. Two days passed with a few pieces of bread left, and very little water to spare.

“Sister, drink,” I insisted, and handed her the bottle.

Mahima hadn’t spoken since her husband died fighting for our cause; freedom. He was captured, tortured and his body burned unrecognizable. He was dropped in front of their house to show what happened to those who disobeyed. My sister was only able to identify him by his wedding ring. After hysterics, she went into a state of shock. As I watched her suffer, I was grateful I never married, and knew it was time for us to leave. I overheard a man in the street market talking about a boat heading for Europe. I eavesdropped carefully without drawing attention. I knew that was our only way out. We packed nothing and left with the clothes we had on, to avoid suspicion. I hid some bread and two bottles of water under my garments.

“We’re almost there,” I said huffing, the sun burning through my sandals. I felt sweat pouring down the nape of my neck. “Let’s rest a while, I said.”

“Remember when we were children and father used to take us to the market to buy fruit. He’d let us pick the biggest grapes and we’d eat some on the way home. He’d always say don’t tell your mother, but she knew when she saw some of the empty grape vines.” I caught a hint of a smile on Mahima’s face. She was my younger sister and all the family I had left. I was going to protect her no matter what. I valued education, which is why I didn’t marry, but the school I taught in was burned down by extremists and there wasn’t money to rebuild. Being the only family of Mahima, her husband was kind enough to provide me with an allowance, to live in a decent house, and have food on the table.

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22

Well Met

'By Toth, we've travelled far together, Elizabeth. This land is our teacher.
Thinkest thou that we were lost
before the clouds changed and sent us
due East over the mountains?'

'My child you were always a seeker
having lost both of your parents-
I became your legal guardian-
it has always been an absolute delight-
I have never thought you lost-
your way has been clear to me.
The words of the scriptures always guided me in your upbringing.
You were never flippant nor immature.

Thank you, Mother Superior,
your example is glorious,
and radiates good will.

23

Ancient Writ

There we were
talking of how our

head gear created
too much heat
how we loved
to gather fruit
from trees in distant
lands

When a banner appeared
in the sky
spelling words we did
not know,
some heavenly message,
a command? A reprimand?

Damn, we thought,
why didn't we pay
more attention
in grammar school?

24

Segue

It's impossible to write this without using pronouns, so I won't even try to be clever like that.
Are they content, or is something brewing? I'm tricked again. Am I? Why can't people just say what they mean. Ditch the social bullshit. Civility is overrated. One looks suspect of the other. With reason. That 'smile' is out of a tin.
The back of my throat scratches.
Cough.
Wonder if it's the cancer.
Cough.
It could be. And then...
Who would sift through? Take my child? Wish it had been different.
Wonder what the inside feels like.
Purple,
Soft.
Sleeping.
Like going home.
Or is there a gun in there?
You - tell - me.
25

Syrian women

We meet on the path from sea to sky
both clothed in shades of nimble violets
that clamber rocks, or bluebells nodding
to the clouds, no voice to ring our words.

Morning sunshine cloaks my hair and face
but hers is hazed, as if a sea fret
stumbles in, steals features away.
She may be my grandmother, daughter

a thread of women through years gone by
and those to come. My heart beats in my hand,
fast as the mountain hare; her arms bar
her chest, eyes cast down like stones.

This silken yarn unwinds and twines us close
as hands that gathered berries to dye the cloth.
Our eyes, damson black, watch history
bleed into the warp and weft of time.

26

In the blue

We could be in some foreign land. The earth beats. The soil is warm. The sky is scraped blue, artificially natural. The clouds billow, hand-drawn. You wriggle and stretch next to me. I don’t look at you. I keep looking up.

An insect is ticking somewhere like an annoying clock. I want to wave my hand and scare him away, watch him take flight, climbing, climbing over the garden. But I gave up the right to move long ago. I sigh inside.

A plane flies over and I think, there are people in there, just like us. There are people ordering food and flicking through magazines and using the toilet. But I cannot really believe it. We both know it isn’t really true, it couldn’t possibly be. The world ends a few feet above our heads, above our feet and everything in between. We are in sphere of breathing, an invisible snow globe of life, or non-life.

I remember, trying not to shake, how it was before. Springtime. We were vibrant, we leapt around. The trees were pregnant with blossom, swelling, exploding all around us. It slid down our cheeks and brushed our lips. The evenings, oh, the evenings, with the sky striped orange and cream. The midges would dance, and the fireflies would come. We would be punished for this, I knew. For being this happy. It couldn’t come without a price.

You yawn. I am annoyed with you for daring. I ignore you.

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27

HUMANITY MANIFESTS

When first they met on a hilly path, they were each a stranger to the other, dull of prejudices, indoctrination, and traditional taboos. They passed each other without taking a breath, afraid that their persons might be in some way polluted by the exhalation of their counterpart.

On the third such intersection, the skies opened: admitting such a deluge it could only have been the will of Allah, Ishtar, Vishnu and whatever else entity was feeling the need for discourse between their people.

They had to seek shelter underneath the same foliage, spreading veils and outer layers of clothing between branches to keep dry, but never quite looking at each other, ashamed of the slivers of flesh which peeked through the reduced barrier clothing.

Being human, they could not prevent eyes glancing just far enough in the direction of each other for the peripheral vision to notice this and pick up glimpses of features which, rather than being terribly alien, reminded them of fond family and friends.

But they shied away from such thoughts and sat in silence, praying for their gods to still the rain, almost tearing the clothing which composed the makeshift shelter when the stormclouds passed: so eager were they to escape.

This was the tenth time they had shared this mountain path, one heading south, the other north east. This was the first time they stopped, each recognizing the jigsaw of features they had unconsciously built up in their minds of the other: even through the veil.

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28

Shells

On the coast near where the ancient city of Ugarit once stood they use murex shells to make purple dyes. The violet cloths they colour are expensive and so I am wrapped in them from head to foot so others will know how much my husband is worth. Such a vivid colour. Yet, I am not complaining, I like being swathed in vibrancy. Some call this colour Royal Purple and I can understand why Sultans would choose it, as it is indeed rich. It seems strange that it should be made from the homes of Sea Snails, as they are so inconsequential a creature.

My husband smiles when he looks upon me. I reflect back on him well. His pride pleases me, even if sometimes the darkness of the hue draws the heat to it and leaves me perspiring underneath. It is a consequence of which he must be aware as he often wears the same coloured cloth himself. Yet it is important to him that I look the part, so that if ever I am seen those watching will know I am the wife of a man of relative power and wealth.

When I am alone I sometimes hold the silk up to the light and let the amethyst glow fall upon my face. It is as though I have drawn a veil over the world and everything is now only shades of purple. Such whimsy will soon have to be put aside as I am expecting my first child. I pray every day for a boy so I can honour my husband with a gift as valuable as those he presents to me.

