THE BEDOUIN DRESS

Sam Hamod

 

You run your
hand     just so
very slowly
over the dark sewn fabric of this
Bedouin dress – you feel
three thousand years rough up
against the color of your
skin      against the colors of your
memory          you tell me
“When I wear this dress
I always come out
red”      and I,
looking at the
rustle in you, say
“You must look good
all red”         and the
brightness of your
hair       is lit up by the shine of
your eyes        so predictable
a beauty    but your laughter
always surprising
and new
like this
dress     so many
years
in the making
with so many hidden     desert places
so many deep crevices
in the heart

 

 

 

SAM HAMOD/VISTA, CA. POETRY READING

 

Sam Hamod – please see author’s full bio on the home page, in additional works, and on the author’s page.

Joe Williams at the Blue Note/Chicago, 1955; March 30, 1999

Sam Hamod

 

 “Everyday, everyday, everydaayyy 
 I got the blues, 
talking of bad luck and sorrow 
Well you know I had my share…” 

 – Joe Williams with the Count Basie Band

 

  

Tonight, they tell me you died
on a Vegas street,
Walked several miles from a hospital
Just checked yourself out and escaped toward home–
No, no–
I don’t want to believe it, rather, we’re
back at the Blue Note, Chicago, 1955
You’re standing on the bandstand, light green rolled collar, your
Big white teeth smile as the Count says,
” Now here’s a young man whose recently joined our band–
we think you’re going to like his singing”
then you smacked it out, like a 1×12 smacking water, “Everyday
“Everyday, everyday, everyday I got the bluesÖ”
and now, hearing that you’ve passed into that other side of the song,
everyday we’ll have the blues, talking of bad luck and sorrow, well you
know this will add to our share–but let me hear you, let me look at that big
smile again– swinging uptempo with the band ” The Comeback“–telling your girl, hold tight,
hold tight baby, and we could hear the pleading in your voice as you asked her
to hang on, to just wait a while longer because you’d be back–and then you were
sliding into “Rollem Pete” you made us all jump for joy, and you were up there
just like a rollin’ baby boy–and we were up on our feet dancing and clapping
Basie just kept smiling and the band kept blaring, trumpets
High- cresting, the saxes laying down that harmonic line and the trombones
filling the background, their slides darting in and out of the the light
then you’re joined by Lambert, Hendrix and Ross and you make the Blue Note shake
with “Going To Chicago” — and you tell it like it is, cause ain’t nothin’ in Chicago
that a monkey woman can do– and we were like that, hometown people, full
of good folks from home, and you knew it, and we knew it when you sang it,
and the Count said it, “Chicago is always like home to me” and somehow,
you up there with that big rolled collar have always stayed in my mind, in
my heart, now tonight, I refuse to believe
that you stole out of that hospital late at night
I donít’ want to remember you struggling down that road
Struggling for breath, each slight step a pain, a
Gasp, a pulling for air, just wanting to get back home
To those lights, to get back to that stage, to get back
Among your friends–why was it no one understood
A singer like you can’t be kept away from your people, you
Were given that voice to sing, to get out among people, to make
Them laugh, to feel wistful, to remember when they were in love, and what
Love is, that special feeling that embraces us with its happiness and sorrow,
That love in all its configurations is still that warmth, that warmth in your voice
In your broad smile, and in that way you held the mike and moved from jet black to silver hair
All in an instant–almost too fast for any of us to remember how it all changed–none of us
Noticed the time passing because there was always you, Ella, Sarah, Dinah, Count, Duke,
Hamp, Diz–now we have only Nancy Wilson, and I know she’ll cry tonight and a lot of days
And nights as she remembers your big wide voice pleading, “Please Send Me Someone To
Love,
” and she’ll ask the lord to send you to the right place, where you’ll join the others
Singing with the angels–and we’ll be earthbound, having you in vinyl, on cassette, on CD and in
our memories– so tonight, I know they speak their truth
That you have died, but my truth is that you are there at the Blue Note in Chicago
You are there at Blues Alley in Washington, DC, a little hoarse, and you are there with your arm
 

 

 

Sam Hamod has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry by Ray Carver and Ishmael Reed. He has published several books of poetry and his current book An Old Arab in My Mind: New and Selected Poems will be published this year. Hamod has been widely anthologized in print and online. He is the Editor in Chief of CWLJA

The World Comes Together: Dual Identity in the Poetry of Sam Hamod

Anna L. Cates

     From Fringe Magazine

 

