Knowing How to Die

Lisa Suhair Majaj

 

I’ve owned it forever, a dark seed,
one of those possessions you know
you’ll need one day, but till then
 
shove to the back of your mind,
ignore.  It permeated my being
from the moment I pushed down the birth canal
 
into life-light, and before, from that first eruption
of synchronicity, cells multiplying madly
deep in my mother’s womb-nest
 
where I swam, nine months, practicing for life.
Once born, there was so much to do.
I learned how to breathe, how to suckle—
 
my mothers’ chest a savannah, her nipple
an oasis – and from there the whole world
waited.  Oh, the busyness of life!
 
But that death-knowledge
slumbers, imprinted in my bones
like a birthright:

original, indelible,
the one thing in life
I won’t have to earn.

 

 

Lisa Suhair Majaj is the author of Geographies of Light, winner of the Del Sol Press Poetry Prize. Her poems and essays have appeared in over fifty journals and anthologies worldwide. She is also co-editor of three collections of critical essays: Going Global: The Transnational Reception of Third World Women Writers; Intersections: Gender, Nation and Community in Arab Women’s Novels, and Etel Adnan: Critical Essays on the Arab-American Writer and Artist. She lives in Nicosia, Cyprus.

The Life of Poetry

David Kherdian

 

Any biography must be divided into two parts; the years prior to 16, which are unconscious, or consciousness opening, and the years after 16, which are invented. We believe what we say, especially when we write what we claim is the truth. Aside from writing, what I have done since that age of 16 is irrelevant, no matter how damaging it may have been, and supposedly real on that account. It is my early  life that concerns me, but it is very nearly impossible to talk about this life except perhaps as art, because that is the dimension it most nearly approximates. What we know as growing children is instinctive and inseparable from our ecology, because we are controlled then by sun and tides, and our moods are more animal than human. The delicate thread then was not the dichotomy between fantasy and reality, family and solitary wandering, but my own unknowable relation to the sun and plants, and the mysterious upstream movement of fish (that I followed with such rapture and attention as to become fish myself), that determined the flow and current of my own life. This is the world we forfeit when we acquire adulthood, and this is the world of the unconscious that only children and artists know about. And it is as an artist that I am returning to what was once mine by birthright.Therefore, I have no biography worth telling as exterior event, and I will not tell that biography until it becomes the equivalent of and moves parallel to my own created life, which is poetry. I find in my writing that I gain the future by reclaiming and making whole the past. Only poetry can do this for me, because only through poetry can I achieve a working relationship with my unconscious, which gives shapes and forms to periods lived in chaos and ignorance. It takes years to understand an experience and a lifetime to know who we are. Therefore, in this true sense, all of  my writing is autobiographical because my own story, when truly told, becomes everyone’s.

 

 

David Kherdian is the author of 69 books: poetry, novels, biographies, memoirs, anthologies, bibliographies, retellings, translations, and children’s books (many illustrated by his Caldecott award winning wife, Nonny Hogrogian), which include a narrative biography of the Buddha, a retelling of the Asian classic Monkey,10 poetry anthologies, including his major groundbreaking anthology: Settling America: Fourteen Ethnic American Poets; Forgotten Bread: Armenian American Writers of the First Generation. His biography of his mother’s childhood and survival of the Armenian genocide, The Road From Home, was a Newbery Honor book, among other awards and prizes, and was nominated for the American Book Award. Kherdian’s forthcoming book is titled, Gatherings: From the Selected Writings of David Kherdian.