29

Lavender Robes

We emerged from the hidden
world of ancient customs,
making our way on the dust
trails, from the mountains
of promise, through valleys
of untold disaster,
wrapping ourselves in protective
lavender robes,
we traveled as far as we could
before modernity killed us.
30

fjord, un-strange this

the emulsification process, a scalping gesture,
quicker than skinning charred eggplants,
an erasure of self to become pair

adduct: parallel lines never meet
"how much of myself do i have

to lose to keep you found?"

it takes at least three years for an oyster
to harvest a pearl, arbitrary bits of sand
irritation or protection? the distance
between sailing ships and ones on shore,
the variance — only a slice of saffron

disarm this, a narrow inlet between two sea
cliffs, a single rapid gesture — ribbons around
bombs — lost cities breathe in living throats

abduct: perpendicular
lines only meet once
"what if where i am
is what i need?"

when sundials fail, rely
on pendulums for accuracy

31

Gilded Illumination

Haven’t we met here before? …

at the foot
of the path

with the peak
in the distance

Haven’t we danced this clouded sky? …

with the white
wisps of smoke

at the edge
of blue crystal

Haven’t we traded God for earth? …

with our feet
firmly planted

and our heads
shielded from source

32

Space age

Only connect! I'm certain of that,
Two sisters have met, what need for retreat?
Why should this grid create distance between us,
Thin fabric a symbol of space?
My smile can seep through that mesh.

---------------------------

Her eyes scrape at the distance between us
Dig through the gap
Grab at my veil.
Guarded herself, she leans away
Sending her gaze to invade.

33

Across The Divide

I grew up in Aleppo,
Married and moved here.
Bore five sons and buried 3
Pestilence, war and greed.
A mother's lot.
And you?
Tell me about you.
I live across the sea,
The wife of a trader,
This time I travelled with him.
He is always gone so long,
On his trips.
My children, all six,
Dead and buried,
Two at birth, two at sea,
And two killed by the arrows of the enemies.
Nothing left for me but memories
I would not let my husband leave me there.
Mothers' lament.
Pain at the birth and pain at the death,
You live here,
I live there,
Your pain, my pain
We share.
34

A Leap and a Push

I’ve lived for hours
where our little known spring napped.

I summoned the summer
in a small voice:

‘Help me!’,
offered into a mirror.

If I survived my wildlife encounter,
and all the things one does
when setting up, I am proud.

I want: I have.
I'm not just about trying.

I've lived in the wilderness,
enjoying the steaming sunset.

Don’t get me wrong: this is not a story.
This is my life.

Here in the valley of veils,
I made a robe of my life
and cast it upon your shoulders.

35

The Conversation

They hurried along with gritty determination.
A giant, his wife, a boy with a cow, a cat
wearing boots, an ill-humoured mother, trolls
and goats, a white rabbit, or possibly a hare,
followed by an old woman wearing a grey veil.
It draped the entirety of her head to foot.

We nodded and exchanged a pleasant morning.
“I fear,” she said, “my imagination has gone
its own way with me.” Such a familiar voice,
I thought, and had I listened when I spoke,
rather than speaking without listening,
I might have recognised her voice as my own.

36

Rebus

Page 257 has been sundered from an unknown codex. It has the appearance of a frontispiece, but clearly its pagination refutes this. One must presume that the illustration is central to the reason this recto has been removed, therefore focus must be brought to the image. That it has been severed from the spine and the rest of the book suggests that this image is a contemplative aid. A single leafed vade mecum. Be it for religious communion, chivalric union, or onanistic adoration. However, the near pristine condition of the folio means that it has not been repeatedly folded and secreted about the person as such private passions would enjoin. That the page exists in isolation from its hosting tome is an act of theft, therefore precluding any religious inspiration as a motive, unless somehow this image was perceived to be heretical. While it does have the superficial echo of the diabolic Tarot Card aesthetic, this particular image accords to no recognisable Arcana, major or minor. The veiled woman could be indicative of the modest unwed, or invoking some symbology around a beekeeper. The Middle Eastern head raiment of the other figure may make this an allusion to Jacob being tricked by the veiled Leah (as he himself had tricked his blind father by aping hairy Esau). But then as is the wont of more modern art, we are stopped up short by the gainsay of the text, limited as it is in this case, attached to the image. Firstly there is the proclamation of this being ‘of’ or ‘from’ Asia, which while not ruling out the Middle East setting, cuts against the stylistic grain of this being of definitively European draftsmanship. One might hazard it being of German origin, only for the ribboned motif being in French. And what a message it betokens, “the smile”. is this the wry, ironic smile of someone who is here playing a joke on us? What is the significance of this being figure number 113, equating to one image every second page or thereabouts? Is there in fact no significance to any of this at all? What is on the reverse, what does page 258 show us and why cannot we see it? I credit that there is no page 258 just as there are no pages 1-256. Read more >
37

Mistranslation

It may be a sigh; I don’t remember
grief’s language, its conjugations
losing me at their endings.

It may be a veil to hide the eyes
of an apiarist’s deep-sea inventory
of bees swimming through thick air.

It may be a book, a sarcophagus
strewn with roses, blood on thorns
from thumbs that have stained pages.

And you may say it’s easy, because it is,
to colour within lines, suggest conclusions,
and seal mouths shut where hands are hidden.

38

Femmes de Sourie

Syria’s heart is broken
like a glass
that was once filled
with fragrant tea
now shattered
its shards scattered
sharp, jagged refugees
mourned by the muted tears
that moisten the hijab
of the Femmes de Sourie
mothers, wives and daughters
hiding their beauty
intelligence and fragility
and the sharp shards
of their broken hearts
39

King And His Knave

King and his Knave
confabulate in secrecy
spurred by the azure skies
No one is listening he whispers
one of them
The battle is on the King declares
You will be my trusted lieutenant
the Pyramids will shudder
the walls will echo the sound of gun
and artillery
We will win.
Who will live forever?
the victor or the vanquished?
The King and his Knave confabulate
against the backdrop of a sky wishing
that thunder would end the war.
40

Our Different Selves

I could have been great. I that was small. I could have been big. I that was dreaming. But, you told me that dreams were for the dead and being dead is a sin. I hovered not too far just to cower before you again.

I could have loved. I that was loving. I could have kissed. I that loved all that. I could have smiled but you told me that my love is an abomination and going after it is illegal.

You, you told me many differing things about me. You made me dream your dreams laughing even when they were nightmares. You made me swallow vomits, did I not tell you that it looks like hanging myself with my handmade noose? I am still listening!

We walked that grassy path last night again together hoping that that differing beings of ours be reconciled. So, I let you unveil me while I pierced my eyes into yours trying to unveil doubts of identity; who we are and what we will never be.

41

Smile

Their complicity defeats the eunuch
who is waiting while they take the air;
wife number one can be sure
she’ll not be needed
(she is bleeding),
and wife number two
performed yesterday.
The master was satisfied;
she told a good tale.

They confer about the knife;
should wife number one slip it
into the fold of her sleeve,
or will wife number two
smuggle it back in her shoe,
risking discovery in the harem?
It is, they think, almost inevitable
that they won’t get away with it,
but it’s a good story to bequeath.