According to Edward Said, Palestinian Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, “Many travelers find themselves saying of an experience in a new country, that it wasn’t what they expected, meaning that it isn’t what a book said it would be” (295). Often, the surprise experienced by recent immigrants upon entering America could better be described as disappointment. They may have had high hopes and dreams for a better life, only to find them not fully realized. They may miss family and friends they left behind. Or they may become bewildered, suffering from a kind of “culture shock.” Whatever the experience may entail for the creative, it can become the basis from which poems can be crafted. Such personal poems that center on culture, race, and ethnicity can sometimes reveal a “dual identity” within the poets. In one sense, they see themselves as Americans. Yet in another sense, they still identify with their countries of origin and cling proudly to their nationalities. These poets may find themselves faced with the challenging task of “resolving the claims of two potentially contradictory cultures, as well as dealing, on a more immediate level, with the conflicting demands of family love and loyalty, on the one hand, and personal growth and fulfillment, on the other.” Poems of this genre truly reflect American poetry’s multi-cultural aspect, a literature “rich in immigrant cultures,” both first and second generation (Gioia 282). Many of Sam Hamod’s poems reflect ethnic poetry’s dual identity; although he identifies with his Lebanese roots, he also expresses a sense of being an American.

Sam Hamod is among the few contemporary poets of Arab American descent. Since the 1960s, he has published poetry about his country of origin, Lebanon, as well as the Middle East in general. Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, he has published ten books and has appeared in more than 200 anthologies of literature worldwide (“Window into Palestine”), Unsettling America serving as only one example. He earned his Ph.D. from The Writer’s Workshop of the University of Iowa and has taught at Princeton, Iowa, Howard and Michigan, to name a few. He was the Director of Washington D.C.’s Islamic Center and the founder and editor of Third World News, also in the capital (Hamod “Today’s. . .”).

One aspect of the dual identity in ethnic poetry, such as that written by Sam Hamod, is a strong identification with the country of origin. Interestingly enough, this particular identity seems to be on the rise today. Many scholars consider that multiculturalism and globalization may have lessened the attachment between Americans and the nation. Americans seem to be moving in the direction of a “stronger sense of ethnic, as opposed to national, identity”. Some scholars have pointed to the possibility that ethnic identity provides a source of self esteem for cultural minorities and helps to foster accomplishment of group goals. On the other hand, a number of people maintain that ethnic identity “weakens common bonds and intensifies group conflict” (Citrin 71-2). Either way, this powerful sense of ethnic identity is clearly discernable in Sam Hamod’s poetry. In the words of Marte Broehm, editor of Hamod’s Just Love Poems for You collection, Hamod in his poetry and in person expresses “his groundbreaking ethnic honesty and directness, never flinching from his Lebanese/Muslim heritage—mixing it with his rough-house and youthful gang life in Gary, Indiana” (Hamod).

Hamod’s “Leaves,” anthologized in Unsettling America, uses concrete specifics to show dual identity in an American family. As the poem opens, Sam and “Sally” are cooking a traditional Mediterranean dish: stuffed grapeleaves. The leaves are depicted as icons of heritage; cultural emblems, which must be cherished:

		. . . we get out a package, it’s
		drying out, I’ve been saving it in the freezer, it’s
		one of the last things my father ever picked in this life . . .
		we just kept finding packages of them in the
		freezer, as if he were still picking them (lines 2-8)

Hamod is drawing a parallel between ethnicity and the grapeleaves. Just as heritage goes on and on, so do the grapeleaves; they are symbolic. His father, defender of the “faith,” takes extra precautions for their preservation, “packing them / carefully,” so they don’t “break into pieces” (9-11).

In addition to the grapeleaves, Hamod’s father himself emerges as a kind of cultural icon. Very little about him is American. He speaks and writes broken English in a heavy accent: “To my Dar Garnchildn / Davd and Lura / From Thr Jido” (12-14). In contrast, his Arabic letters are strewn everywhere in the upstairs storage.

But the marks of Americanization are still found in him. Hamod says the above composition of his father’s, “English lettering / hard for him to even print,” is “one of the few pieces of American / my father ever wrote” (lines 17-21). The language is significantly described as “American” rather than English. It is actually culture, the dual identity, that is being described here, though the family patriarch’s “American” qualities are rather inadequate, compared to his ethnic Lebanese.

Yet American advertising and mercantilism have still made their impact, having been found among the scraps of nostalgia in the upstairs storage. Hamod includes a somewhat humorous illustration, a letter dated 1932 from Charles Atlas to his father, telling him, “‘Of course, Mr. Hamod, you too can build / your muscles like mine . . .’” (26-27). The gadgets, gizmos, and gimmicks offered to him from American vendors are parts of his history; the partial legacy of the capitalist West.

Hamod’s father and all that he represents, culturally and otherwise, has deeply impacted his son, and is the reason why Hamod chose to write. The songs he sang in the car “were poems” (31). Hamod ends “Leaves” with a strong sense of ethnic identity: “Even now, at night, I sometimes / get out the Arabic grammar book / Though it seems so late” (32-34). “Leaves” becomes in actuality, a story about human language, communication, poesy; figurative “leaves,” and the importance of language to culture.

Hamod’s “After the Funeral of Assam Hamady,” also anthologized in Unsettling America, depicts this dual identity as well. The poem begins like a screenplay:

		Cast:
Hajj Abbass Habhad: My grandfather Sine Hussin: an old friend of my father Hussein Hamod Subh: my father me 6 p.m. middle of South Dakota (lines 1-7)

This opening suggests the impact that coming to America has had upon the “cast.” America is famous for its films. Therefore, being part of a film suggests Americanization has taken place. However, it also signifies something unnatural, unreal, or fake about the roles that the cast plays. To not be, By having a dual identity, one is not a “true” American and merely an actor. The idea of being part of a movie is enhanced throughout the poem, with short stanzas that emphasize the quickness and scene-like quality of the scenario, like a fast-paced movie that slips from one piece of action to another.

The narrator of the poem, “me,” Sam Hamod, is driving a 1950 Lincoln, an American-made car. Significantly, the model is named after, arguably, the most famous and well-favored president in American history. Moreover, he carries with him in the vehicle a “Navajo blanket.” Although Navajos may not typically seem “middle American” to most readers, they are a part of the broader category that represents the oldest residents of the land, and they certainly have nothing to do with Hamod’s country of origin, Lebanon; he has adopted foreign emblems.

But a difference exists between Hamod and the older generation. They are not as Americanized as he is; their ties to the Middle East remain stronger. As they drive back from the funeral, they demand that Hamod pull over along the side of the road so that they can get out and pray, which is the primary action of the poem:

		“STOP THIS CAR RIGHT NOW!”—Hajj Abbass
		                                             Grabbing my arm from the back seat
		“Hysht Iyat?  (What’re you yelling about?)”—my Father
		“Shu Bikkee?  (What’s happening?)—Sine Hussin

		I stop

		“It’s time to pray”—the Hajj (17-21)

But while the older generation begins their devotionals, Hamod does not join them, and instead remains “sitting behind the wheel” while “car lights scream by” (29-31). He is too Americanized to endure the nuisance of maintaining the inconvenient traditions from his homeland. They urge him to join them, but he refuses: “‘Hamod! Get over here, to pray!’ / No, Ill watch / and stand guard” (41-43). In this stanza, punctuation disappears, building suspense and quickening the pace of the action.

The whole scenario reels with irony and humor. Hamod writes:

Three old men chanting the Qur’an in the middle of a South Dakota night Allahu Ahkbar Allahu Ahkbar . . . in high strained voices they chant more cars flash by . . . I’m embarrassed to be with them (58-73)

Hamod’s confession is full of portent. He has become so much a part of America that he feels emotionally discomforted now by displays of his prior culture, literally embarrassed by them. Yet maintaining the old ways seems to be difficult, even to the family patriarchs. Their voices are “strained.” Continuing old practices are not easy for them. This word choice could also suggest the idea of belligerence in their unwillingness to compromise for the sake of convenience.

Yet this same word recurs a bit further into the poem, but this time is applied to an American: “people stream by, an old woman strains a gawk at them” (76). It is significant that she too is of an older generation. Hamod is suggesting that elderly people get “set in their ways” and lose the freedom to look at the world and at each other objectively, to try new things and posit fresh ideas. In an ironic way, despite their cultural differences, she and Hamod’s older companions are very much alike in this respect.

