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Noon Edition

Elementary Arabic

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One of the bits of poet wisdom I return to again and again, probably since I was about nineteen and read this somewhere, is the response Mahmoud Darwish gave in an interview when asked to speak about the role of the poet. He said, "the role of the poet is to write the unseen." I've carried this with me for years—its meaning has expanded and spread out multidirectionally. To me the notion of "writing the unseen" is linked to another of my deepest values around poetry & art making in general, and that is what June Jordan and so many others have called  'truth telling.' So writing the unseen, & truth-telling are for me linked to a practice of bewilderment & curiosity. Study. Wonder. Imagination. As a poet I am always asking myself (asking the poems) to help me look closer. To apprehend the world around me & inside me with deep attention to both the infinitesimal & the gargantuan, the tiny pebble stuck in the tread of my shoe right alongside the indescribable histories of sorrow, loss, ecstasy, joy that we carry into & out of this world.

Janan Alexandra is a Lebanese-American poet and MFA candidate at Indiana University. She has received fellowships from the Martha's Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. You can find her work in PloughsharesThe RumpusMizna, and elsewhere.

Welcome to the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. Janan, what poems have you brought for us today?

 

elementary arabic                                                                                                                  

 

i.

 

i am beginning to learn

                                                            i am studying alone

after 30 years of exposure           

                                                            at home

to words & sounds                    

                                                            like sunlight

sculpted perfectly                      

                                                            inside the morning

in my mother's throat

                                                            a tray of coffee & dates nearby

another kind of history there

                                                            on the starry kitchen counter

language & family bits

                                                            powdered sugar

sweetness in what is

                                                            sifted finely

passed & scattered

                                                            through thin mesh 

like names

                                                            hardly visible

slid off a map                            

                                                            in quick white dust

 

  1.  

 

when we came to America                      

                                                            my mother kept records

an archive locked

                                                            in her jewelry box:

somebody's teeth           

                                                            a clutch of hair

fastened

                                                            wrapped in paper                                              

around a silence

                                                            the small sukuun

our lips made

                                                            little roundness

hanging circles in the air

                                                            keyhole, doorway

a shapely absence

                                                            we peered through

                                                                                                 

                                                           

 

iii.

 

each year i find  

                                                i am looking for my own likeness                                                              

in the old jewelry box

                                                among the objects i visit

the year before

                                                which i have touched

 

                        gold earrings

                        house keys

                        pink cotton wool

                        an old watch

                        mismatched buttons

 

my whole life

                                                turning a key like a secret

clicking open & shut 

                                                in the language of children

we are broken plurals

                                                glossed at the root

by which i mean                        

                                                we are made beautifully

split origins tell a story

                                                of a past which helps us

remember a future

                                                to understand what is here

in the hand

                                                a gratitude for beginning

this excellent tongue

                                                a careful & daily search.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dream, or, poem to the tongue                                                                                                

 

There at a family table with a long cloth scroll

an Arabic newspaper embroidered in red & gold.

 

& in each thread a kind of time & in each time a pair

of hands folded on the marble table hauled by sea.

 

& you too will haul things, the carpets who lived

in a silver trunk slung now over the sunny banister.

 

& you too will enter what was only ever half-given,

this house of inheritance, field of dispersal. It's alright.

 

In a room of windpipes restless & dry as your sleep,

your mother will always be your mother. You have

 

saved her voice in the telephone, you have held it

in your hands like the blue & white eyes of her one

 

favorite mug, so these will always be your hands

& you will learn how to speak from the throat & the gut,

 

in the language that knows how to measure the thickness

of blood & knows how to say & how to say you bury me—

 

You've been listening to the poetry of Janan Alexandra on the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey.

arabic alphabet

"The role of the poet is to write the unseen."
- Mahmoud Darwish

Janan Alexandra is a Lebanese-American poet and MFA candidate at Indiana University. She has received fellowships from the Martha's Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. You can find her work in PloughsharesThe RumpusMizna, and elsewhere."

On this edition of the Poets Weave, Janan reads "elementary arabic" and "dream, or, poem to the tongue."

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