42

Veiled

It cannot be heard, it cannot be touched and neither can it be seen,

It lies there, silent as ever, yet augmenting in its sheen.

Odious as a demon, it casts a shadow over my achievements,

A regular visitor of all seasons, it hardly leaves scope for treatments.

Stripping down my ability to remember,

Whether I lie awake or lay in slumber.

Through years, months, weeks, days and hours,

While I clasp and grapple, it changes its covers.

It lies there increasing in its degree,

I wonder if it will ever set me free.....

43

Friend or Foe

Little did she realise she was about to be deceived by a man who was a friend of her father's . She shyly listened to him as he charmed his way into her mind. He soon took over her thoughts and any power of reasoning she possessed soon vanished completely.
Had her Mother not warned her of men who made idle promises that would be her downfall?
She liked him, she wanted to believe he was genuine and could be
trusted. Any friend of her Father's would be true to his word she half convinced herself.
He promised her riches, a beautiful home , jewels and fine clothes.
He reached inside his cloak for a picture of his mansion and rich extravagant living. But he never produced this picture. The picture was already in the girl's mind.
She was hooked and he led her away down the winding path across the terrain and up between the mountains.
She would become a slave and forced to lead a life of bondage and cruelty.
Why didn't she heed her Mother's words of wisdom?
44

It was my time.

It was her time, she thought, unbothered, a bright star sparked in the night sky. The valley of violet crystals was there in her eyes with a green pie smile. She sat on a chair imagining things, she said, “save me from you”. Blue is not that far from green and to be not seen is not that easy nowadays. An age where everyone is visible, even a recluse is online.

There was a time when bookshelves gathered dust; mail order catalogues looked forward to, her next purchase will be the book on Hockney. But all gone now, given away, to fill some others table or book stand, pages turned perhaps once in a while.

For everything has four dimensions, length, width, breadth and duration. Some things last longer than others, that tree in passing seems serene enough, still, at peace, inactive, but I’m guessing it’s seen so much including Cromwell's men with barrels of gunpowder and courting couples kissing. In its bark carved their names with the usual misspelling. Another mark made reads – it was my time.

45

Syria as pictured

The West meets the East here
In this visual strange.
Or, rather an imagining West picturing the imagined East.

A French cartographer-engineer-soldier is on the hunt for the depiction of the Other.
His Descriptions of the Universe contains synopses of the varied cultures
As per the prevailing European perceptions
This illustration is now vintage-400.

Under an open sky two women stand, one veiled, another head-covered
A hand obscured by the rich robe; another pair folded up.
Eyes locked together
Something un-said hovering in the air.

Hills
Winding pathways
Plain verdant
Clouds gossamer
Two shrouded figures
Plump and perhaps, bit fair
---Maybe a caricature of the original French women---
In a mood to converse
In an exotic place--- uninhabited
Two unescorted females
That is so rare!

Read more >

46

Beneath the ornaments

I'd worn a crown of thorns
and once, a cloth of silk.
I concealed the ripped and torn
and hid what tears I'd spilled.
For nothing was so weak, they said,
than to look with our true face.
To show our flesh, reveal our eyes
and act in our true ways.
They were men of valour
(or so I had presumed)
fearless and illustrious
in their hearty aptitudes.
But once I caught a glimpse.
I assure you, it was enough.
I unveiled my eye to catch a breeze
when the heat had been too much.
I saw their commander leaning
as though he had to pose.
Glowing brightly in the summer sun.
Immaculate from heel to nose.
But behind him there, barely to be seen,
a mendicant in rags; with eyes as though they'd never slept
but maybe once had dreams.
This man of ruin, this beggar here,
he pulled sharply on the fine commanders robes
and all at once, it was revealed, the man was only clothes.
The commandant, he flung around and fed the beggar man his hilt.
Read more >
47

it is now or never

talk it out
the battle's won or lost
war with words, armoury
and all. clash swords, skies are
opening into sanguinary battle
or it mere prattle?
what is the secret?
this confabulation so serious?
is it my surmise
that this is all a surprise?
the way of the world is
not entirely gold
come king pins
and lynch pins
do not waver
it is now or never!
48

Decisions

        Noor
        and Zayn
        eye the world.
        Noor holds her veil
        in her hand, but Zayn’s
        face is covered. An old
        tale: half the world rules, ‘Woman,
        veil yourself’: the other half rules,
        ‘Unveil.’They will comply with customs'
        dictates, that turn religious metaphor

        into a cultural imprisonment,
        but veil a more important issue.
        When will they be permitted
        to make their own decisions?
        I’m blessed, my sisters: I
        don’t have to choose, but
        feel for your plight.
        Good wishes,
        Noor and
        Zayn.

49

Natureville

“I like your costume”
“I like yours, too.”
“What are you supposed to be?”
“A beekeeper again.”
“Right. I can see that.”
“Thank you and your dressed as your Aunt Sadie again. You look just like her.”
“Thank you.”
“Want to go trick or treating now?”
“Let’s wait until dark so no one we know sees us wearing these shmates.”
“Think we’ll get a lot of candy?”
“I’m starting to itch.”
“I know how you feel. Aunt Sadie never washes her outfit.”
“Then why did you wear the same outfit again this year?’
“Why did you wear bee keeper again?”
“I hope we get a couple of Mars bars at least.”
“Last year it was lots of tofu and figs.”
“The problem is the neighborhood our parents drop us off in.”
“Natureville, what a name for a subdivision.”
“Next year it’s either Hostessland or Candyvilla or I’m not going.”
“Same here.”
50

LOOKING IN, or LOOKING OUT

It depends which way you’re looking.
You see, if you’re looking in, and your country is a different country from our country, then you might say we are foreigners. But you would be wrong. Because we, looking out, are women of the world and natives of this country, Syria. Our world is a few hundred years removed from yours, certainly, but we are women and we are of the world. Our world. And now, because you are looking in, it could become your world. What do you make of us, we wonder?
What do you see? Feel? Think?
Be honest. We want to know.
See how we’ve turned our ears, one each, towards you.
So, tell us.

One of you is wearing something that makes me wonder if you tend bees? Or perhaps it protects you from desert insects? Mosquitoes? Or are you a religious elder? Perhaps you’re instructing the other woman who isn’t wearing a face-covering?

You’re curious. We like that. And you’re asking questions, not jumping to conclusions. We like that, too. My headdress isn’t to protect me from bees, but your intuition must be strong because our houses, at least those in the northwest of the country where we come from, are made of mud and they look like beehives. We are travelling from our village on pilgrimage. We’re going to the Great Mosque of Aleppo in the north of the country.
Why are you crying?

Because, in my time, now, the twenty-first century, looking in, I must tell you that the minaret at that mosque has been destroyed.

