And Only Then

August is Summer Reading Month in Daily Nutmeg, and Claire Zoghb is this week’s featured author. Please enjoy these poems from Zoghb’s collection Small House Breathing

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Breakfast in Alexandria

Your father unwraps brown paper
packages from Shenouda’s market
arranges salami and mortadella
two kinds of olives
on red and green plastic plates
balances a knife beside yellow Turkish cheese.
He unties the bag of Lebanese bread
bought at the bakery on the next block
when it opened just after the first call
to prayer, when the sky, still star-filled,
goes lavender along the city’s rooftops.
Spooning tea leaves into slender glasses, he loses himself
in a whistling sound made through his teeth, less
like music than the sea-breeze along the Corniche
a song he had to squeeze through clenched teeth those
Achrafieh mornings
when he’d rise before anyone else
descend three floors to the street
with each flight, each step
steeling himself against the inevitable sight
of a corpse in the street, please not a neighbor or a cousin
fasten the body or what was left of the body
to the back of his French Chrysler, drag
what was left of the body to another street
away from the streets his children
walked to their schools, and be back upstairs
to put the water to boil as his family awakened.
But the violent boiling of water signals peace
this morning and, across the sea, Lebanon lies quiet at last.
He turns off the gas under the pan, pours the singing water
into three glasses, one by one, adds more sugar
than any of us should have, sips his
to be sure it is sweetened enough
and only then, calls:
Y’allah! Breakfast is ready.

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Lamentation: An Alexandrine

No pharaoh’s burial for you, our dearest, nor
Canopic jars of alabaster, carved by hand—
Your inner warmth we hold in chambers of our own.

No band of court musicians follow you to Death:
Just simple songs our beating hearts compose and sing.

No Tutankhamen’s gold adorns your face and neck.
No turquoise, coral, silver, semi-precious stones.
No layers and layers of linen wrappings swaddle you.

No Cleopatran barge to sail you into Death.
No Solar Boat like that we saw at Giza. Yours
A heavy wooden vessel, crudely, crudely carved.

No ministrations from Anubis for you, Fouad:
Just orange blossom water, rotting roses, then—
A tempest in the Eastern harbor afterwards.

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Small House Breathing by Claire Zoghb
Quercus Review Press, 2009
Where to buy: Amazon

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