Genealogy of Fire

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From the Zodiac of Echoes
By: Khaled Mattawa


My sister held an old piece of bread.
She pointed to the fungus growing on it
and told my mother
"This is how we began."
My mother was a planet
in search of an explanation,
and my sister an idea
hoping to plant itself in the dirt.
As you can imagine
they didn't get along too well.
If I were to say
take these embers and carry them
in your hands, use a rag for help ... would you?
Let's not hypothesize,
and ask for feats that happen without volition.
An astrologer in Arabic is a falaki.
He or she watches stars swim in the falak.
And falak is the word for star
for orbit
for sky.
So my sister worries about her children.
She spanks them,
hates to hear them criticized.
They are orbits, stars, heavens.
And if that is motherhood, and because
a woman gets into her white car
and the world is full of white cars
and they always disappear like comets
on unfathomable orbits,
birth must be a machine
that braids chance and bird call,
a wave on whose fluctuations
street sounds and mysteries float.
I was born in a hot country,
hot most of the time. Dusty.
The water tasted of salt
and the sun turned our skins
into the color of fading bruises.
In the winter the rooms were cold
and we slept under many blankets
and huddled when we were awake
and blew breath into our hands
when teachers hit us with their bamboo sticks.
My sister's daughter
tosses her book aside.
A budding galaxy,
a swirl of centuries of ecstasy and torment,
she no longer wants to be
the next Simone Weil.
"I shall put on flesh," she declares,
the refrigerator handle in her grasp.
When my mother is alone in a room
she begins rocking.
When she does not know the answer to a question
she rocks three times.
When she falls asleep she curses
all those who make more than breathing sounds.
Night is long in her night,
the day a sickle,
the moon high high, and rain
eventually destroys a man's house
who has nothing but a cat that meows.
My sister's school was named after a holy woman.
The first wife of the prophet.
The classrooms were the prophet's tears.
Weep with me now that I have children
who have grown thin and tall like irises,
like corn stalks. Winds will blow at them
and the world will choke them.
Varicose veins and late night laundry.
Sadness happily rendered penetrates their music,
an unarmed robber, a potter careful
about keeping the oven clean.
Sisterhood, daughterhood
and the myriad arabesques of water.
She saved her wage money,
all of it, and bought herself some land.
And if she were, and if they were
hast thou not seen how the day
peels itself from the dark
to wake in the swamps of night,
hast thou not seen how the moon wanders
traversing among her mansions,
the air cool and smooth as satin,
hast thou not seen her return like a withered branch
every dust mote a little star,
and if she were, and if they were
knowst thou not how we paired thee
to disappear like fog at sunrise
knowst thou not how we multiply thee
on crowded roads or dead gardens,
and still thou returneth to me a bare single soul
and if her voice, and if their voices
were to be swallowed by the sounds
peace unto me the day I was born
of forests or shifting dunes,
peace upon me the day I die
how will I console the world?
the day I am raised?.



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