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?
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.
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
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.