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The sky today
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The sky today

On reconsidering clichés, three poems and liberation

The morning I am writing this is cool and it’s grey in Chicago. Yesterday, in the late afternoon or maybe the evening, it was, in El Paso where my mother and her mother and my family and also others live, hailing, despite blue skies. Growing up I learned to call this a fox’s tea party. I learned later, elsewhere, others say it means the devil is beating his wife.

You ever notice how violently we speak?

I’m gonna pull the trigger…
More than one way to skin a cat.
You killed it.
Gonna whip this into shape.
It’s no skin off my back.

It bothers me, when I catch myself using words carelessly. Relying on cliché without questioning why. When we speak to each other, we are constantly creating and reinforcing meaning and relation. We create a shared language through which we will try to make ourselves understood to each other. I do not want to be understood through needless, thoughtless gestures toward violence. The world is already violent and there are better words. And there are better worlds.

The limits of our language define the limits of our world. Wittgenstein said this first, or at least well. I think of it all the time.

It’s a question of consideration and imagination.

What are we willing to linger on? What do let ourselves wonder without the guarantee of an answer? What can we picture that we have not seen?

I guess this is why, for me, poetry. Where words can be more than a mirror, but also a doorway. (Words can always be these things, it’s just poems do it on purpose.)

Anyway, here’s three this week. We’ll read them in this order.


The Cypress Broke
by Mahmoud Darwish

The cypress is the tree’s grief and not
the tree, and it has no shadow because it is
the tree’s shadow
—Bassam Hajjar

The cypress broke like a minaret, and slept on
the road upon its chapped shadow, dark, green,
as it has always been. No one got hurt. The vehicles
sped over its branches. The dust blew
into the windshields ... / The cypress broke, but
the pigeon in a neighboring house didn’t change
its public nest. And two migrant birds hovered above
the hem of the place, and exchanged some symbols.
And a woman said to her neighbor: Say, did you see a storm?
She said: No, and no bulldozer either ... / And the cypress
broke. And those passing by the wreckage said:
Maybe it got bored with being neglected, or it grew old
with the days, it is long like a giraffe, and little
in meaning like a dust broom, and couldn’t shade two lovers.
And a boy said: I used to draw it perfectly,
its figure was easy to draw. And a girl said: The sky today
is incomplete because the cypress broke.
And a young man said: But the sky today is complete
because the cypress broke. And I said
to myself: Neither mystery nor clarity,
the cypress broke, and that is all
there is to it: the cypress broke!


The Fire Cycle
by Zachary Schomburg

There are trees and they are on fire. There are hummingbirds and they are on fire. There are graves and they are on fire and the things coming out of the graves are on fire. The house you grew up in is on fire. There is a gigantic trebuchet on fire on the edge of a crater and the crater is on fire. There is a complex system of tunnels deep underneath the surface with only one entrance and one exit and the entire system is filled with fire. There is a wooden cage we’re trapped in, too large to see, and it is on fire. There are jaguars on fire. Wolves. Spiders. Wolf-spiders on fire. If there were people. If our fathers were alive. If we had a daughter. Fire to the edges. Fire in the river beds. Fire between the mattresses of the bed you were born in. Fire in your mother’s belly. There is a little boy wearing a fire shirt holding a baby lamb. There is a little girl in a fire skirt asking if she can ride the baby lamb like a horse. There is you on top of me with thighs of fire while a hot red fog hovers in your hair. There is me on top of you wearing a fire shirt and then pulling the fire shirt over my head and tossing it like a fireball through the fog at a new kind of dinosaur. There are meteorites disintegrating in the atmosphere just a few thousand feet above us and tiny fireballs are falling down around us, pooling around us, forming a kind of fire lake which then forms a kind of fire cloud. There is this feeling I get when I am with you. There is our future house burning like a star on the hill. There is our dark flickering shadow. There is my hand on fire in your hand on fire, my body on fire above your body on fire, our tongues made of ash. We are rocks on a distant and uninhabitable planet. We have our whole life ahead of us.


We Lived Happily During the War
by Ilya Kaminsky

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

protested
but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.


Watch your words. They become your world.
(This is a blessing, not a threat.)

Free Palestine.

Sunset outside of Ramallah, Palestine, photographed by Ahmad Ayyoub
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the animal eats
the animal eats
a bi-weekly reading of a beloved poem or excerpt from my bedside table, accompanied by a few stray thoughts and, on occasion, work in progress.
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