By no sleight of your hand: I see I’ve lived on air before.
My heart plummets, a trap-door that was only air before.
Who has not fought love’s battles in open air before
never saw your face or took a nom de guerre before.
You arrived in flesh—earthly, a human disguised.
Never so foolishly had I muttered prayers before.
The point’s moot if you know my thoughts and I yours
so let skeptics deny we were an unsplit pair before.
Why bridle this love, while wars wear on outside?
Among ruins, my pretense never so threadbare before.
Such love, if your right hand fails, I’ll write a score
for your left hand alone, harmonies heard nowhere before.
If the world heard a call, a minaret with no muezzin,
could love overpower what we lived as nightmare before?
Beloved, even pebbles dropped into wells create ripples,
reflecting light where we saw only despair before.
My father is hosting the final picnic.
He rolls a melon back and forth
on the slate table to steady it
and slice, each piece bleeding
onto a white plate. The coals turn
gray but still flicker and burn, with raw
meat slung on top of the grill, oozing
blood red to clear. In the river
bordering the grove, a lone man paddles
his arms, stomach pressed
to a blue surfboard.
Black and white ripples
radiate from him while boats knock
against the pier. The children
gather their Frisbees from grass,
their volleyballs and racquets, appearing
in bright shirts like confetti.
Their voices rise and fall. It is late.
The sun shines, but not
for much longer. The golden hour
has begun. For a moment
the moss-covered trees glow
lime green, frozen in their looming
heights. My father: white shirt,
gray pants, silver wristwatch,
glasses. He always cut the melon.
The plates are ready, the food
is hot, the watermelon cold
and seedless. And our lives,
for a moment, are an untouched
meal: perishable, and delicious,
one we’ve barely begun to taste.
HOW TO SPEAK OF HIM
Now, only in past tense—
who he was, what he liked, how he
sounded. How, even from the hospital bed
he always asked, first,
how we’d been.
He does not offer, anymore,
much advice, except
the snippets I hear
when I catch myself erring
slowly, repeatedly, humanly
again. He’s no longer
sick. He’s alive
in my thoughts, at the height
of health, bright
as a recovered coin.
My new father suffers
no more. I take care
to tell the boys
God knows and fulfills
his every need and that now
pain ends, and the worry,
and the treatment.
I tell them. His diagnosis
with him, as bodiless as air.
His illness no longer
hovers, an uninvited guest
at our family table, one
we had just learned how to serve:
mournfully. I don’t assume
now, that I will hear
his raucous laugh
when I enter
my parent’s yellow home.
Still, I can conjure him at will.
My new father visits regularly
only in my mother’s sleep.
She scolds, Are you going to sink
underwater & leave me again?
He promises no. He will not leave
again. Instead, he returns
onto our ruffled lawn
by spaceship, copter, or jet.
He reassures my mother:
Your time hasn’t come.
I won’t take you with me yet.
-from Bring Now the Angels (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020) selected by Fall 2020 PoemoftheWeek.com Guest Editor Angela Narcisco Torres. “How to Speak of Him” originally appeared in Smartish Pace. “Ghazal [before]” originally appeared in Smartish Pace. “The Feast” originally appeared in AGNI.
Dilruba Ahmed is the author of Bring Now the Angels (Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020). Her debut book of poetry, Dhaka Dust (Graywolf Press), won the Bakeless Prize. Her poems have appeared in Blackbird, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, and Smartish Pace. Her poems have also been anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2019 (Scribner), Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books), Literature: The Human Experience (Bedford/St. Martin’s), Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry (University of Arkansas), and elsewhere. Ahmed is the recipient of The Florida Review’s Editors’ Award, a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Prize, and the Katharine Bakeless Nason Fellowship in Poetry awarded by the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She holds degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers.