Yannis Ritsos

Kazim Ali

Athens was welcoming to those who had come from the sea.                                                                         MAHMOUD DARWISH

Yannis, you held him in the glare of the diamonded sea,
unteaching him his practical mantra of liberation,
seeing in him a son to take care of you in your loneliness,
loneliness varnished by your detentionin the house made of flower stems that thrust
through the rocks in the prison-yard, its roof made
of the unscannable lines of rain. You revealed to him
the sound of the rusty-hinged door, how it would swingsadly open and reveal no homeland beyond at all.
He came from the sea dragging his anklets of keys.
Did you teach him then how the old locks and houses
of his hometown were already all broken?Yannis, in the end he rinsed the last of the coast road’s
dust from his body after a lifetime of pressing his language
into lines of poetry and prayer and prestidigitation,
tired of praising mosques in which he could not pray.The same morning I was forbidden by the guard to pray
at the Mosque of Cordoba, he woke up in Houston,
Texas and went to a mall food court to meet for the first and last time
his translator. The words they spoke to one anotherwere the same as those I saw in stone fragments
on the floor of the archeological dig at Madinat az-Zahra,
the ruined capital of the West looking East toward
the cities left behind. That city had remained buriedin a field for a thousand years. The palace and throne room
had been torn apart, the rubble of the mosaics
now being painstakingly reassembled piece by piece,
unlike the villages of Palestine, disassembled down to stone.Yannis, what did you say to him that blue afternoon when the stone
canoe landed and he arrived in another place that would be home and
not-home? In Cordoba, meanwhile, the story of his death flashed
across the morning news, scrolling along the screen from clay to nothing.But let’s let the sea have the last word, the sea he crossed to come
to you, or the one that sparkled off the coast of Chile when he,
in Neruda’s house, remembered you or the sea that rained
lightly down as the poet and his translator huddled togetherover cheap mall coffee to converse, in Texas of all places,
though it could have been Athens, or Palestine, or Neruda’s house,
at least as good as any mosque in the world,
so long as there was coffee and poetry and the sound of rain,rain in the shape of the river, rain in the shape of a broken lock,
rain in the shape of long-since written verses, while the translator
of lost homelands makes from the sound of butterfly wings
rain in the shape of the dark furnace of days.

Feature Date


Selected By

Share This Poem

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Print This Poem

Share on print
Kazim  Ali

Kazim Ali is a poet, essayist, fiction writer and translator. Sky Ward (Wesleyan University Press) was the winner of the Ohioana Book Award in Poetry; The Far Mosque (Alice James) won the New England/New York Award. In addition to editing Jean Valentine: This-World Company (University of Michigan Press, 2012) and Mad Heart Be Brave: On the Poetry of Agha Shahid Ali (University of Michigan Press, 2017), he is the founding editor of the small press Nightboat Books and the series co-editor (with Marilyn Hacker) for both the Poets on Poetry series and the Under Discussion series from the University of Michigan Press. He has taught and lectured at colleges and universities across the country including Oberlin College, Naropa University, and St. Mary’s College of California.

“What a gift Kazim Ali’s Inquisition is, what a generosity, in its sustained and sustaining inhabitation of the mystery. That, without ignoring heartbreak or rage, it understands that we are always ‘at the end of knowing,’ and shows us how we might reside there. And from which residence, Inquisition reminds me: love.”
—Ross Gay

“Ali’s use of the inherent musicality of language gives the poems an incantatory beauty… The poems feel vibrant and effortless, with one sound, one word, blending into the next. The resulting music, that lives in the mind, in the mouth, and the air, offers its own meaning, a sense of understanding on an elemental level that is satisfying and complex.”
—Vandana Khanna

Poetry Daily Depends on You

With your support, we make reading the best contemporary poetry a treasured daily experience. Consider a contribution today.