Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

Such is the world we inhabit: while wasting time on Facebook, between political news and recipe videos, an obituary of someone you know, half a world and years away, appears… Death asserts itself everywhere.

I met Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore in Philadelphia on Saturday, May 21, 2005. I don’t recall that because I have good memory, but because I blogged about it that day. Daniel was a judge on the Philadelphia Reading Series Open Poetry Competition, which was held at The Book Corner, a second-hand bookstore near the Free Library of Philadelphia, and around the corner from where I worked at the time. I’d been writing poetry and posting it online for a couple of years then, but that was the first time I’d read it in public. I was terrified… and I won second prize! Daniel came up to me afterwards and congratulated me. He was an editor of English translations of Mahmoud Darwish, one of my all-time favorite poets, and it meant so much to me.

The following year, thanks to Daniel, I was featured in the Other Voices International Project. But soon after, Daniel was there for me during one of the darkest episodes of my life. During Israel’s war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, I was in Philadelphia while my family was under the bombs in Lebanon. I was at my wits end, feeling helpless and hopeless. I was in the streets demonstrating, reading my poetry to anyone who would listen. Daniel was part of a poetic "call to arms" I held online; and along with Laurie Pollack and Arlene Bernstein, helped me form Philly Poets for Peace, which raised money for the UNICEF Emergency Relief Fund. Daniel and I read from Darwish’s To an Iraqi Poet, he in English and I in Arabic; it helped me hold on to my sanity during that nightmare. A year later, Daniel helped me publish four poems in Islamica magazine...

And then, as they say, life happened. We lost touch, I wrote less and less, and eventually I moved back over the Atlantic to Europe… I’m ashamed to admit I followed the news of Daniel’s illness recently on Facebook in silence. Words may be what brought us together, but words failed me… I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. And here I am, at a loss of words again. So I’ll just borrow from my younger self, and dedicate to you one of the poems you helped me publish, The Flight of the Swallow… Forgive me my silence.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Flight of the Swallow

In memory of Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

What do they know
Of the flight of the swallow
Or the crane and how it dives?

What do they know
Of the life under your eyes
Or your smile and how it wanes?

What do they know
Of the gathering of the night
Or her waist and how it sways?

What will they know
Of the taste of the sea in your bread
And your embrace trembling under my sleep?

They'll know nothing
But the snow gathering under their fingernails
And the horizon as it folds onto itself...

(Originally posted on May 10, 2005)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Hard Country" by Joe Bolton

"It is, even now, a hard country to live in.

Full summer is invisible fire under cypresses
Dying of thirst,
And you think of the dog days it got too hot
To do much else but sit and sweat
And watch the ground bake till it cracked.

Or, wintering, it could be the New World:
The empty duskward distances
And killing promise of mow.
You still remember the night it fell to fifteen below.
You were sitting at the kitchen table,
Ten years old,
A blanket on your lap and a bowl
Of snow cream in front of you.
Your mother was stoking the stove.
You saw, through the window, the west field
Silvered with snow and starlight. Saw
The figure of your father crossing the field,
And the load he carried curled in his arms:
A calf that had picked a bad night for being born.
He brought it in to warm by the stove,
Red ice of afterbirth melting into pools
And the poor thing’s ears already frozen off.

Now, in autumn, walking the long mile
Back from the empty mailbox,
You can see the place, what’s left of it:
Two Plymouths and a ‘34 Ford
Squat rusting, wheelless, home
To broken tools and rotten clothes, mice.
Gray barns and outbuildings lean graying.
And the white house is white
Only in memory,
For the photographs, too, have faded.
Back of the smokehouse, from limp fur, the skull
Of an eaten raccoon grins skyward.
You wonder if there was ever any glory to be had here,
And if not, then why, for two hundred years,
Anybody has bothered....

A hard country to live in, yes,
But not a hard country in which to find
A place to drown oneself.
You think of water, of the names
Of water: Sinking River. Rough River Lake,
South Fork of the Panther.
And all of it flowing Ohioward, Gulfward.

For water everywhere rages to be with other water;
Or, held isolate in ponds, in the hoofprint
Of the thousand-pound heifer after rain,
Reflects the utter emptiness of sky.

And water is as empty as sky, only
Easier to fall into,
Heavier to breathe."