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As a writer of the Arab diaspora I am always thinking about constellations, or the idea of our lives being made up of what is constellational, rather than that which is linear or sequential. I found this word "constellational" in the work of Aracelis Girmay, who is one of the dearest poets & teachers to my heart. My poems think a lot about belonging, identity, erasure, memory and Girmay's thinking has been a lighthouse & flashlight (!) for me along the way... She writes in this beautiful essay: "When the piece of a body is left (or a home is left) then the body begins being a constellation: one piece is there! one piece is there! [...] Is the practice of seeing political? Is the practice of meditating political? People have made it their duty to hurt other people. There have been successful & unsuccessful attempts to eradicate people on this earth...As long as we are living in a society that says it's okay for some people to have voices & others not to have voices, then speaking is a political act."

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 Ploughshares, The Rumpus, Mizna, and elsewhere."

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

 

 

return (ii)                                                                                                                             
 

Look: I have my father’s feet. In the long

thin bones & wide-tipped toes they bend

with broken grace, strain beneath my frame.

I have learned to wash & oil them each night,

these two slick fish who flop into my hands,

twin metatarsal sorrows who carry me by land.   

 

I think exile might be a word for no more

country, but it's also the place we live now. 

& country might be a synonym for loneliness

in the body: a flare flying from my chest when

asked where are you from ? My answer: here is

the oldest flag licking my heart's tin roof.

 

When people talk about the Middle East,

garbling our names, my ears deepen red.

It is not embarrassment but a sad fearshame. 

My breath quickens when they say I-rack

& I-ran. I run & I run, my hands held out—

who will care for the sounds of our names ? 

 

Back when we could still touch the sea, my father 

led me through yellow courtyards, laundry lines

sagging low, tablecloths grand in the wind.

(This is unfactual, but not false). What I know

is only ever half-true: he gave me music, made

a brightness for my ears. I made him mixed tapes:

 

Muddy Waters & Mississippi John Hurt. He played

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, I blasted the Rolling Stones.

Are we American? I counted the years until

we had lived here longer than anywhere else.

Then I stopped counting. Slowly the notion

of return slipped away but for the sweets

 

my father brought home in golden wrappers.

My lips clicking open for the tart & chewy

amardeen, rosewater & pistachio in my cheeks. 

I listen now for the other side of the song. I gather

our feet: mine which are his which are carrying me. 

 

 

 


 

visit                                                 

 

when it's time to drive her

to the airport, we have made

enough biscotti to last me

a week, maybe two if i ration.

 

we zested lemons & mashed

the pulp, folded our need

into an easy yellow dough until

it was ready to be twice baked

& sliced, stacked like worry

dolls all night in the red tin.

 

at the curbside drop-off i save

each needle from the artichoke

risen in my throat. i miss her

even as she faces me. little child

i try to prepare in myself, knowing

i will come home motherless

to bedding that is lonely for her

jasmine & rose, a single strand

of her hair left in the pillows.

 



 

body parts: a golden shovel

 

            for & after the painting by

            Huguette Caland

 

dear persimmon bottom, body parts I

swallow but cannot name or keep, I love

 

your belly's spoon curled around every

small history of touch. In one pink minute

 

your lines unfurl, inching up the hill of my life

grown plump with pleasure. I squeeze it

 

until the paint turns warm like an orange

bathing in light. Here is my desire: I eat

 

my eyes closed, wild fruit falling, the peel

dropping slowly in citric spirals. & because

 

we are born conjoined, parts bound, I don't

blame what I have lost along the way, want

 

only to live in a house with no doors, to miss

breaking in my own skin, what else, not a thing.

 

 

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

Lebanon sea

(kab_s, Pixabay)

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 "return (ii)," "visit," and "body parts: a golden shovel."

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