if there was a time, before
BismiLlah... I am often hesitant to share writing that dwells more in the deeper, darker, sadder stations. and if I do, it has usually been abstracted and poeticised so much that it becomes unrecognisable. My feeling is that in the last year or two, there has been a magnified sense of collective grief, which is abstract as well as deeply personal and real. I have found that reading others' writings on this, reading articulations of grief, have been profoundly beautiful and healing for me, and a source of comfort and solace.
I am sharing a series of fragments that attempt to encapsulate what I have been walking through in these months, I hope that this small offering can be a source of opening, recognition, solace, for someone.
Perhaps I am
No longer a poet.
These days I write to take inventory.
I cannot bring myself to make poetry out of things
I would like to save
Just as they are
Like haifa said: ‘memory’s only companion is forgetting’
So I make lists, I aspire to meticulousness, I take inventory.
To render my grandmother's laughter literary feels hollow.
Today’s inventory is green:
Although noomi basra are now black, they were once
Green, and their fragrance still is.
We peel lemons, roll vine leaves, string bamya with a needle and thread
And hang it to dry,
(All of this working with hands is intoxicating to me, everything reverberating with that particular significance of the haptic. everything tender, touched, everything a process, to be kept in order, repeated, saved.)
The prayer mat is green
(tender, touched, kept in order, repeated, saved)
You see I cannot make greenery fall into rhyme and line break,
I must save it whole,
Fragrance and all.
I am no longer a poet, but a collector, a rememberer,
A somehow-embodied conduit for the disembodied,
One voice in a green and many coloured harmony of women
How they sing!
And roll vine leaves!
And stuff them!
Forehead to green ground.
If there was a time, before
When everything was unspoken
And forgiveness overcame all things
When roots were visible, clear,
When no one was alone,
When we were all One,
[alone ; allone ; all One]
Then existence is its opposite:
Everything strange, unknowable, unfamiliar, cold, difficult,
Nothing lends itself to being
Like it did before.
And when it is familiar, nameable, touchable,
(Like the moment mama hears a song and it makes her think of 20 years before it was written, and she was there in the dark wet earthy mud and fetching her water from a well and straining the way i strain now to retrieve these memories,)
then it is uncanny, unnerving,
I am undone.
(Like meeting a new friend in a gallery. Everything about him the
Speed at which he speaks, the way his sentences ebb and flow, he cannot be interrupted because he speaks in waves, comfortable with the spaces in between
because there is always the return, the response
– whispering, inevitable.
Even the paintings feel familiar: a woman sitting by a garden table, in a blue dress, brown arms in the sun, looking away from me, towards a greenhouse. But I know the lines on her face already, the fixedness of her gaze.
These days, I do not need to see to believe.)
Moments of recognition are bittered by a sharp knowing pain that says, “this is the opposite of childhood”, or the dream of childhood, or ‘before’, but was there really a ‘before’?
Someone I tried to love once called me today and I could not hold the words in my mouth that said that is not me anymore. The deepest changes cannot be spoken. To me, he sounds exactly the same, that is all I hear, the same desperation. Love cannot be won, this I know. Instead love is given, softly, quietly, burning, precious ember, there is no taking, only giving. I shrink away when he says ‘this is what you will do’. I run somewhere I can stretch my arms out. Somewhere I am allowed to say leave me alone. The grief is about everything else. Before you, I could dream. You were mysterious once, a repository of hopes and ideals, now I know, it is better to take inventory of what is known, than of what is dreamed, conjured, a hazey vision of the ego.
I said this many months ago and it is still ringing true and truer: I am no longer a poet, I write to make inventory. Because everything is lost.
Before, a poet said: nothing is lost, everything is transformed.
Now she has put away her notebooks, her pen, and speaks in flowers instead.
Many stories in me have died now and I fear I will not see them again, and they will never see the light of day, it was never really about me, but about them, and in this state of abstract grief I cannot contain very much. It was a summerless summer with no balmy evenings of togetherness. And still the dew returns to the grass at dawn, still the birds sing after the briefest of darknesses, still, white flowers grow.
“All sudden understanding is finally the revelation of an acute incomprehension. Each moment of finding is a getting lost. Maybe what happened to me was an understanding as complete as an ignorance, and from it I shall emerge as untouched and innocent as before”
[The Passion According to G. H., Clarice Lispector]
Nostalgia not as a past feeling but
A way of being in the present, to allow us to consider that,
Everything is never as it seems to be,
Memory has a companion whose name is ‘forgetting’,
Reminds us why we write, speak, hold on,
Something has been lost,
a limb, a string of the vocal cords, the water I swam in, I emerge cold and vulnerable and something is missing. The eyes ache to be emptied out and be refilled (with emptiness). So i came home to the river,
The river, without thinking twice. Praying I would catch the daylight. That is what i sought, but what i found was maghrib time, and then night time.
Let us conjure again this feeling of being in the dark, by the dense deep dark of the river, the clarity of the stillness at its surface. To walk with our eyes closed for some moments. To feel the cold set into our walking figures as they move on their own, without us. Conjuring up this feeling again as a strange kind of comfort, (here I can dream, better than a deep sleep.)
Bitter and sad and sharply cold, but alive. We are here in the city, and we have found a way to make it soft, to feel it fall gently around us, to move through the cold darkness before it is even time for the fifth prayer, as if it is midnight.
As if we could be the most obscure small beings ever. Like the ant that moves over a black rock in the dead of night. And still God sees her, is with her. The imperceptible footprints left by her fleetingness and yet she was there, known, definite. How close God is to her, how overwhelmingly present God is there, in the dark. And the silence. The silence of a soul’s changedness, and sameness, the quiet of a lived in room, the silence of a home that is content, knowing it has been named, called out to, finally – “I’m home!”. Maybe we can only really name Home like that once we have left.
‘There are sights too beautiful to swallow. They stay on the rim of the eye; it cannot contain them. We talk of drinking in a sight, but what of the excess that cannot be caught? So much goes by unseen.
No matter how long I stayed outdoors, there was a world that would remain invisible to me, just at the cusp of perception, glimpsed only in fragments, as when the delphinium at dusk breathes back its unearthly, ultraviolet blue.
Deep blue, the last colour to remain before the dark’
[To The River, Olivia Laing]
The not-quite quietness of lived in houses
1. In my room, I hang a Matisse painting called
The quietness of lived in houses. acrylic on canvas, I believe.
The quietness of passing sadness
Fight or flight?
Flight. But not the way you are expecting.
(Allah Allah Allah)
Melike says the birds are different here,
They only sing at sunrise and sunset, but in Turkey they sing all the time.
She says she prefers the way they are here.
I say maybe we can only hear them at those times and she says
I have been listening.
we call prayer times by different names in our respective mother tongues, so we resort to describing
where the sun is in the sky,
how long is a shadow? is the moon out?
the beauty of unnaming, almost as exquisite as naming anew.
3. A loud conversation, my housemates raise their voices when they speak across continents, to break borders.
4. The loud smell that wafts up from the kitchen
Wisaam in the room next door listening to Abdul Basit reciting Qur’an.
The quiet gaps in between the verses, respite and anguish at once as we wait for holy words to ring out again.
Some maqams will stay with you forever. Each progression of one note to the next contains a thousand memories, a thousand supplications, feverish secret prayers, whispered and called out. I think they are resurrected every time we hear
this note again, next to that note, followed by the silence of an inhale
Like the silence of Ramadan nights.
now we wait for the days to lengthen, the way we must lengthen our exhale.