Apple orchards in bloom, treacle tart: oily malt arrives first on the palate followed by smoked pineapple, summer berries, pine nuts and almonds, a very soft hint of sulphur . . . . . . . . . . . . . as in the baths of Davlos, my father’s and grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s village, Davlos, a torch under the castle of Kantara, a craggy lime ghost and the bray of donkeys tied in 1973 on the capstan of the well still rings in my ears and the bones of the dead, Greeks and Turks, Phoenicians and Crusaders whirl at its bottom for centuries.
Now Wolf moon over Kantara; a voyage; incoming; a boy’s legs disappear into the wine-dark water and although Auden is not wrong about human suffering, . . . . . . . children cram into inflatable boats only to end up in concentration camps and women plunge into the cold, their bodies heavy with weeping as men carry infants on their backs their feet, their tired . . . . . feet . . . . . bare on beach pebbles, ζωή . . . . . not βίος, bare life first shot with military-grade cameras, bare life incoming: and Mosse zoomed in on a curious . . . . . little . . . . . girl holding onto a smart phone and we fail to understand that poverty and despair have many dimensions just as displacement and the sense . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . of home and the white bodies are trapped in limbo forever, la vita nuda masked as protracted refugee situations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . intractable-
Cyprus cyclamen and pink Anatolian orchids still carpet the pine forest in Davlos . . . . . . . and I am told that as a small boy, I tumbled down that slope into the turquoise sea, looking for pearls, sea urchins, and turtles and tonight we drink Craigellachie in small Limoges cups but what started as an excuse . . . . . . . . . . . .to discuss poetry and voyages over whiskey turned into libation . . . . . . . . . . . . and remembrance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and horror.
by Christos L. Hadjigeorgiou
Editor’s note: The complicated enjambment and spacing of this poem mirrors the complex grief/anger/sorrow of the speaker.
Tears are an ancient compass
constantly pointing south
for the Sabina Nessas of the world:
Muslim, Brown, South Asian descent,
and for the 700 indigenous women missing—
from the same area Gabby Petito was found
Tears are an ancient compass but
N-E-W-S without the N is only ews to you
Your compass is a screen coloured with your flighty bias
You are not lost—just feathering your nest with your fears
Your needle is magnetized by “influencers” who flock together
and never fly south,
nor east nor west,
every winter of our lives—
as if we even needed a winter to remind us
of all the seasons of killing
Our tears are an ancient compass
the tracks of which
lead to an ocean that will never wet the cheek
Your compass is broken.
by Julian Matthews
(from the prompt “Tears are an ancient compass” from Taylor Mali’s @metaphor_dice broadcast on IG)
Editor’s note: Metaphor, enjambment, and unexpected punctuation keep the reader off balance in this poem, emphasizing the underlying theme of grief/horror quite well.
We lay facing each other, smothering
ourselves by ticking off things we know
and things we don’t want to
suspect. Whatever they’ve seen is small yet.
It could be nothing; statistics provide
hope, genetic testing an educated guess.
We start to talk about the family history, but instead
fall into silence, as if our voices might carry the violence
of a positive diagnosis even before biopsy.
We start to talk about my random fevers, my fatigue,
other symptomology we’ve not seen in the normal
course of autoimmune disease. Tears take over
like tangible, existential philosophy. We make
love, every touch ten times as powerful
as radiation. You are more present to me
than you have ever been, your hands upon my skin
caressing cancer away.
2. The Night Before Ultrasound
We have held ourselves together by threads made
more of magic than science. We have repeated
the reasons it cannot be a tumor a thousand times.
I breathe you in as if this one intake of breath
can hold me upright through chemotherapy or whatever
waits on the other side of tomorrow. Our lovemaking
echoes with sorrow, what we’ve already lost together
so present twe don’t dare hope and we don’t dare not to.
3. The Night of the All Clear
Somewhere in the back of our minds, we are cautious.
Family history has shown it’s just a matter of time
before time catches up. You cup my breast in your hand
and kiss me the way you did the first time, nervously,
as if afraid I might slip away. But I am present tonight
and will be tomorrow. We burrow into each other
knowing hope is a hoax for people like us.
Knowing hope is all we’ve ever had.
Editor’s Note: People who live with a chronic illness know deep in their bones that another terrible diagnosis is always a possibility. This poem deals with what life is like with that monolithic dread looming just over the horizon.
A long day I’ve had of it, and a tiring one, and little to show but this loose scree of words like dinosaurs; the fossilized remains of once great moments.
They tell me beauty’s truth, but still I fail—what use is it to me that Keats once wrote, thou still unravished bride of quietness, and tore the language from God’s living throat. I fossick, find, make space back of the truck—say virgin girl lets go. It’s time to fuck. . .
It was the hinge of a door when you left me. A door closing down like a small fire that has come to know destiny in its own intricate unraveling, a fire which is cold and burns like the infamous past and what are we made of but curiously glowing embers frozen out and locked in place? Still, there’s that perfect hinge that says here, here is where your life swung unhinged magically, a screen door afloat on a gyring river, the same one that escapes twisting through the sacked and abandoned landscape, scarred and sacred as a burned out trailer park where a fat lady with a cane and glass eye knows exactly the price and cost of every known and necessary thing, –and wouldn’t I care for some sweet tea? -as she pirouettes gracefully for one painfully useless eternity and opens just a bit as if I had been expected all along to pass through
The metal-stiff bubbly palm of cobbles in The terrace rebel against my calcaneus As I saunter under the cyan sky where Streaks of clouds frisk and fumble for vapour Thrushes chant to the waking sun as Their beaks osculate the wedges among the Humid stones searching for beads of millet The damp metal of the railing from between Cracks and tatters of the knife-thin varnish Feels arctic like the water under an iceberg, And looks like the skin under a crisp scab My eyes alight on a fungus-hued plant clad in A not-so-exact domino of a cactus— The needles stuck on its face remind me of The mornings when mom would quickly stitch A button on my uniform shirt that had been hanging loose Like a marcescent leaf waiting to fall The delicate thread in the needle was like a ligament Holding our love intact for the love of a mother is infinite and matchless These needles—pricking the green oblong balloon Look sharp like the ramified fingers of a fork from which My friends and I, on birthday parties, would burst birthday balloons My eyes traverse through the mornings before school When my mom would use a hairbrush that looked like this plant To style my hair lovely; I was sixteen-year-old child who Couldn’t decide which hairstyle to make for I knew none These needles—poignant as the nib of my sketching pencils With which I’d draw mom’s sketches on the mom’s day cards I’d make for her, sticking on them her favorite chocolate These needles—long as raindrops falling from the sky at midnight When mom, my sister and I would stroll the lane With ice-cream cones in our hands, dark umbrellas above our heads These needles—thin like the borders of kohl around my mom’s eyes In the mirror as I stand alone making up my face for a party These needles—attenuated like the intricate designs of henna On my hands on every Eid These needles—the scarf pins I bought when I started Hijab These needles— A tender knock at my aperture leading to my mind And scenting of warm feelings in my heart
by Hafsa Mumtaz
Editor’s Note: The meandering imagery at the start of this poem mirrors the way nostalgia tugs gently at the heart before arrowing sharply to those memories most poignant and stubborn.