Read more >

51

The Page

The torn page of a book -
The book she gave him for his birthday -
an ancient tome he hugged and slept,
the book that saw his night-time fears -
episodes of sleep paralysis, REM moments, nightmares, images creeping up from the subconscious;

The page was all she could salvage from his fire-eaten home,
it was lying amid charred remains of many other books, some vinyl records, an old gramophone,
antique furniture he collected from across the country,
shreds of replica Van Gogh and Edvard Munch and Marc Chagall,
boring household utilities - what use were they now? -
that page she picked up, before the officer asked her if she knew the man lying dead on the burnt bed.

The page knew more about him that she ever would.

52

Picture of Two Veiled Women

I see no walls
only the sky resting
on the lip of the horizon
and the two of you, standing,
not in a garden
but in some brush waste--
and I know this is all
careful illusion.
No need for walls
when you carry your prison
on your body,
those heavy robes, layer
on layer of rich fabric
sealing you in
covering your face
confining you
in a dark swelter--
where even your hands
are silenced,
muffled in thick
folds of cloth.
And though your sister
has removed her veil
she holds it ready
to replace as soon
as your brief moment
of conversation ends.
What can you say
to each other?
Read more >
53

Lamentation

“I had it right here. In the fold of my robes. It must have fallen. I won’t be a minute. I can get another.”
        “Another what?” she asked.
        Another rose. Another rose from my garden. It was so beautiful. For you.”
        “But the king will return. Nevermind the rose. What is it you want to tell me?”
        “I can’t do it without the rose. Just give me time to run back to the garden. I need to say the words with the rose.”
        “I don’t have all day. The king will be back any minute now. Can’t you just say it? I can pretend you have the rose. I can imagine the rose is there.”
        “It’s not the same. It’s just not the same. Ohhh, why did I drop the rose?” He wrung his hands and looked toward the path.
        “What’s the big deal? Just tell me! I don’t want the rose. I want you to tell me what you were going to tell me!”
        “I just can’t. Not without the rose. I had it all planned.”
        She took his face in her hands.
        “My darling. We do not have time for you to go to the garden. The king will be back any minute. I am here. Now, if you have something to tell me, then you should tell me, lest your chance be withered away by some unfortunate circumstance regarding a rose that I do not care to have.”
        “So you don’t want the rose?”
        “No.”
        He reached inside the robe where the rose used to be. His hand still searching, searching, searching.
        She crossed her arms. “Well?”
        He opened his mouth, but no words came out. “I’m sorry. I need the rose. I need to say this with the rose. I had it all planned out.”
Read more >
54

day of deluge

as blue & green clash
in cocktail beauty you
& I both now know
that enclosure has passed

full is perfect
less is less favourable
more would be wonderful but
it cannot be contained here

decadence, is it? I
don't quite think so it's
more ironic probably & easy to
confuse with another similar idea

tales of the east say they
have not felt this but the
french are passed & another
said that that was a lie

but we'll curse this land &
leave here at once for the
prophecies shout it as
loud as could be

passed less, full, perfect
passed more, more, more
passed you, me, al
l passed x, y, z

55

Not distant, small

The gift I bring
is not this shawl
to match your leopard face -
through you may take it -
but a word: you grow too thin.

Where you are going
women cannot hide -
you’ll wear the kind of smile
that puckers in.

See how I touch myself
and don’t touch you?
We keep our hands
and gestures out of view -
we always have.

The hills that seem
to sit on the horizon
are not distant -
they are small.

The trees will never
be enough to lash
together into rafts -
they’d splinter anyway.

It is too green,
this tinted land.
The solid walls of Homs
are not yet built.

56

Partially Poetic Peaceful Dream Sequence

Here we are equal,
here we are one,
simularities, differences,
human beings just the same.
Neither ocean, sky,
green trees, nor clouds floating by
give 3 shits about
sociological training, intergrating,
hating, segregating
so why should you and I?
Here in this moment,
intersecting on this path
we are equal,
for a moment.
57

Boxes

My spirit twists and lashes out at the precision of my hand as I draw. It rebels at my grip on my brush. It is tired of the greys and diluted greens and pastel blues.

Yet it is with these colours and these brushstrokes I might open a window into other places. “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” This world, with its unrolling vastness, demands boundaries. Explanations. I must quell my spirit and be armoured with logic as I illustrate creation.

For do we really exist if we do not have a category? We all must inhabit our room, as pictures in a frame or ornaments arranged in a box. To know ourselves we must know our box, and other boxes. This conviction has ever pushed me in my explorations: it is ordained by God that we reign supreme upon creation. It is on us to civilise the world, and so it is imperative that we know what our civilisation is in comparison to other, lesser civilisations. To chart a cartography of our French supremacy, if you will.

And yet, I wonder. Is it that simple?

The barbarians who lurk around the periphery of our French civilised society. Sometimes accepting the Lord Jesus, becoming baptised and stepping into our box. Sometimes circling outside, wild animals fascinated and fearful of fire. Who are they?

I’m not usually this discomfited. It is my wife’s doing. It is ever a woman’s work to rouse passions in the most unseemly of ways.

Read more >

58

Artless

I glance at her from under my eyelashes; the curls escaping from her scarf gleaming golden in the sun, honest sweat on her brow. I can see why people adore her so. She is the embodiment of all that is perfect and virtuous. Generous hearted, sweet-tempered; the fair haired child of our family. It was not easy to grow up in her shadow to be the sallow-skinned, dark haired, black sheep of the family with an anger always raging inside of me, willing me to bang doors and spit fire. What is it you ask? Did I hate her? No. Can anyone hate an angel? Besides, she was the most doting sister. No, I never hated her when we were little. And now, I only pity her.

The doors flung open and in a storm of glimmering gold she swept herself into my too big arms. “Shayma! Shayma!”
“Amira, what in god’s name!” I giggle, her delight infectious. My sister, always so even-tempered, what could have happened to excite her so? Even in this heat she looks beautiful. Cheeks flushed pink, eyes bright and blue with happiness. I tug at my own greasy locks and pull at the dress that sits awkwardly on my square frame.
“He asked me Shayma! He asked me! And I said yes!” She sank down onto one of the wooden chairs as I wiped the oil off my hands with an already blackened napkin.

We take betrothals very seriously here in Kiswe. A cojoining not of two people, but two families. A betrothal means your daughter is their daughter. His family becomes her family. It always irks me how the burden seems to lie more upon the girl, expected to serve two families, but of course, these things cannot be stated. I was happy to see Amira happy. Even if that meant that while Joram travelled for work, travelled to study, travelled to see the world, my sister stood knee deep in muck milking cows and taking care of his invalid father.

Read more >

59

Love in Five Volumes

Paris 1683
My very dear Henriette,
I was touched by your charming words about my attempt to describe the Universe as we know it and felt compelled to write. Yes, I have had the great good fortune to see many wild and exotic places and sample the customs which many never have the opportunity to see. My love of cartography, which cannot of course match my ardent love for you, has been a passport to my adventures. It lead me into my youthful career in the Artillery and then through knowledge of fortifications to serve the King of Portugal. I know war is such an unromantic topic for one such as you protected by court life, but if it had not been for my background I would not have ending up teaching Mathematics for our patron Louis. However, I had not at my advanced age taken into account the new equation that was to tumble into my life with this Royal appointment, which is that of love. Your ravishing smile, your gentle humour and desire to learn about the world outside the round of social frivolity were factors that I had not predicted.

