Poetry and Prose from Web del Sol

The Works of Khaled Mattawa, Part 6


For the ugly man who buys bell peppers,
eats them raw before talking to himself,
for the widow who loves prunes because they're tender
as lips, for the Saudi who comes wearing a jalabia,
his face easing, not afraid of being stigmatized,
his veiled wife ahead of him telling him what to do
the only time this week, for the red haired cashier
who believes in her beauty, the gorgeous plump blonde
who shaves neither armpits nor legs, for the day manager
who prices apples according to his mood,
for the mounds of wilting tofu, the Moroccan olives
crispy with sand, the barbecued setan, nori maki,
organic tomatoes, four-bean salad, celantro,
Indian frozen foods, for the meatless pate, countless
boxes of couscous and falafel mix, jars of eggless mayonnaise,
sacks of whole grain teff, liquid aminos, anise extract,
and seaweed crunch, for the biodegradable shampoos,
Burmese healing clay, and tiger balm, for all
the small compromises you plant in the concrete,
the wholesomeness you pluck from chaos, for all this
my love and I will break in through the window
near the record store, french kiss all the kiwis and plums,
fondle mangoes, bananas and pears, empty coconuts
of their milk, stuff our faces with tabouli and lentil soup,
eat almonds, raisins and cashews out of each others' palms;
we will dip sticks of rhubarb in cayenne pepper
for a taste of hell, and purgatory--the rush
of the acid bitter juice, then paradise:
swigs of orange blossom water and spoons of honey
from Tibet; we will dye our hair with Indian henna
in the kitchen sink and glow under the light seeping
from the street, dance our way upstairs to sitars
playing in our heads, and next to the buckets of granola
and flavored coffee beans, we will make a mattress of kale
and Boston lettuce leaves, rub our bodies
with extra virgin olive oil, sip demitasses
of aphrodisiacal teas, and like Adam and Eve in their bower,
we will make love, our touch warmer now, our limbs
glistening and slick, Ah the soul ascending to the crotch,
the moist feverish pudendum, the throbbing of the hasty cock;
we will have known nothing like this, never experienced
such joy. In the morning you will find us radiant
with innocence, behind our eyelids butterflies,
starfish, and pearls; you will wake us, tell us
the ghosts of Buddha and Marx and the think tank
of meditating angels who invented New Age Zen have bestowed
upon us a kismet of unparalleled bliss, that from now on
our sweat will become holy, that we will fly over villages,
continents and streets sprinkling the world
with blessings, that mothers will heal their ailing
babies with the mist of our transcendental rain.


You remember the joke, right?
About the guy who wanted
to build a future
but ran out of cement,
ran out of bricks, tossed around
by the wheels of fortune,
crushed under the concrete of neglect
like the bird we found
in the middle of a street
downtown, head nodding,
wings barely flapping,
drowning in automobile exhaust.
I held it, felt the warm clay
cooling in my hands.
I could almost see all its flights
returning to nest forever
in the grayness of its down.
You watched me make
a place for it under a tree.
At least it'll die
in the shade, you said.
And death will come
slowly riding the coattails
of a breeze.

It's morning where you live now.
In your room in Leiden,
you're calling friends
in London, Cairo and D.C.
There's a windmill
in the distance. The old woman
whose basement you rent
plants tulips because they,
like the Turk cycling to deliver
fresh milk and cheese,
are predictable, on time.
Your notebooks are crowded
with cob webs and pigeons
and the angels for whom you wait
build houses on the ocean floor.
Half drunk in Tennessee,
I think of you. I'm happy here
laughing at white lies and curses,
running out of bricks, but not embraces.
Listen brother, it's the same everywhere.
We all raise memories like trees
to live under their shadows,
to be sheltered by their magnificent,
leaking roofs.


So I go to Ashenda
to get some fix
Shandar there
playing his lute
& a dark haired angel
combing a violin
I cry Anatolia! Anatolia!
I'm a nightingale shrieking
dawn's first flick
I'm the unknown soldier
singing it's me again
I say one more
& I'm ready for the Western World
Then I'm at a bar
with Lucinda
& we're drooling
on the body on
discipline and the reign
of Robespierre
Then it's consummation time
& I say hey

there's a ram butting
at the door & a widow's
crying for something
I say Lucinda
I've got a drum in my belly
& she says
I'm a goddamn
shivering eel
Then it's polka
on a South Dakota lawn
Shandar doodling
Shahrazad stomping
by the window
soaking up the light
Then we all smoke Camels
& Lucinda says
I wish I could live
without having to disown
& I say yeah
tell me more
about that


For now the mullahs
have tucked away their whips.
In Tabriz a woman sits
by a brook. A man walks
up to her, gives her a handful
of pistachios. If she loves him
she will read him your poems.
Come back. It's spring.
The widow who bought your house
has planted azaleas. Like you,
her daughter puts dahlia petals
on her fingernails. The henna
tree blossoming, the rosemary
bush waist high. Goldfish
have returned to the pond
and soon the sparrows' song.
There have been two wars.
Your son, buried in Ahwaz,
died in the first. The leper boy
you adopted is back in the colony
and memorizes none of your poems.
Your books are still banned
in Teheran, but they talk
about you in Texas. Naderpur
and others who bragged
about sleeping with you,
lecture on the phenomenology
of your imagery, the rebel
music of your rhymes.
Your brother made songs
of your love poems, sold
millions of cassettes
before the Shah. He sang
at the crown prince's wedding,
expatriates screaming "encore,"
shoving money into his pockets,
grams of cocaine. Come back.
You must believe in the end
of the cold season just for once.
Outside my window it's Indiana,
people swaying to the Grateful Dead,
everyone dancing alone.
I join them and look for you.


A soldier waved our bus
into a detour. We didn't pass
by Parliament Square that day.
I'd hoped to go to a pastry shop,
coins I saved for a week.
Southern winds, sun shrouded
in dirty clouds, red tongues
of dust on windowpanes.
There'd been a hanging on the square.

Sixteen years later
I eat lunch at home,
afternoon light, the gloss
of olive oil on lettuce leaves.
On the radio, whistle and boom
of mortar shells, one landing
on a soccer field, forty boys dead.
And I'm trying to remember who wrote
"to die in mid-sentence
was to triumph over the dark."

When I was seven
I spent days hiding
among the bean stalks. I heard
my name called and felt indifferent
to being wanted, unassured
that the world I lived in
would undo my foolish malcontent.

It's not as dramatic now.
I look out the window,
people in their rooms, reading
or thinking, or watching TV
as if the world had stopped calling,
as if we had emerged
from the whirlpool of its demands
with a wild mixture cowardice
and courage to say unto others
"I wish you did not exist."

On the day of the hanging,
my father drove home,
a poster of the President
on the hood of his car.
He tried to explain.
Over and over he said "survive."

Once I believed forgetfulness
was a gift from the gods,
not an erosion of the soul.
Now I know enough to say
this has happened before,
and even crueler things--
the bombardment of the ghetto
as the republic ate its lunch
in the park, held its toddlers,
napped on lawns, smoke-sharp air
fevered with the hiss of a flute.

Don't ask. I too find myself
listening to gurus
who abhor coherence, who tell us
language is a bucket of slop
and we can only grunt and squeal.
I wonder if they say this to silence
the wretched who have found no words,
who wave their torn limbs at us.

This too has happened before:
My brother and I snuck to the car
the night of the hangings.
We intended to tear the President's poster.
But something held us,
not a policeman's shadow
or the neighborhood spy.
Not even my father
who hours before
had gone to sleep.

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