What kind of world will we leave
for our mothers? My mother
calls me, weeping. I am
far and the country she gave
me could kill me. Or
that's what she's saying, her voice
clumsy with tears-my mother
who never cries, and so
for this, too, apologizes. Sometimes, more
often, I want to mother
my mother. I've begun to
wonder what it is like for her
to have four hearts
outside her body, buried
in brown and fragile skin. I never wanted this
for my children, my mother sobs
from a Michigan town
where once men crowded in white
cloaks, their sons still
there lingering at drug stores and gas pumps
with steely guns and colder eyes.
What do you tell a mother
you love too much
to lie to? My mother
named me Leila because it was a song
white men played on air guitars, which meant,
she'd hoped, they couldn't hate me. I'm so scared now
for Rachid, even with his blonde hair--
My mother thought her blood
might protect us in this country
from this country, her fair genes and cast-
aside Catholic god. Thinks now
she failed us as children because she only ever told us
stories of monsters
we wouldn't recognize. Mother,
I know these men
could be your brothers
and do not blame you. She weeps.
I am far and the country
monstrous. What kind of world
do we mother, knowing
what it is, what it's capable of?
The long night stretches
between her window and mine.
As if comforting a child, I say the word
kind--as in, the world is still
kinder than we think. I think
I believe it. Mom I say
stop crying--no one's leaving this world
to anyone yet.
FASTING IN TUNIS
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances.
- ROBERT HASS
My God taught me hunger
is a gift, it sweetens
the meal. All day, I have gone without
because I know at the end I will
eat and be satisfied. In this way,
my desire is bearable.
I endure this day
as I have endured years of days
without the whole of your affection.
Your desire is one capable of rest.
Mine keeps its eyes open, stalks
through heat that quivers,
waits to be fed.
The sun burns a hole through
the sky and I am patient.
The ocean eats and eats
at the sand and still hungers.
I watch its wide blue tongue, knowing
you are on the other side.
What is greater: the distance between
these bodies, or their need?
Noon gapes, a vacant maw-
there is long to go
until the moon is served, white as a plate.
You are far and still sleeping;
the morning has not yet slunk into your bed,
its dreams so vast and solitary.
Once, long ago,
I touched you,
and I will touch you again-
your mouth a song
I remember, your mouth
a sugar I drink.
WHEN I TELL MY FATHER I MIGHT BEGIN TO PRAY AGAIN
He says he's never really stopped
speaking to God. Says it's in his DNA, asking
Twenty-one years he bowed before the bed, us
children in a row behind him
crushing our foreheads earnestly to the floor.
I can't remember the last time
I clasped my hands above my breast and yearned for
God in that formal way,
but my father possesses an exact date-
Christmas, seven years back, the final jummah,
after which he walked out into the blinding
snow. O ye who believe! If there exists
in my blood a map, it is one I keep
folded for fear
of where it does not lead. God,
I want so badly
with you-not for aid or for proof of
my goodness, but to feel
again your presence
in my life, undeniably there
like my father's hand on mine
in this still and inscrutable dark.
-from Tunisiya/Amrikiya (Bull City Press, April 3, 2018), selected by Tyree Daye, POW Guest Editor Fall 2018
PROMPT: In "Motherland" Leila Chatti writes, "often, I want to mother // my mother." One of the strange rituals of adulthood is the shifting dynamic between offspring and parents that Chatti points to here: children begin to comfort parents, to try to protect them against the world, against a country that is "monstrous." Write about one of these moments from your life, when you felt yourself taking on a more care-taking role with a parental figure: what did this new role feel like? How did you (perhaps, as Chatti suggests) care for yourself by caring for your parent?
BIO: Leila Chatti is a Tunisian-American poet and author of the chapbooks Ebb (Akashic Books, 2018) and Tunsiya/Amrikiya, the 2017 Editors' Selection from Bull City Press. She is the recipient of scholarships from the Tin House Writers’ Workshop, The Frost Place, and the Key West Literary Seminar, grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and Cleveland State University, where she is the inaugural Anisfield-Wolf Fellow in Publishing and Writing. Her poems have received awards from Ploughshares' Emerging Writer's Contest, Narrative's 30 Below Contest, and the Academy of American Poets, and appear in Ploughshares, Tin House, American Poetry Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere.