Calligraphies VII

For Fadwa Suleiman


While the same rain fell

on suburbs of exile and

motherless children,


whose courage was certainty

whose impatience turned to doubt,


she came in the door

like a comrade, lover, friend,

and took off her shoes –


older than my daughter but

too young to be my sister.




Sister of someone

who was forced to denounce her

on television;


pacifist in keffiyeh,      

but they got guns anyway –


She rolled impatient

exilic cigarettes, wrote

fables of mourning :


the mother tucked the child in

her bed, and slit the dove’s throat.




Slit-throat, cutthroat sun

slashed wrists of early spring rain.

Wolves at a distance


give up verse panegyrics

and howl like politicians.


Is hope a fatal

disease, or was that despair?

The old woman sheared


her gray hair short as a boy’s,

kneaded wine in dough like clay.




Words were clay and wine,

what I imagined, she knew

by heart, recited.


The boy who’d stood beside her

was a killer now, or killed.


They bore the cardboard

coffin, cardboard clock tower          

at a crossing of


Paris streets, where her voice was

already losing context.




Not to lose contact,

with what she was, would be, she

played it on TV –


a Lebanese soap about

political prisoners.


Larger than life, she

acts her life while she lives it,

keeps writing the script,


but not the body’s misfires,

or defections in the blood.




Blood in the orchard,

or a memory of blood,

a song about it:


shepherds in all the stories,

treason in most of your dreams.


Walk in an orchard

where you picked low-hanging fruit

or shook down olives


in another century’s

childhood, before departures.




How old was the child,

her son, when she last saw him?

Her choice, her story…


but it’s close to five years now,

the boy near adolescence,


as my daughter was

at twelve-and-a-half, thirteen

in orchards pendant


to other hill villages,

other declensions of loss.




I decline to spool out

or wind in someone else’s

narrative spiral.


Don’t want that poem to end,

can not know how it began.


Lead weights in my legs –

because I didn’t die young,

age caught up with me,


a face to frighten children

with its own terrified eyes.




Own my solitude,

its immunocompromised



Write emails in her language,

but she isn’t answering,


up against the wall

with no windows on the street.

Outside my windows,


spring drains away though a sky

mottled with silvery clouds.



Mottled, nacreous

throat of the dove at her throat,

hope and betrayal


in the book to be published—

only poems, just paper.


The chebab cheered their

Joan of Arc. On YouTube she

preceded herself


toward the dovecote of her chest

in a suburb of the rain.


Marilyn Hacker

Marilyn Hacker is known for formal poems that mix high culture and colloquial speech. She is the author of thirteen books of poems, most recently A Stranger’s Mirror (Norton, 2015), an essay collection; Unauthorized Voices ( Michigan, 2010); DiaspoRenga, written collaboratively with Deema Shehabi (Holland Park Press, 2014); and sixteen translations of French and Francophone poets including books by Vénus Khoury-Ghata, Habib Tengour, and Rachida Madani. Her translations from Arabic include work by Zakaria Tamer, Golan Haji, Fadwa Suleiman, and Yasser Khanjer. Her awards include the National Book Award, the 2009 American PEN Award for poetry in translation, and the international Argana Prize for Poetry from the Beit as-Sh’ir in Morocco in 2011. She lives in Paris.

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