Friday, 23 August 2013

Poetry: Song for an Ancient City

I have loved this poem for a few years, and now it's up on the new Mythic Delirium site, in English and Arabic, with recordings in both languages.  Do take the time to listen to them.

Merchant, keep your attar of roses,
your ambers, your oud,
your myrrh and sandalwood. I need
nothing but this dust
palmed in my hand’s cup
like a coin, like a mustard seed,
like a rusted key.

I need
no more than this, this earth
that isn’t earth, but breath,
the exhalation of a living city, the song
of a flute-boned woman,
air and marrow on her lips.
 - Amal el-Mohtar, 'Song for an Ancient City.'
It's not my Damascus, quite, mine was candy and garbage and shawarma and eroding concrete and bus exhaust, but the sentiment could be mine.  It's especially poignant right now.

Damascus, how I miss it.

Here's another one:

I looked for you
in the Umayyad mosque
I saw your feet stamp the coriander dust
your fingers swinging old shoes
of leather and brass
back and forth, back and forth—
                                                hooded, grey, wondering and small,
two fingers hooked into the heels
of shoes I carried in one hand.
your hair was bound up, far off from me;
I bound mine, too,
a gesture of loyal symmetry.
I looked for you
I could not find you
in the sun-steeped mosaics,
in that city of silver and capsicum
the figures of fruit trees, bridges, vines.
of frankincense and raisins.
I saw whole cities blooming in the stone
I saw long veils stitched with hexameters
that would not speak to me, would not say
that lied when they breathed:
where they'd seen you last.
she is near.

 - 'Damascus Divides the Lovers by Zero, or The City Is Never Finished' by Amal El-Mohtar and Catherynne M. Valente

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