The word “Ameen,” pronounced with a thick accent reminiscent of the Middle East, signals a transition from the past to the present. Here, Hamod re-evaluates the past and concludes that he’s missed something cultural. Some parts of his roots are gone, and it fills him with longing and a desire for some degree of restoration:

I hear them still singing as I travel half-way across America to another job burying my dead I always liked trips, traveling at high speed but they have surely passed me as I am standing here now trying so hard to join them on that old prayer blanket— as if the pain behind my eyes could be absolution (95-106)

Hamod is now juxtaposing his previous conclusion, making a complete reversal. Whereas before he was siding with Americanization, now he is siding with loyalty to an ethnic identity. He feels that his ancestors have outdone him, “passed” him along life’s road. He regrets missed opportunities to partake in the cultural practices of the wizened of his people, and now those opportunities are lost. He will never have the chance be a part of them again. Hamod desires to recapture some of what he has lost, but now that he is older, he too has gotten stuck in his ways, and he cannot detach himself from his Americanization. He has a dual identity.

Hamod’s “Dying with the Wrong Name,” another selection from Unsettling America, continues the theme of dual identity. “Dedicated to all the immigrants who lost their names at Ellis Island,” this poem centers on the name-changing or abbreviation that takes place as people are displaced from their homelands to America. Hamod writes:

These men died with the wrong names, Na’aim Jazeeny, from the beautiful valley of Jezzine, died as Nephew Sam, Sine Hussin died without relatives and because they cut away his last name at Ellis Island, there was no way to trace him back even to Lebanon . . . (Lines 1-7)

Careful word choices convey the difficulty, even the injustice, of having your name forcibly altered upon entering America. Your name, the grand title to your personal identity, is “cut” out of you. But it is not just your name that is knifed away: “the loss of your name / cuts away some other part, / something unspeakable is lost” (21-23). A loss occurs as a result of this transaction: “There is something lost in the blood, / something lost down to the bone / in these small changes” (11-13). Forced re-naming is depicted as a dirty deed: “suddenly—as cleanly / as the air, you’ve lost / your name” (15-17). Considering the air quality of New York City, the reader must conclude that this practice is quite unclean.

As the immigrant continues carrying on his or her life in America, the process of Americanization takes place and a dual identity develops. Hamod uses second person to put you in the place of such individuals: “you move / about as an American” (19-20). Your activities may be similar to the “average” American. You drive your Ford. You run your business, “a cigar store in Michigan City, and / in the back room a poker game with chips and / bills . . .” (27-29). You may procure employment at a factory, one of the “packinghouses in Sioux Falls / and Sioux City,” before ending up in Gary, Indiana (32-33). You work hard, conform to America’s protestant work ethic, and maybe even develop a degree of prosperity, “from / nothing to houses and apartments worth more than / a million—in each sweaty day in Sioux City” (33-35). You listen to the same kinds of music as other Americans, “B. B. King and T-Bone Walker” (39). You “buy time”: “each dollar another day mixing names and money” (40). And then you die to be buried “under / a stone carved in English” (47-48). But the language isn’t right, and neither are the names:

. . . the Arabic of Hussein Hamod Subh, Na’aim Jazeeny, Sine Hussin lost each one sealed away with the wrong name (48-52)

But this conflict does receive some degree of resolution—the “world comes together,” Hamod writes. America and Lebanon fuse within the immigrant’s dual identity:

Sine Hussin is still sitting in that old chair, upholstered in brushed maroon wool . . . you know the smell of this room, meat and fried onions, fresh garlic on the salad, tartness of lemon twists into the air, and an ease toward evening as you walk in all the silence splits into hellos and hugs while the world comes together in the small room (56-72)

A sense of family is retained. You find that English words (i.e. “Hello”) are friendly too. You discover recreant pleasures in the new land, good food to enjoy, and the rift is healed; dual identity is achieved.

But just when you have begun to forget about your country of origin, its reality re-manifests itself. You remember eating fatiyah with your forebears who came to America in 1914. Two realities exist; one is America, the other Lebanon, “that other reality, where his name, that / language, Hussein, Sine Hussin, Im’a Brahim, Asalamu Aleikum / all of these sounds were part of his name, this was that other /edge of Lebanon he carried with him, that home” (86-89). Even the sounds in names, each individual phoneme, are important. These linguistic aspects are a significant component to one’s cultural identity. Hamod shows that the Lebanese identity and culture remains in the lives of the immigrants, in the moments of “good food of the rich smells” (90), in the places where they dwell, “in this house, in these people, in this moment” (93). Hamod emphasizes that the Lebanese identity has not been lost despite a name change, rather, two identities have merged.

Williams and Clifton point out in “The 10 Lenses,” that one vital part of one’s identity is the legacies with which one associates. Legacies are historical situations or important events for members of diverse cultures, races, genders, ethnic, religious, and political groups, etc. Significant events that have impacted one’s ancestors, community, and family comprise legacies. Immigration or migration to a new country is one example of a legacy (8). The act of immigration becomes a powerful moment of extreme significance; the genesis of the dual identity.

Hamod’s “from Moving” in the Unsettling America anthology, depicts this genesis and its aftermath. Once one loses one citizenship and gains another, the dual identity forces one into a sort of limbo where one never stops moving. Torn between two places, two cultures, one wavers back and forth, seeking to stabilize one’s identity.

The poem uses the extended metaphor of being lost at sea to describe the experience of emigrating from one nation to another. Through figurative language, a feeling of displacement is re-created for the reader.

The poem’s title, “from Moving,” is almost like an explanation for the phenomenon that it portrays: the aftermath of moving, of immigration, as if to say, “I got messed up like this from moving.” It is as if one never stops moving after that point. Perpetual confusion results, and a feeling of separation, as members of an extended and nuclear family float in the sea, out of reach of each other. This sense of separation is furthered through the technique of adding extra spaces between select words:

		so we move now
		my new wife and I, my children
		move further away          like lost
		shipmates crying to me for help (Lines 1-4)

Hamod conveys a desperate yearning to understand, with double entendre. He speaks of his children, “trying to grasp at these new patterns in the early morning darkness,” (8) as if they are both reaching out for some flotsam and striving to comprehend their new world. The idea of incomprehension is encouraged with repetition of the words “wondering” and “wonder.”

But despite the separation and confusion, the reader does have a glimpse of some degree, of American identity. Hamod writes, “. . . I sometimes think about a life / I’ve never known except for a little while / in some old country of time that I remember my father and / grandfather / talking about, when I kept wanting to go out and play baseball” (17-20). He wants to play sports with the rest of the American boys. He feels distanced now from the traditions, ways, and thought processes of his ancestors.

But the “reality” of his country of origin won’t abate. This reality relates to a “time” when the family seemed connected: “where at least the whole tribe moved together / it was that way in my “old country” of / stories of truth” (23-25). Whether or not “reality” is a time or a place remains ambiguous, but this confusion is just more of the aftermath of moving.

Hamod uses italics and quotation marks to emphasize key terms. Togetherness, something that has been compromised, is emphasized with italics, as is the term “old country”, with quotation marks, conveying the idea that this is a phrase Hamod has heard over and over but does not relate to as strongly as those who keep nostalgically repeating it. The idea that the older generation’s dual identity is not nearly 50/50, but leaning more towards the country of origin, is a reiterated theme in Hamod’s poems dealing with this subject.

The poem ends with extra spaces between words that continue to play up the idea of separation:

		before them
		everyone          everything stuck together          things stayed
		and when they moved
		grandfathers          grandmothers          fathers (26-29)

Here the poem trails off and ends rather abruptly, as if the family members have lost contact for good now. They have floated away in the currents, out of sight of each other. This conveys the idea that when one immigrates to a new country, there are always family members that one leaves behind that one may never see again. In addition, a parent may have always imagined raising a child within the standards of their home country, only to find that they’ve lost that child and are now raising an American.

Sam Hamod agrees that he has a dual identity, but to him it goes beyond this. In an email to the author, he relays:

i am even more than those two identities, as u read about my life in the back of Just Love Poems…i see myself as more of the “the world” than just limited to that because of my background in travel and work in what is called “the third world.” s u read more the poems, u’ll see what i mean. look closely at the poems in Unsettling America and u’ll see what i mean, and then the books will open up even more for u. (“Identity . . .”)

Such poems as “Leaves,” “After the Funeral of Assam Hamady,” “Dying with the Wrong Name,” and “from Moving,” all portray the dual identity of Sam Hamod, an American with Lebanese roots. In an email to the author, he affirms that his poems “. . . are autobiographical and all true, not fictive” (“Re: . . .”). His experience, as depicted in the content of these poems, parallels that of many other ethnic poets. His portrayal of dual identity supports the researched conclusions of those scholars who see less of a sense of solo American nationalism within the U.S. populace, and more of a hybrid self-conception, perhaps even a greater sense of ethnic identity than in years past. As Hamod conveys in his poem, “At Fakhani, The Shoe: Lebanon, After the Bombing,” from his The Arab Poems, The Muslim Poems collection:

		. . . what am I
		to say, a stranger now
		to my parent’s land, in the
		Bright Washington afternoon . . .
		. . . feeling grief in
		Arabic saying it in English . . . (Lines 53-60)

In the final analysis, Hamod shows that we are all Americans, but we come from many different lands.

