Lampedusa only a dozen leagues now, the bay
between it and Sousse a corridor of debris,
a Phoenician graveyard.
Are we prepared for the storm’s paradise?
The starlings recite the zodiacs on their wings;
the marabouts must in kindness abide.
On the wireless the noises of rescue—
the double dealing of virtue and abuse—
into a theater of salvation we ride.
We are exalted into some hippopotamus,
our mouths checked, hands gloved within
human skin, their fingers inside.
The mouths that speak are covered like the Tuaregs’,
their eyes swathed with a dusky mirage.
Our names taken, flicker like fireflies.
Looped around our wrists numbers
that look like a kind of price.
The bullhorns cry, the seagulls deride.
On slippery bridges, we’re wrapped in gold foil,
woozy, often diseased. But who is saving whom?
The question’s not stated, only implied.
Psalm for the Departed
A fistful of myrrh in his left
hand, and his farewell wave
is the Bennu’s heavenward flight.
His voice a thread buried
in sand, an incandescent light
inflaming a sky gleaming
with ink. He’ll be pure and I will
stand an inexplicable glyph
waiting to be assigned.
Measure now your heart’s
contraband—all that’s delved
between us. Measure it
in blood. Tell the mind to
withstand what it’s discounted
but could not ever disavow.
Now That We Have Tasted Hope
Now that we have come out of hiding,
why would we live again in the tombs
we’d made out of our souls?
And the sundered bodies that we’ve reassembled
with prayers and consolations,
what would their torn parts be other than flesh?
Now that we have tasted hope
and dressed each other’s wounds
with the legends of our oneness,
would we not prefer to close our mouths
forever shut on the wine
that swilled inside them?
Having dreamed the same dream,
having found the water that gushed
behind a thousand mirages,
why would we hide from the sun again
or fear the night sky after we’ve reached the ends of
live in death again after all the life our dead have given us?
Listen to me, cities, houses, alleys,
courtyards, and streets that throng my veins,
some day soon,
in your freed light and in the shade of your
your excavated heroes will return to their thrones.
Lovers will hold each other’s hands as if they had never known fear.
I need not look far to imagine the nerves
dying, rejecting the life that blood sends them.
I need not look deep into my past to seek a thousand hopeless vistas.
But now that I have tasted hope
I have fallen into the embrace
of my own rugged innocence.
How long were my ancient days?
I no longer care to count.
How high were the mountains in my ocean's fathoms?
I no longer care to measure.
How bitter was the bread of bitterness?
I no longer care to recall.
Now that we have tasted hope,
now that we have lived on this hard-earned crust,
we would sooner die than seek any other taste to life.
-from Fugitive Atlas (Graywolf Press, 2020), selected by POW Spring 2021 Guest Editor, Cyrus Cassells.
KHALED MATTAWA currently teaches in the graduate creative writing program at the University of Michigan. He is the author of five books of poetry, and a critical study of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Mattawa has coedited two anthologies of Arab American literature and translated several volumes of contemporary Arabic poetry. His awards include the Academy of American Poets Fellowship prize, the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and a MacArthur Fellowship.