There are dead who light up the night
and the dead who come at dawn
to drink your tea
as peaceful as on the day your
guns mowed them down.
– Mahmoud Darwish
My life has been the tin ribbons of a jaw harp,
its bent notes twanging
in the lightless space cupped between my hands.
I’ve tried to make sense of it:
the button eyes of cloth animals,
frayed cotton straining
at their herniated stitches.
The bones of my face are a map, I told you
the plates of my skull fused like petals at my crown
where the Queen’s infantry anointed me in mortar dust
and closed their ranks forever.
I told you the truth:
before I knew you, I lived for years as a sin eater.
Beauty was a charm I would never inherit,
my palate’s cracked seam a cleft between floorboards
in the attic apartment
where we lived before the war.
You never stared at the palimpsest of scrawled transgressions
that I was sure still etched my body.
Once you took my hand
and pressed it to the shallow depression in your skull
where you told me famine had wracked you while the bones were still soft.
Trepanned from birth,
your fontanelles like spy-holed fingers
never quite closing
over the keyhole to a locked room.
As a child, you told me how you used to wake sometimes
to see a wax museum of saints looming above your bones’ cradle
the dark haired Virgin standing over you,
her robes a swimming quilt of fish and birds.
Their feathers were cursive, crested
in halved suns;
she pressed her palm to your chest, once
and fear died inside you.
I wonder where the mark of her hand is now
watching hoarfrost bloom against the panes
of a shattered city.
The world turns its black spokes,
and the wind covers my tracks forever.
Daylilies wilt and bow their heads,
curling, clawed against my palm.
The insult of bayonets will erase you
a limp body left to bear witness
to history’s bloody unfolding.
I am a corpse, like the others
they heap like sandbags
along the edges of their barricade.
I am a man who has blinded himself
painting portraits on eggshell fragments
with a single-hair brush,
touching the clothes you left folded in my room
until their texture no longer recalls your body
and my hands, too are cast into the insensate dark.
In my mind
I called you Lost.
I called you City of Ur.
Your eyebrows the dark arches of Fayoum portraits,
the bones of whales’ ancestors scattered through the floors
of now-parched Cretaceous seas.
The stelae of their backbones rise like buzzard-ridden arbors,
spines whip-stitched, lacing between sun-bleached dunes.
I want the ululations of a thousand throats
to guide me across black waters whose shores I’ll never reach
a ghost of night overpasses
watching the headlights of transport trucks pass through my body
before the dark under the train bridge swallows them again.
I want to open my eyes to see her staring down on me
from the grotto tattooed on your sunken chest
frail and impossible, a hothouse flower
blooming in the nuclear heat.
I have bled, and seen a river fork through this place.
I have watched lithograph smoke
spill from the barrels of silenced guns
to curl in bows and lariats
around her heart-shaped face;
fetal buds pushing through cracked asphalt,
the bones of plowshares rusting
in soil too anemic for even the grass to anchor its roots in.
Somewhere, a revolution is happening
that will never be broadcast.
Somewhere, the sun rises on a world
no longer drawn as if by some hand
of human pain.