What It Is to Be Holy
after & for Kaveh
An Arab of his country and on his country oncesaid to a boy born in a colony: you too are ArabI can hear it in your voice. We only kneweach other by what was pushed out.He said: you have a psychological map,a pure timeline of 400 years thankfulfor family to draw on. I always knew I was ancient.How else to explain being slowly destroyed,left to mould in rooms, or being pored overby people certain they knew what I meant?He said: the holiest city in the world is quarteredand we can either blame Solomon for the ideaof carving lives in half or else all the plaintiffswho refuse to love the whole enough.I have taken to making my god flowerbramble, weed. Maybe to watch divinitydie or to make god observable, small, sweetsomething to make honey from, never gospel.Who was it that said you only write to the landbecause the land cannot speak back?They must not have been fluent in mountainsor an absence of certainty. I have prayedevery day in a language I know only in pieces.No wonder I have centuries of faith lockedin my hair and nails so long, so matted.Mattered. I keep doing that. Bleedingbelief, spilling it onto mats and garden beds.Making love to whatever I consider holy:the exiled light, the opening in everything,what came before, spring, poets. Praisebe to God, Lord of all the worlds, even onein which I am loved and let go.
“it’s a myth / that love lives in the heart / it lives in the throat we push it out / when we speak” —Kaveh Akbar, from ‘Heritage’.
In my poem, which begins with an Arab on his ancestral land, speaking to “me”, an Arab born a world away, I reference this line from Kaveh by saying, “we only knew / each other by what was pushed out”, indicating bodies more than voices. It’s fairly innocuous language, so one might argue I need not have mentioned Kaveh at all, but that would have been dishonest, firstly, as he provided the inspiration, and it would have lessened the potential meaning available to a discerning reader. In my work I am speaking to a literal physical displacement, complicating the action of speech with diaspora itself, but by linking it back to Kaveh, I am also allowing his invocation of love, of the voice as love, as love being a force ejected (or materialised in the process of ejection), to gently shade the line. To say back to the Arab, you may know me by my voice, but I know you by our distance, and as such I can, should, must love what separates us. Love lies not just in recognition of the familiar, but in difference also.
Reproduced from Prairie Schooner Vol. 92, No. 2 (Summer 2019) by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 2019 by the University of Nebraska Press.
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