It is I admit a problem without a mathematical solution, or indeed the possibility of any satisfactory outcome.Suffice it so say that I will always cherish you kind words about my attempt to capture your kindly smile and beautiful face cloaked in Syrian raiments. I can draw harbour scenes, rural landscapes and maps of the stars, but to capture your beauty is an impossible task for a humble map maker such as I am. At least we will now be able to be seen in a book together (although not on the same page) for as long as books exist or until readers no longer find my images and words entertaining. Then when the pages of my account crumble into dust we will be at last joined together forever.

Read more >

60

Smile

They wear suffrage colors
signifying sisterhood.
These women smile timorously,
scarcely human in their everyday shrouds,
arms pressed to their breasts as armour.
The space between them is alien ground.
Measured and modulated to the exact size
of their mistrust.
They have made a borderline of a warring hilltop.
Alarmed by their necessary truce
The seed of the great project is sown in such barren soil.
61

Return

When dawn arrived mistress lifted herself from an undisturbed bed. She had watched as the shadows retreated, watched through the open window as the stars had winked out one by one, watched as her flesh had knitted itself together, separating from night like a pelt being pulled from a hare.

She emerged from her chambers to find Asrar already tending to the fire, full of the knowledge that her mistress would want to leave.

There was no need for words, both knew exactly what the day would bring. Mistress made directly for the gate and Asrar followed.

It was a quiet walk, save the sound of footsteps and the brush of cloth. The trees were reverent, the leaves too heavy to be swayed by an impish breeze. The blush of clouds knew to not trumpet their passing.

They walked slowly, the crossroads to which they walked was waiting. Silent and indifferent. They were reluctant. The end was plump with meaning, with truths, with cold realities that needed facing. Both women swallowed the fear of those realities, though for different reasons.

When they stopped, on the lip of sight behind them, were the umbra walls of their town. Small though they were, they still carried weight, as if the earth itself sagged beneath them. They were the buttresses that supported each step, each breath, each day beyond the next that was impossible to see.

They looked in three directions at once and in each one found a dirt path, twisting it's way towards the horizon. Each as empty as the last.

A sigh bellowed it's way skyward.

Read more >

62

The Autumn of Our Spring

My autumnal words fell on the sidewalk of Love!
You looked like Autumn… I behaved like Spring…
I found you when I had lost you
In this autumn… of our spring.

I re-arranged my rustic colors
so Love might gain a new anthem
with fluid steps and no numb regrets,
forgotten overdue epiphanies,
lost stolen rainbows
and red echoes with tangerine taste.

In this autumn of our spring
with its golden trail and acoustic wings
the season paints its words as a grand finale
while your leaves whisper secrets to the World
and a puff of wind lingers our photographic memories
as journals left and long forgotten on the path’s end.

A stolen cry, a remembered loss of innocence,
as my desires hung on Sun’s shoulder,
I see a repainted canvas of us
with cycled memories on the hills’ canopy.

How sensual this autumn is!
Spiraling its space… tumbling its distance,
prolonged myself by flaming orange leaves.

Read more >

63

Glass slipper

'Allo Dave, How you doing'
'Not bad, not bad, bit warm in this get up'
'Me as well, at least that netting will keep the flies off.'
'True, but its hotter than a bakers over under here, not a dribble of air to breath.'
'You try wearing this piece of cloth over your head, the sweats running down my back like a river. And its itchy.' 'Three layers of cloth I have to wear. Next time they ask me to tour in the South of France in the summer I will say Nay.'
'Even for the money were on. Its a good rate. Three silvers a week and all found. And each town feeds and waters us!'
Fred sighed 'I know, I know. If it was autumn or spring I would probably find something else to complain about.' 'Me to. One thing though.' Fred winked.
'What?'
'You'd be amazed what you can hide under here. This thing has more pockets that a jesters outfit and the sleeves could house Wandas ferret collection with room to spare for a bottle of two.'
'True, look' Dave reached inside his outfit and from a pocket hidden under the arm of his costume pulled out just enough of a leather flask for Fred to see.
'Is that?'
'Yep. The brandy from the last town we were in.'
'I thought...'
'So did everyone else.'
'I've got one hidden in here and another down the inside leg pocket of Capricorn outfit for the Scottish play we do.'
'So we should?'
Read more >
64

Self Reflection

I know myself but
I don't know you
We are different from one another and
I feel afraid
Mistrustful
Because your ways are unfamiliar to me
I'm unable to draw close
We have no shared words
I fold my body in towards myself and
My arms protect and surround my frame
On my chest, my hands feel the beat of my heart that throbs fear through my body
That beat I feel is louder than the words that won't be spoken
That beat tells me I am woman
Just like you
Yes, that beat tells me you are woman too
We don't speak yet we share a common pulse
My hands reach a little as the heart ripples out
My frame opens in vulnerability
I see you now in your wholeness and
Know we share more than conversation
Our sameness draws us closer
Our differences make me curious to know you
To erode the distrust
To gently tend towards love
To know you and in doing so
Know myself
65

Unveiled

I travelled far from the land of shadows, where the people are afraid to show themselves. Hidden behind evils of fabric, allowing you to see and breath only..
It is not breathing when every breath you take is masked behind the veil..
My journey is long and challenging to reach the top of the hill where the land of sun lives.. Long to unveil and reveal my true essence..
I am followed by another from my land who is afraid and wants to take me back to live hidden again..
I will not..on reaching the top of the hill... long road behind me... I unveil my follower looks at me, hidden behind the veil... I ask what are you seeing in me that scares you, that you can not unveil who you are... step out into the sun..
66

Sister of Secrets (SOS)

I have got my heart in a veil
where lovers won’t congregate;

I will buy a love spell from a gypsy
with the greenest veins raised on
freckled hands;

she will teach me the art of
enticements, when moons
undress fearlessly

for shadows, watch their light
cast lamps into their own fires;

I will practice my sway by a mirror,
encase my eyes in thicker strokes
of kohl, dress them in jewels

of firoza hues, across my forehead
like a queen’s airs shall rest a string
of pearls from a deeply loved heart’s
blood,

and I shall wear white silk
from the bazaars
of a promiscuous merchant;

the night will be lured to commit
the deed; there will be a woman
that shall lose her womb tonight,

there will be a miracle
passed onto me tonight –

67

Capture

This moment
captured on papyrus
an exchange

Spice traders or wise
men
seeking a messianic figurer
arguing over interpretation

They stand
in a shadow of their
own understanding.

68

The Traveller

When the journey started, nobody knows
where we would land up; for the anxiety,
we traveled together. As a shadow to the other.

We shared randomness and faith between us;
like the trees grown together; living life among
others like us. As a fairer partner to the other.

We look at others at times; to understand the
mind and soul; on a fear of living alone; and
in sleep. As a companion to the other.

Once we traveled alone. And there are times,
when we traveled together. And we compare.

Traveling together is the shadows to the other.
Traveling together is living the life.
Traveling together is the life after death, or
death after life.

69

WHEN THE ROCK MOVED

I don’t know who you are,
woman of strange origin
and eye-denying dress.

I don’t know who you are,
creature of a different soul
from some dark wilderness.

“I am newly risen”,
Christ said, “and wear this guise
to spare you from distress.”

I exist across time
I am omnipresent.
And the veil was lifted.

70

We Are Folds and Reveals

I have something, a little thing
hidden on my person, everyone else
is likewise; beauty behind a veil,
a weapon holstered, blue blood
that reddens upon touching air.
We care for that hidden thing,
careful as we wash its spikes, its sharp
revelation smarts on our hands,
we can never be calloused enough
to ignore it but we grimace to a grin.
The world reflects the same stoic portrait back,
those that don't are called mad - keep smiling.
71

Green

"I don't believe in God." You told me the night we met. You said it right before you invited me over. The way you said it though, it was like: "Heads up, I don't believe in God, but you want to come over? Spend the night?" That was the strange opening to a strange story. A short story. A word a day. One hundred and sixty nine days. And then it ended, just like that. Fluffy clouds. A picnic. An envelope. Some bad news. A bullet in the wrong place. The wrong desert. A boy in the wrong place. The wrong desert.
I lay awake that night, past the initial pain, nothing but a dull ache. I didn't know a lot about you. Your favorite color - green. Your favorite dessert - creme brulee. But that's just the stuff on the outside.
And I couldn't stop thinking about you not believing in God. I questioned my own faith that night.

I don't question it anymore. I just don't believe.

72

Five-Fold Symmetries

If I present myself to them,

what of their measurement and their avoidance?
It is a survival, a learning to live

A pellicle thin as skin on black tea.
Few poets don’t wear the mask.

Part of her wanted nothing
she had long ago stopped trying to understand
it was always paradoxical and imprecise
causing great difficulty


Then it was summer
their posture and noise,
mixed with other qualities as meditation, perfume
a boy in a red sweater, a bias-cut reality.

What if I said to you that it was your failures 


that buckled into my truth
.
You call this vestige passivity?

Some say the soul is made of wind with stooped shoulders

and we are a mere sigh.

I have the power to see in the distance
there is much more than what it seems.

73

I will pronounce your name, Eternal truths

I will pronounce your name
before apocalypse:
the beginning of Revelation
an end to Genesis
I will pronounce your name, Nyame, I will declaim you Nyame
Nyame, your name is supreme among pantheons,
It is the hills on which men lean on and never fall
Nyame, your name is the rain from your eyes on our thirsty lands
Nyame, Giver of sunshine, Elder, Grandfather, God of comfort, Mighty,
He who is beyond all thanks, Enduring from ancient times, the Great spider
Sky-house-spirit:
the owner of the mat that is never folded up
the immovable rock that never dies:
the old ones never hear the death of Nyame
Silent but active Judge

Read more >

74

Poignant pondering

While cluster clouds were approaching invading the blue sky, the women were standing pondering. I can see the poignant feeling under her veiled face, her teary eyes barely seen. I can feel the sorrow looking at her. In the wind the smell of the coming storm was intense already, also if the sun was still shining. I knew she was pondering her decision to leave.
75

a haiku for a smile

couteau mon coeur sourir
je t'en prie son ici sous les
couches et le bleu

(make my heart smile I
beg you it's here underneath
the layers and blue)

76

The Area Between Two Places

His smile is a single metal cuff hanging from the rafter of a serviced apartment moth balled by a corporation located in a post box shadowed by palm trees and sea planes. Only in the west is his body a war ship, now across the border, it is a skiff. He tells her his home is a monument to pain and she sees his toenails are brittle as dead bamboo. Later she watches him sleep in the shape of a question mark and when the morning answers, he wishes he hadn't asked.
77

The Gathering

There were two--
They had their wits about them,
Eager to gossip in the fields
Of Morning Glory.
"What will we do with
The new ones who've come to town?"
"They will have to conform.
It will be best that they do."
"You will introduce them to
The Townspeople, will you not?"
"I will. It will be done."

They awaited the day
The Townspeople would gather
To watch their new neighbors
Become inducted into what
They call, "Family."
But, that day never came.
Their talk was so cheap,
No one trusted its value.
It lingered in the pits
Of the funky fields--
Whipping in the winds.
The air was full of it.
"Have we been fooled?"
"They did not show up.
It was mandatory that they do."
"We will pursue punishment."
"It will be so."

Read more >

78

Sister Veronica’s Habit

'I'm puzzled. Why do you want to give up wearing a habit Sister Veronica?' Father Pavic studied this itinerant sister. 'I'm more accessible to people when I'm out and about. People won't be put off by what I'm wearing,' Veronica’s discomfiture was obvious. Father Pavic sighed and leaned forward.
'But Sister, you're forgetting that you are not the same as other people; you gave up your life to be married to Christ...' he implored.
'Yes - but Christ's work is more important surely?' Veronica retorted with a hint of anger. Father Pavic threw his hands in the air.
'When you took your vows you became a new creature - to be not of this world...'
'Yet we have to deal with this world everyday. People come to me all the time asking for advice and prayers...' 'Yes - but you cannot help everyone - and you have your duties as directed by your Mother Superior,' Father Pavic commented, feeling defeated. 'Obedience is obedience Sister surely!'
A sparrow flew onto the windowsill, children could be heard shouting from the Parish Hall. Father Pavic cupped his hands together and tried to think of another way to discourage her.
'Our Parish relies on strength such as yours Sister, there are so few dedicated nuns joining Holy Orders these days. You are a great example of one who practices faith in action,' he sincerely exclaimed. Sister Veronica felt stifled and longed to strip off her white coif and itch her head. Some days she was desperate to run in the field barefoot, and show the world she was not a stuffy, prudish woman. She felt anxious that young people were put off by her religious garb - who wants to talk to a nun about sexual problems? No-one knew that she came late to the religious life; was once married and has two grown-up children; but Sister Veronica was impenetrably stubborn.
Read more >
79

Esoteria

A swirl of incense wafted across the table as she flipped over the card. Bronze and beads jangled on her wrists, clunky and off-key. She paused to let me assess the image, but I stared blankly. It meant nothing to me.

"Huh." This was the only word I could find within my scratchy, sceptical gullet.

She chuckled ominously, and I turned immediately defensive to the cavalier clairvoyant.

“What?” I spat, the suspicion in my voice shaking. “What does it mean? Please.”

She leaned closely into my neck, her breath heavy with herb and heresy. A wisp of laughter slighted an illusion upon her lips rouged in blood and wine.

“Whatever you choose it to mean.”

80

The Encounter

CAST OF CHARACTERS:

Kamar: Syrian Muslim woman, with veil, in her fifties

Maya: Syrian Christian woman in her thirties

SETTING:

Wall-size mural of grassy knoll overlooking Latakia’s harbor (1683 AD)

AT RISE:

The younger women approaches the older one on her prayer blanket; both women stand (in front of mural) and under a spotlight facing each other

KAMAR (on her knees chanting, facing the ocean to the east): I turn to the Gate; I bow before the Name; I adore the Meaning.

[Pause/Stands up, and takes a deep breath]

I love this salty mountain air! And the view… it’s simply beautiful. I am called Kamar. What is your name?

MAYA (smiling): That’s a lovely name; mine is Maya. Are you here for the festival?

[Beat]

My husband is on one of those fishing boats bringing fish to market.

KAMAR: Yes. And my husband also is on the harbor.

[Pause/Frowns]

But I came here to pray.

Read more >

81

We receive new names

The first time I heard my name turn into summer,
dropping the vowels and extending with breath the nights
I let them, new names can bring better fortune to old spirits
What's a letter or two dropped?

I have made it this far, my name will be a medal on my chest

it was the same with the sky, a few days later,
supposedly similar everywhere; clouds and stars
but not clear, our skies were flooded with birds and sonorous machines
chirp, boom, chirp, boom, our songs
when others were caught the noise I thought about the birds,
who shelters them?

Man is the only bird able to decide when to install new wings, my mother once said

I did not have wings, or a face that was covered
or uncovered. I did not have features: pale skin, light blue eyes
I had hazel eyes, olive-skin and a twisted tongue that operates
by virtue of a twisted heart, from eating too many stolen lemons as a child

but this is a grandmother's tale, a lie

there are no hills in this city, no mountains to protect land from sandstorms
just plains, with incredible letters and wheat to cover for my inability
to love them the way I loved the mountains with rumble, force
with the knowledge that there are an infinite number of places to hide
unimaginable things to go seek

but once you love these plains, you will learn to love your name

Read more >

82

One-Sided Conversation

Hi there
Nice veil
Can I get you anything?
Are you from the Orient?
Been here a long time?
Was that a space ship?
Speak English?
Hable Ingles?
Did I say that right?
I'm sorry, the last time I spoke Spanish was ninth grade. Uno, dos, tres...
Hey, I have something for you.
Well, shit. Just kidding.
I must have left it at home.
It was only a banana.
Do you see that big ass message in the sky too?
Just making sure I'm not still tripping.
K.
I'm going to squeeze by you here.
K?
83

Watermelons

I saw you at the marketplace
where they ran their hands all over
the ripe watermelons

flicked off sweat
from bushy mustaches
and licked salt off their lips
Their eyes tried to edge in sideways

through the serrations of your shawl
and hot breaths slithered over the ground
at your feet, a dozen snakes
crawling
to find a gap between the hem and the dust

and I stamped upon the ground
under my cracked heels heavily
coughing up a racket
and a stick from the sheep pen
was brandished
at the swarming flies

and so threatened were the lusty eyes
that they rolled back
into their old sockets

Read more >

84

Satellite

My fingers swim into life
Gasping under the pull and reveal
Of silk sleeves
Yearning to find the heat of a hand;
A wandering satellite.
[Only gravitational waves could be so silent
Yet affect everything I have ever known, held dear]
I heard that nothing can truly touch
[The teeth of grass, the cracked smile of the earth,
The cold whispers of sky]
Just an echo chamber for my own stories as
I strain my eyes
The bridges of my sinews feeling the weight
Of messages spilling out; the source code
An abode of all the memories my mind wishes to keep
To find me whole
That I try to send to you
Crossing the curvature of my Earth
Trying to find yours.
85

Torn from the same page

We both know

the scratch of blue
the tread of green
the puff of holy white.

We fear

the bruise of purple
our need for pink
the danger from a fickle mouth.

We see

the comfort from closed eyes
beneath the veil,
the tempt to touch.

We will not know

the numbers inside and
outside our margins,
the bleed through borders,

the purple dye of the city
smell pervading, dredged from
the sea, fragile boats.

Our pink, our purple
now arrows pointing to destruction.

86

Journey to Nod

The smiling ladies were identical
in all but these three respects:
One wore a veil made from dusk;
the other, a shawl made of dawn.
One had a smile like a scalpel, wound-
making and primed for surgery,
and the other’s smile said nothing,
but her crow-footed eyes found
the way I spoke her tongue amusing.
One, when she spoke, always
told lies in a voice like rotting
velvet; the other told the truth,
sometimes, in quiet singsong.
They stood good-naturedly for me
as I sketched them on the road
of dream-stuff that led east
of Eden and pointed me towards
the capitol, which would
be the subject of the next chapter
of my book. One of them told me
that I would die surrounded by family,
at a home I could barely remember.
The other kissed me hand and said
my name, and I took the fabric
of her voice into the dreaming.
“Marco… Polo…”
87

A HAND OF MAGIC

Crouched in the brackish grass Marwan watched the figures of his mother and his aunt nodding to each other, robes fluttering. How could it be possible that he would soon be leaving home to live with Auntie Shayma?     'It is time for you, my son, to learn a trade. You have no father to help. It is decided that you will live with Shayma and Uncle Firas. I will relinquish you for two years. You will return as a man, with a carpentry trade. It is sad for me , but important for Marwan'
    Those had been his mother's words.
His hand strayed to his pocket, touching the cards. He had spent many hours, cutting, designing and colouring them. Carefully he had written the words, to make the tarot cards special to him. One day he walked to his village and watched, fascinated, as an elderly man dealt his own cards and, seemingly gave advice to a few members of the crowd. Marwan was intrigued by the colours with interesting pictures. He decided to make his own and ab initio, an art form emerged!     He gathered purple berries, squeezed to a pulp, leaves from the scrubby vegetable patch,turmeric, cocoa powder, a stick of charcoal and a pencil. Amira, his mother, was pleased to see him occupied, so long as he still completed his chores.When the cards were finished, he was pleased. Bit smudgy, but that was due more to his pockets than poor handiwork.
    He had gathered some friends in the woodshed to test the results. Their curiosity was palpable. Getting bolder he had dealt the cards, face down, and invited Houmam to chose 3. The pictures were called Pig of Greed; Scales of Light and Rainbow of Delight.
    'These are good omens, Houmam. It means if you eat less sweets from the market, you will become lighter on the scales. The rainbow means your family will be happy and buy you the sandals you desire'. He gave results to the other boys with appropriate responses, there was no malice involved.
Read more >
88

The Road to Aleppo

The road to Damascus might be paved with gold,
and enlightenment, some say,
if I were free enough to look.
But, more’s the pity, I am not going to Damascus,
nor am I free. The French I speak is no lingua franca,
despite the name designed to make fools of us--
a pure necessity, for one who travels alone,
who makes her way in a world
gone mad long ago, yet very much
the way the world will continue to be.
The cloud above my head
is where I’m going, not where I’ve been.
The one that hides my face is not who I am
but who you tell me I’m bound to be.
89

Memory

In speaking the way we did,
we undressed piece by piece
a past we didn’t share
but put together.

