By: Ruth Awad
I listen for the wind yowling like a wounded dog, its burdened octave
nosing through the bullet-pocked palms.
I listen for the animal sealed in the basement. The grind of teeth.
Survival. Hunger at the bottom of the well.
And when cold edges in from the splintered windows,
it’s my boots skimming the tile, my breath webbing the mirror.
A mouth of light
pointing like a compass needle.
I press my ear to the door, hear the grain’s slight heartbeat.
I hear tree roots spidering, their reaching, their thirst.
Hear footsteps lumber. I turn your name over like a stone in my mouth.
The Keeper of Allah’s Hidden Names
When I looked up, the clouds muted the bulb of moonlight
or they wisped like scarves around the neck of a woman,
that perfume between light and darkness,
and I was still counting.
I counted the white-clothed canopies pinned to the mountainside,
as though they could drip down the stone wall
like water and wash away.
That water jeweled with blood.
Your names like the sea’s broken glass.
I was counting when
you looked down on your animals
who leaned into your breath with wonder
at the wind stinging through their ribs,
was counting when you pulled the moon down into the sea, a pearl
on the tongue of an animal
too stupid to swallow your name and keep it there,
was counting from the cliffs every syllable
of light and water and leaf and bone,
braying your names like an incantation
against the loneliness of knowing you.
Sabra and Shatila Massacre
Refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon, 1982
“The first thing I saw were horses, dead horses behind around where that white building is…and I thought to myself, why would anyone kill a horse?” —Robert Fisk, journalist in Lebanon during the war.
When I can’t look any longer at the animal, shot down,
I close my eyes and draw it to its feet.
There was the broken teapot and two women, their clothes
torn open, and an infant.
A woman with half-singed hair runs through the camp,
a single snap, her breath like a sizzled wick,
her hair like harp strings the wind plucks.
The music makes my feet brick-heavy
as they scale the mound, thinking of all the steps
I’ve taken before and hate myself for wasting
as the dead horses stampede,
as the woman joins their dust-fused wake.
Then the hill sank under my feet like a sigh.
How else do you say it—I stood on them,
what seemed a tarp-drawn embankment,
a hummock of corpses. Quicksand.
White building, throat necklaced
with clothesline, each scarf beats with a stolen pulse.
Too many to count.
The whole land nailed under that gallop.
Town Gossip, 1994
But we were strange girls, girls thrown together
in mismatched clothes, shaved sideburns, that Arab last name.
My father got letters: Please don’t drop the girls off early.
There’s no one here to watch them.
Kids asked, what do you mean your mom’s not here?
Wolves without her—
unkempt in the eyes of our teachers
—Sarah hoards the week’s lunch money in her desk
because she is too scared
to hand it in.
Those days we’d ride our bikes down Highway 1
to the hotel where our mother last stayed
and we’d loop the lot for hours, sawing paths between the bumpers
for no reason other than that door was briefly hers.
Our guidance counselor
is excellent with children from divorced families.
We stole the bitten-eared tabby
from the neighbors,
mined playground rocks,
pocketed mom’s old lipstick tubes.
Mariam is outspoken in class, but we worry her peers make fun of her alopecia.
She spends recess on the blacktop next to the instructor.
Leaf-strung crabapple girls. We climbed the arthritic tree
outside our dentist’s office, clutched there until sundown.
Ruth wears men’s overcoats to school.
Do they belong to you?
Ruth Awad is a Lebanese-American poet and the author of Set to Music a Wildfire (Southern Indiana Review Press, 2017), which won the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize. She is the recipient of a 2016 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award and the 2012 and 2013 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, she won the 2011 Copper Nickel Poetry contest, and her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Missouri Review, CALYX, Diode, Rattle, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. Learn more about her work at www.ruthawadpoetry.com.