ramadan :: khaled mattawa

My mother forgets to feed her animals
because it’s only fair.
She rushes to them when
she hears hoarse roosters crowing
and billy goats butting
over a last straw.

This month the moon becomes a princess.
The stars fan her,
Jupiter pours cups of wine,
Mars sings melancholy mawals.
Bearded men holding prayer beads
and yellow booklets stare at her
and point aching fingers at her waist.

In our house we break a fast
with dates from Huun
and glasses of buttermilk.
Then on to bowls of lamb soup
flavored with mint, trays
of stuffed grape leaves,
spiced fava beans drenched
in olive oil and lemon juice.
And that is only the beginning.

The spirits of Johnny Walker and gin
hide in the trunks of white Peugeots.
In the nightclubs of my city, waiters
serve only non-alcoholic beer
and belly dancers cover themselves.

Father of sixteen children, our neighbor
visits bringing two kilos of baklava.
He washes them down with a dozen
demitasses of sweet sage tea.
Before dawn he runs to one
of his two wives, both named Salma,
and loves her hurriedly,
his hands barely touching a breast.

Notes: A Mawal is an unaccompanied improvisarional vocal solo regularly performed by singers of traditional Arabic music to show their poetic as well as singing prowess.

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null point :: gabrielle calvocoressi

The first thing I learned was to look wide
at the darkness

and not want anything. He’d say, Just look
at the darkness

and tell me what you see. I’d say, I see stars or
Just the stars, Dad.

And he’d say, Don’t call them that yet. What do you see?
Just the stars, Dad
.

But then I’d be quiet and let my eyes go and look wide
at the darkness.

It was like a dome. I think it frightened me to stare
at the darkness.

I see light. I see a million little lights. And he’d say
They aren’t all stars.

Some were planets and some were planes and I’d say, Yeah,
they aren’t all stars
.

But not really believe it. But say it so not to feel stupid out there
in the darkness.

lessons :: jacqueline woodson

My mother says:

When Mama tried to teach me

to make collards and potato salad
I didn’t want to learn.

She opens the box of pancake mix, adds milk
and eggs, stirs. I watch
grateful for the food we have now—syrup waiting
in the cabinet, bananas to slice on top.
It’s Saturday morning.
Five days a week, she leaves us
to work at an office back in Brownsville.
Saturday we have her to ourselves, all day long.

Me and Kay didn’t want to be inside cooking.

She stirs the lumps from the batter, pours it
into the buttered, hissing pan.

Wanted to be with our friends
running wild through Greenville.
There was a man with a peach tree down the road.
One day Robert climbed over that fence, filled a bucket
with peaches. Wouldn’t share them with any of us but
told us where the peach three was. And that’s where we
wanted to be
sneaking peaches from that man’s tree, throwing
the rotten ones
at your uncles!

Mama wanted us to learn to cook.

Ask the boys, we said. And Mama knew that wasn’t fair
girls inside and the boys going off to steal peaches!
So she let all of us
stay outside until suppertime.

And by then, she says, putting our breakfast on the table,

it was too late.

wade in the water :: tracy k. smith

          for the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters

One of the women greeted me.
I love you, she said. She didn’t
Know me, but I believed her,
And a terrible new ache
Rolled over in my chest,
Like in a room where the drapes
Have been swept back. I love you,
I love you, as she continued
Down the hall past other strangers,
Each feeling pierced suddenly
By pillars of heavy light.
I love you, throughout
The performance, in every
Handclap, every stomp.
I love you in the rusted iron
Chains someone was made
To drag until love let them be
Unclasped and left empty
In the center of the ring.
I love you in the water
Where they pretended to wade,
Singing that old blood-deep song
That dragged us to those banks
And cast us in. I love you,
The angles of it scraping at
Each throat, shouldering past
The swirling dust motes
In those beams of light
That whatever we now knew
We could let ourselves feel, knew
To climb. O Woods—O Dogs—
O Tree—O Gun—O Girl, run
O Miraculous Many Gone—
O Lord—O Lord—O Lord—
Is this love the trouble you promised?