Poem of the Week | October 23, 2012

This week we’re featuring a new poem by Ruth Awad. Awad holds an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Republic, Anti-, Copper Nickel, RHINO, and elsewhere. She loves her two Pomeranians very much.

Author’s Note:

This poem seemed the most cohesive way into one of my father’s most harrowing experiences during the Lebanese Civil War, and how daily life mutates in that violent static. My aim was to form a composite impression of the spiritual ramifications of war as experienced by my father when growing up in Tripoli during this time. The aftermath of the war haunts these places still, and in my father’s case, the same is true. Even after he left Lebanon, it seemed that dissonance and grief followed him.

Sūrat al-Qiyāma:

My Father Talks to God When Syria Invades Tripoli, 1976


We are in the streets already, drawing lines in the dirt,
pulling gunfire into our breath, clouds that climb and split like timber,
the sky where bombs swarm and lurch


into the arching wind, into the smoke-stained light,
into our bodies whose rungs and limbs are railyard tracks—
immoveable, tied to the land.


The body a gate the soul passes through.


When men hunt each other, they call You different names,
sounds that sift into rockbeds, settling under the water’s tongue.
Listen: it’s calling You, this river.


Its voice is a warble, those drowning in the streets.
The earth shakes us like fleas from its hide.
My arms covered in ash. The port-harbors moored with flame.


A bloodstone sun rises, raking the earth
as I run through the streets, the heat slung on my back,
shots mottling the window where I bought bread,


and the voices follow—the scratch of gravel, the barking allies,
the lifting fog—all of it, animate and fluent to those this close
to the shopkeeper’s slumped body, the blood-rilled mouth,


red petals dripped on the counter like a prophecy.
It ends like this: our time weighed like grain on a scale,
Your hands too full of lives like mine.