Register of Eliminated Villages and other poems

Register of Eliminated Villages and other poems

Register of Eliminated Villages 

I have a register which lists 397 eliminated villages, Kurdish villages in northern
Iraq…. The work is called “The Register of Eliminated Villages.” It’s a very
decorative, pretty thing . . .
                                                                                    -Kanan Makiya, Frontline

Somewhere in this insomniac night
                      my life is beginning
without me. In Northern Iraq,
                      it is high noon, the sun there

perched over fields shriven
                    with lilies, the petals of orange
poppies red with a light
                      that a gauze of gray sparrows

glides through over sheaves
                        of bone too stubborn to burn,
all that is left of those razed
                       towns. A mother turns to a father

in the cold room they share,
                offers her hands to his spine.
I curl inside her, a silver bangle
                        illuminated by candle’s

flame. I curl beside you, lay
                  my head close to the vellum
of your smooth back and try
                      again to sleep. Count to one

thousand, you suggest. Count to two.
               Three. As someone must count
hacked date trees, hollowed
                      hills paved into gardens, though

the scholar on tonight’s
                    Frontline only counted each
town destroyed: three
                        hundred ninety-seven of them.

Who counts dolls, hand-
                        stitched, facedown in dirt?
Count to four. Five. Six. Count
                    cadaver, stone, belongings: pots, 

spun from red clay. Who
                         will count the amputated
hands of thieves? A mother
                    presses a hand to me. Inside

her, I thrash, a stalk of wheat
                       blistered by storm. Sleep comes,
brief as it is bright. I startle
                  awake, turn to you. The register,

I know, is real,
                    fat with the names of the dead,
elegant strokes of sharp pencil
                       etched into thick pages. A father

presses an ear to a mother’s
                         belly. I am wide awake. Count
to seven. Eight. Nine. You
                       murmur, turn to me. Someone

must be counting hours
                      spent weaving lace the color
of moonlight for a girl’s
                      dowry. But I don’t have

the right to count hours,
                   girls, dowries — just the skin-
thin pages of the good book
                        I once cut a hollow into,

condoms I stored there,
              cigarettes. Count each minute
I waited for them to fall
                  asleep. Count nights I sat alone

on the curb, held smoke
                  inside my mouth, released
whorls of it into the air.
                A father leaves a mother asleep

on her side, the crocus
                 of my fetus nestled inside.
I draw over us the thin
                  sheet. A father reaches

for the Qur’an, thumbs through 
                      page after illuminated page,
runs his finger beneath
                       each line of verse, looks everywhere

for the promise of my name

Self-Portrait As Mango

She says, Your English is great! How long have you been in our country?
I say, Suck on a mango, bitch, since that’s all you think I eat anyway. Mangoes

are what margins like me know everything about, right? Doesn’t
a mango just win spelling bees and kiss white boys? Isn’t a mango

a placeholder in a poem folded with burkas? But this one,
the one I’m going to slice and serve down her throat, is a mango

that remembers jungles jagged with insects, the river’s darker thirst.
This mango was cut down by a scythe that beheads soldiers, mango

that taunts and suns itself into a hard-palmed fist only a few months
per year, fattens while blood stains green ponds. Why use a mango

to beat her perplexed? Why not a coconut? Because this “exotic” fruit
won’t be cracked open to reveal whiteness to you. This mango

isn’t alien just because of its gold-green bloodline. I know
I’m worth waiting for. I want to be kneaded for ripeness. Mango:

my own sunset-skinned heart waiting to be held and peeled, mango
I suck open with teeth. Tappai! This is the only way to eat a mango. 

West Texas Nocturne

Because the sky burned, I had to unhinge
from the window the mesh screen
to step out onto the roof where the world was
an orange freshly peeled. I held

to my nose fingertips scented with spring.
Beside me fluttered the wings
of another promise I made but didn’t keep.
I sat there for hours until my thighs

were raw, ripped by those rough shingles.
I knew how to perform under the gun,
to tether myself farther and farther afield.
This was before the other daughter

died and only one of us cried, but long after
those old pumpjacks no longer
needled the horizon clean. The velvet mat stayed
unfolded, but I told y’all I prayed

anyway. The sky was famished with stars.
I couldn’t help but count each scorched one.

Before The Accident, And After 

I promise to lose weight was a lie
I told in every register I knew, until
the night the wind blew backward,
and exactly seven yellow poppies grew
from the mouth of her corpse I tried
to cuddle. I then began to count
the number of times my insomniac
friend said the word tomorrow,
the number of years any cactus
outlasted my sister, pound after pound
of the weight I lost then gained—
my gravy-thick horror.
My piles of chicken-bone sorrow.
I tried to stop missing my little sister
so I could better love my pretty mother,
shadows engraved in the secrets
of her wedding bangles. But no one wanted
to kiss me, and it doesn’t matter. Fat
is a silver vessel that holds holy water.
I was fat before the accident, and fat after. 

What This Elegy Wants

It doesn’t want a handful of puffed rice
tossed with mustard oil and chopped chilies,

but wants to understand why a firefly
flares off then on, wants another throatful

or three of whiskey. This elegy is trying
hard to understand how we all become

corpses, but I’m trying to understand
permanence, because this elegy wants

to be the streetlamp above me that darkens
as sudden as a child who, in death, remains

a child. Somewhere, there is a man meant
for me, or maybe just to fall asleep beside me.

Across two oceans, there is a world where
I thought I could live without grief. There,

I watched a vendor reach with hands of lace
towards a woman who looked like me. There,

I fingered bolts of satin I never meant to buy.
There, no one said her name. How to look

into the abyss without leaning forward? How
to gather the morning’s flustered shadows

into a river? Tonight, I will watch a man I still
love walk past, hefting another woman’s child.

He doesn’t look at me. I won’t wonder if I
wanted him to. This elegy wonders why

it’s so hard to say, I always miss you. Wait,
she might have said. But didn’t you want

your palms to be coated in mustard oil? Did you
really want to forget the damp scent of my grave? 

(Excerpted from Registers of Illuminated Villages: Poems, published by Gray Wolf Press)

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