 

Anna L. Cates – Born in Brunswick, Maine, Dr. Anna L. Cates received her BA in English from Asbury College before earning an MA in English from Indiana State University and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction/English. She’s a recipient of the I.S.U. Van Til Graduate Award for Writing in Spring 2001 and is currently working on an MFA in Creative Writing from National University. Cates resides in Wilmington, Ohio and enjoys nature, animals (especially dogs), writing, literature, music, and art.

Works Cited

Citrin, Jack., Cara Wong, and Brian Duff. “The Meaning of American National Identity: Patterns of Conflict and Consensus.” Rutgers Series on Self and Social Identity 3 (2001): 71-100. 7 June 2008 .

Gioia, Dana and X. J. Kennedy. An Introduction to Poetry. New York: Pearson, 2007.

Hamod, Sam. “After the Funeral of Assam Hamady.” Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry. Ed. Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan. New York: Penguin Group, 1994. 288-292.

Hamod, Sam. The Arab Poems The Muslim Poems: New and Selected Poems. San Marcos: Cedar Creek Press, 1999.

Hamod, Sam. “Dying with the Wrong Name.” Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry. Ed. Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan. New York: Penguin Group, 1994. 130-132.

Hamod, Sam. “from Moving.” Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry. Ed. Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan. New York: Penguin Group, 1994. 19-20.

Hamod, Sam. Just Love Poems for You. Ed. Marte Broehm. San Marcos: Contemporary Poetry Press, 2006.

Hamod, Sam. “Identity . . .” E-mail to the author. 9 June 2008.

Hamod, Sam. “Re: Questions 4 Professor Hamod.” Email to the author. 17 June 2008.

Hamod, Sam. “Leaves.” Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry. Ed. Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan. New York: Penguin Group, 1994. 132-133.

Hamod, Sam. “Today’s Alternative News.” Requested Article. 26 Apr.-May 2006. Today’s Alternative News. 8 June 2008 .

Said, Edward. “Crisis [in orientalism].” Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. Ed. David Lodge. New York: Longman, 1988. 294-309.

Williams, Mark A. The 10 Lenses: Your Guide to Living & Working in a Multicultural World. Sterling: Capital Books, 2001. 7 June 2008 .

“Window Into Palestine.” Sabra/ Shatilla: in Sorrow Poem by Sam Hamod. 2007. 8 June 2008.

At the Israeli Checkpoint, Palestine (for Mahmoud Darwish, In Memory of the Greatest of Arab Poets)

Sam Hamod

    (for Mahmoud Darwish, in memory of the greatest of Arab poets)

At the checkpoint, the

Israeli private asked me my name, I told

her, my name is

Zaitoun, she asked, what does that mean,

I told her 4,000 year old trees, she laughed,

asked for my real name, I told her, “Dumm,” what?

i said, it means blood, she said, that’s no name, I told her

blood of my grandfather, my father, my uncle

and even mine if necessary, she bridled, called the corporal,

he came running up, said, what kind of threat is that,

I said, it’s no threat, it’s just a fact,

he called the sergeant, he came up and hit me before he spoke,

my mouth bled, I told him, this is the blood I mean, that same

blood, you are afraid of, it’s over 4000 years old, see how dark it is

he called the lieutenant, who asked why my mouth was bleeding,

the sergeant said I had threatened him, the lieutenant asked me

if that was the truth, I told him, I had only stated facts, that

they would be true, after they conferred, he called the

colonel, the colonel came over and asked why I’d been provocative,

I said, all I was doing was stating facts; he asked what I did,

I told him, I was a farmer, he asked what kind, I told him

a farmer with words, what some call a poet—

“yes, now I know your name, Mahmoud Darwish,

you’re well known in Israel,”

he asked me if I knew the work of Amichai, I told him yes,

that I’d met him, that he knew what I meant, that Amichai was

sorry for what he’d felt he “had to do”—the colonel shrugged

dismissed the others and told me, “pass on,

I understand, but they don’t, they are not Jews, I am a Jew,

not a Zionist”

I pulled the qhubz arabi from my pocket, pulled some zaitoun

from another, some jibbin from my bag and gave it to him–

we laughed, he split the bread in half—

we ate together, we laughed at how sad and foolish all this was

* qhubz arabi: bread of the arabs

jibin: arab cheese

zaitoun: olives

 

please see author’s complete biography on the “Home Page,” and in “Author’s Page.”