She a piece from the other end
of the puzzle, I, in the opposite
corner hanging by a limb.
To complete the picture, I say,
they fixed me. They put me in.

From behind the veil she nods,
continuing the count of the times
they did it to us. We bore
their spoils equally – different
days, times and people.

When there was nothing else
to say, we unwound the count,
slowly went back to one
where there was none.

Sawing our limbs holding
to other pieces of other’s
pasts, the very intricate
Persian carpet we made
of our beings, burned at
the corners, spreading
to other’s limbs.

In the heat of the moment,
we tore apart to live.

90

Two Figures in a Landscape

Our own domain is fabric
We hide or we contour
Rich or squalid
All can look – imitate
If they please
Un(cover) the(fe)male
Or
All veiled words
Sleeve gestures
Contrast the sky or clash the ground
Or turn and turn about
Sketch us, paint us, display us
Have your way with images
Here under clouds – blue skies – mountains –
Any other landscape
We could blend in
Not the story though
No canvas stops the words you overhear
91

Undead, unliving

She grieved the undead, unliving.
Those who have done or are doing the same
will know what I mean by this.

Undead unliving.

Just one letter away from unloving
and yet a world apart.

The lucky few who don’t
stop here
this is untrue for you and won’t matter.
Prance away and be blessed
be gone now.

Thank you.

So she grieved the undead, unloving, unliving.
Yes let’s include it, for it is not love.
Unlusted lust?

The stories she told herself falling apart page by page.
unturned.
Letter by letter.
unread
by others.
Over read
by her.

Read more >

92

Paradise Rejected

They hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
    Through Eden took their solitary way

                                        (Milton: Paradise Lost)

There must have been a third with them all along
Slinking through the shadows, keeping her distance
Biding her time; hissing adoration.

And now it is Eve and Lilith who come out of Eden together
Sisters under the skin, with their covert glances, their
Sleeves oddly aslant in garments that seem made for other bodies

No way to figure out now which of these two shape-
Shifters is the serpent, which is the bride;
Which one held the apple for the other to eat

Or what they have done with Adam
Sssssssss………………….

93

For R

The heat of her verse
gets submerged in the throbbing sea
of her eyes
her eyes or a mirage?
questions of subtle nuances don’t qualify
when it comes to her
A walk in the shrubs
or a lazy kindled emotion
she walks with the lilies
sensuously
camouflaging the rays of the sun
with her smile
traversing through the dropped leaves of the willow tree
the words sounding of the woods
descending on a mystical dawn
a fantasy of a touch
a listless sound of the bees
she cascades humming dreams
94

On the Outskirts

Without words we wander
from our solitary life
in hope of talking without speaking,
No pretension. Vulnerable.
I'm the novice, you are the teacher
with folded arms,
Communicating without language
so no ego gets involved.
I sense your essence, your gestures
behind the veil, unveiling truth unspeakable,
A bridge between two worlds
bridging my inner life to yours,
My inner eye to yours, seeing through the eyes,
We are equals on the outskirts of words.
Two contemplatives basking
in the sacrifice of silence,
Poverty, chastity,
Language.
95

A Woman Passing

Making the journey, finally,
to the city to find a life,
I passed the granddaughter
of the sun god. She
moves towards me, screaming:

'don't ask why I leave
pass no further remark
the only work here is the labouring
under the weight of the male body,'

going on, veiled,

not seeking the light
but the source of its limits.

96

For Syria

Do you hear that?
That’s the sound of my heart,
As it beats through time,
A very human thing it does,
For Syria it beats, in Syria, with Syria.

Do you hear that?
That’s the sound of my house,
A house that doesn’t exist now,
It fell, along with my man, my son.
For Syria, it fell, in Syria, with Syria.

Do you see that?
That’s a veil shrouding me,
It hides the marks, the signs
Of my pain, my abuse, my honor,
For Syria, I bled, in Syria, with Syria.

Do you see that?
That’s my daughter,
She was beat, tortured, taken.
By men, she doesn’t talk anymore.
For Syria, she’s mute, in Syria, with Syria.

Read more >

97

The women smile

they smile as they speak together in voices warm
as saffron, bright as the dye that colours Amina’s shawl
they speak in voices soft as the thread in Nour’s silk veil

and they smile as they discuss this stranger who has stopped them
and requested a few moments of their time
to sketch them for posterity.

Nour folds arms tight across her chest
lowers her veil, raises her chin. Amina just smiles:
he cannot know what he is asking

and years from now, will someone look upon his sketch
and wonder who they are, where they are heading
and why they smile?

will they guess what she conceals beneath her cloak?
Amina feels the bird twitch and flutter under her long fingers
It is time she says. She smiles.

98

You and I

through the veil I see
dimly what I want to see
but what do you want of me?

when I look about
this world of you and me
I see a page
disconnected from the rest of the book
and what book?
that is the thought that haunts me

there's a banner stretched across the sky
and a cloud that seems to call our name
and what we are is what we are not

forever is a long time
too long for what can never be

like pillars of the universe
we stand before each other
enigmatically

who will decipher this landscape?
what is it that you want of me?

99

Wherever The Winds May Blow

“Give your friends your money and blood but don't justify yourself”

Salma knew her friendship with Layan would never be accepted. They were too different. Yet she knew she absolutely had to meet Layan later. Her husband had decided she needed three guards to accompany her at all times. She was the Sheikha and she was his captive.

She was wondering if she could run out of the bath house later as the men stood guard and meet Layan near the Great Stone. No one would see her. The villagers would be stoned should they be seen outside the house while the Sheikha was out for a bath.

Salma arrived at the baths. Maybe it was her demeanour, maybe the guards had grown suspicious of their Sheikhas activities at the bath house, but for whatever reason Jaleel had decided to accompany them to the bath house. Salma knew this was beneath his station, she would find it hard to sneak by. She prayed that Layan would not wait for her tonight.

“Be wary around your enemy once and your friends a thousand times”

Layan knew how dangerous her friendship with Salma was. She knew where she stood in the eyes of these people. To them she was just a mountain goat. But the great Sheikha had taken a liking to her and asked to meet again. Layan knew resisting her was futile, she would oblige, she would always oblige.

Read more >

100

Waiting for a paternoster

I am the product of sweet violence, like you.
I was a beloved of a king, like you.

My pride bears the pinch of now, like you.
My heart is an incurred mess, like you.

I am fox-devil wild, like you.
I will either harden or break, like you.

I am existing in the must-live universe, like you.
I am a shaman that always rises, like you.

I am a whispered meeting, like you.
I am a threnody always ignored, like you.

I am watching a loop of what has been, like you.
My saplings, I’ll never see them grow, like you.

101