Sudanese Woman

Jack Marshall

 

Coarse, prematurely creased as animal hide,
skin blackened sun-baked flour, unrisen,
shrunken tight around her skeletal
bone base underneath; pooled eyes
filled with having seen dawn and sunset’s
blood-red on the dunes; with drinking
the water of the sand scavenged en route;
chalky palms lifting mush meal to her
fly-ridden mouth. Stripped of
children, husband, kin, and home’s
mud walls is party to slow dying, surely
as from the stones nearby, one day
a smiling statue will grow out of lies.
As if more arsenals needed emptying;
as if more generals needed to perfect
maneuvers, and not enough wedding parties
are thinned out. As if breath’s
witness must be kept vagabond, death-bound,
and, struck like flint, refused a spark.
For her, in wrapped in widowhood’s cloak,
in heat’s long tearing veil, all colors
are blended, bleached into corpse-clotted
waterholes. In whipping, flimsy fabric,
she stares out, one among countless
grains squatting on the bare gravel ground
of their lives. The freshness that time
had once laid in store, lays no more,
and a promise to satisfy, that could not then,
is farther away than the farthest
cry now.
  
 
 
 

 

 
 

please see authors bio in his additional works for CWPJ and on the Author’s page.

 

 

Fertile Soul

Mahnaz Badihian

 

I labor a new woman in me every day
I am not in my twenties
not even in my forties
But the art of multiplication is still in me
I am a growing new garden
new buds.
I feel life crawling on my shoulders
with the gods of fertility,
that will never let me stop being a woman

 

 

Mahnaz Badihian is a poet and translator whose work has been published into several languages worldwide, including Persian, Turkish, and Malayalam. Her work has appeared in many literary magazines including Exiled ink! and in Marin Poetry Center Anthology amongst others. She attended the Iowa Writer’s workshop with a focus on international poetry while practicing as a dentist in Iowa City.  Her publications include two volumes of poetry in Persian and a best-selling translation of Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions into Persian.  Her most recent publication is a critically acclaimed book of original English language poetry, From Zayandeh Rud to the Mississippi. She has an awarding winning selection of poetry (XIV Premio Letterario Internazionale Trofeo Penna d’Autore, Tornio) translated into Italian by Cristina Contili and Pirooz Ebrahimi. 

Every Morning

Mahnaz Badihian

 

Every morning I visit every tree in this garden
even before I wash my face or comb my hair.
All the trees know a few facts.
They know the same woman will water them day after day,
the woman who picks one apple from the red apple tree
She is the woman, who asks if the rain lets them sleep at night,
the woman who goes to every tree
even before the sun can shine on them.
Not all the trees are happy in this garden
Some are moody on certain days, some get
annoyed with the cold or the heat
Some are so difficult they hate being touched
Some so brave they can grow tall even in the absence of rain
By now I know all their names
I know what makes each one smile

The man who sleeps in my bed is morose every day
but I lack the art of knowing what makes him sad.
He is like those trees, never talks
Once I asked him if it was the rain, or the cold
or the yellow color of the sheets?
Is it the color of my eyes, the size of my thighs?
Or even the way I lay down?
It is Sunday morning and I go to the garden to watch the trees

 

 

Mahnaz Badihian is a poet and translator whose work has been published into several languages worldwide, including Persian, Turkish, and Malayalam. Her work has appeared in many literary magazines including Exiled ink! and in Marin Poetry Center Anthology amongst others. She attended the Iowa Writer’s workshop with a focus on international poetry while practicing as a dentist in Iowa City.  Her publications include two volumes of poetry in Persian and a best-selling translation of Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions into Persian.  Her most recent publication is a critically acclaimed book of original English language poetry, From Zayandeh Rud to the Mississippi. She has an awarding winning selection of poetry (XIV Premio Letterario Internazionale Trofeo Penna d’Autore, Tornio) translated into Italian by Cristina Contili and Pirooz Ebrahimi. 

 

 

 

The End of the World

Pietro Grieco

 

Golden letters engraved in wood
tell travelers they have reached
the end of the Pan-American Highway.
A tranquil landmark lucid as the sun
leaving me speechless and alone.
the end…  the abyss…  the end…
the waves…  hypnotizing the silent
loneliness of moss, soul and stones
receiving the beat of the surge
a mantra for iris and retina
perplexed unknown at the end
of the labyrinth of this world.
Facing a gray and frosted horizon
imagining an ephemeral continent
behind the feared Cape Horn
and the mariners graveyard
whitens my mind.
Steps in long decades
drove me
to the world’s end:
Tierra del Fuego.
Stunned in this Land of Fire akin
to an original Patagonian Ona Indian
wide eyed to flames dancing
under the Southern Cross at
aliens coming from Finisterre.

 

Moved
I closed my eyes.
Facing an invisible threshold
        the temptation was nearby to
                embrace the cross or steal the fire or
                jump and be swallowed by the whale
                sacrificing for something bigger than
myself bypassing the line of madness
                to live not by bread alone, be
or descend into the darkness of time
                losing my being in the transformation
                while this epiphany plays an arrested
                rhythm between this instant and eternity.

 

Stepping over the end
of a global universe,
end and beginning have
the same meaning as
the end of winter or the start of summer,
in a meaningful and futile
temptation we define
the end as a lucid revelation
                where not a bird sings
and we draw the line
where we break our dreams
and we step over our hearts
where we decide to pass on
                        and awaken the next day
                where an end seems to be
                        is never an end but
                        a new stone to step on
                        a new path to transcendence
                where  the best Victory of Samothrace
                        flies away from the furnace
                        of our burning chest.
The end of the universe is not a destiny.
The end of the universe is not a place.
It is only a location in our minds where
We step upon immanence for a new experience

 

My sight stirs
the same pebbles resembling
faithful dogs at my feet. Similar
to those mysteries of life
the same small miracles that
keep us going. Thus
the end of the universe is not a destiny.
The end of the universe is never a place
It is an act of imagination!

 

Breathe in
breathe out
Breathe in
breathe out.
The horn honks
Disrupting my reverie
The head turned toward the empty
bus for our return to Ushuaia
walking this clear tear of joy
like a simple speck of dust
I realized we are all part
of a poem
the universe is writing with us

 

Pietro Grieco – please see author’s bio on author’s page, and in additional works.

 

I HOPE NEVER TO RUN A BULLDOZER (IN MEMORY OF RACHEL CORRIE)

Pietro Grieco

 

Evocating a photo of Tiananmen Square,
An young teen-aged American girl faces a bulldozer
Sent to destroy homes and hopes
Of  Palestinian families

 

The animated film
Shows the Israeli bulldozer
Run down her body,
Slowly crushing her,
Bones mixing her
Blood with that ancient
Palestinian land,
Back and forth,
Back and forth he goes, mashing her
Into the earth and into history,
Because the driver
A patriot man,
A good zionist man
Wanted to be efficient,
Wanted to be sure of 
A work well done

 

Something happens
In my stomach,
Suddenly
All the history of the world
Runs through my veins and my guts
And I fear my temples are going to blow up–
It cannot be true   it is only a film, I say to myself
The Israelis know the Commandments and the Law
They went through infinite sufferings and the holocaust

 

It cannot be true they fear the ire of the Empire
And very easily they can be crushed too,
No, it cannot be true.

 

It is not true
No human being can crush
The body of an innocent girl
Claiming for justice
For human rights and for
Optimism in the world.

 

I know it is not true
No human being
Nor a good Jew
Can such action do.

 

I know it is not true
Because no apology
Will return her life
No prayer will restore
Our feeble hope
No reason will
Suffice our minds.

 

I know it is not true
The friends
The politicians
The judges
The senators
The representatives
The governments
The presidents
The ministers
Even the enemies
The press and all
The powerful of the world
Will act and slam their fist
Will cry with indignation
Will act at the unison
And stop the bulldozers of hate
Jump and save the innocent
With a biblical name

 

The scene wasn’t revised
And none came to save
Idealistic Rachel Corrie,

 

None is hoping to restore
Hope to my shattered hope.
I wish someone would come
And hope to hope with me,
Help to restore meaning
Mending small words:
Life, peace, Love

 

My neighbor, I remember his
Tears in disbelief, he who went
To work ideals in a kibbutz
But left when he could not
Do his biology work with
A machine gun. As these
Things can happen I hope
Never to run a bulldozer
Or watching TV news
Having peacefully
A miserable cup of tea

 

 

 

 

Pietro Grieco

please see Dr. Grieco’s complete bio on the Author’s page and additional works, SPRING ISSUE, 2011

 

 

 

 

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.