Sentinel Poetry (Online) #37
3rd Anniversary Issue – December 2005
Time Running Across the Night
To watch Sitti Hoca set
her mouth and write her name
in a new script, to see
her comb wool sheared
five times, on metal teeth, then take
a wooden stick capped
with a metal hook, fit
one piece of the soft mass
to the hook and pull
with the fingers a thinning strand, rub
the long stick upwards
along her thigh and release
it to twirl the thinning mass
into thread, is to see
time made by hand.
With the fingers she counts
the steps back
to the beginnings of things,
the sheep on dry hills
while war wages over names
and borders. And despite that,
the shearing and spinning and weaving -
in nomadic lives, all the names
for time and permanence.
On the mats beneath her feet weave
stalk of grain,
throat of the wolf,
the evil eye,
meet her in the
and bringing back its coffers full of evidence.
Sitti Hoca is a refugee.
patterns from the north of
like those from the Kurdish hills, evidence
not of one consciousness flowing
through us all but, in a mat
that takes a month to weave, time running
across the night while the wolves come
over the horizon. In the plane of thread, catching
love’s brief solace
in the permanence of the fingers.
The Opening Minutes of a Film
I look at you
like the opening minutes of a film,
when you don’t yet know
what to focus on.
In the long corridor on the way to the station
you are walking away from me
against the adverts in the subway
I must be following you.
You are a long shot that never recedes.
I want you to look at me.
You look back, maybe to see
if we’re going in the same direction
You slow down so much
your hair seems liquid.
I don’t know where we’re going
I want to touch the side of your neck,
this slows you in the electric light
We both know something is about to happen.
I don’t want to talk.
Keep walking, but look back
So we know we are together.
All the Stories Come True
The Algerian flower-seller beaten,
petals strewn on the French street -
there is beauty to mark the blood in
She arrives at Gare du Nord on her way
Before her next train, she sits
the people in the
in the shadow of the trees and Flaubert’s bust,
eating a peach on a bench, slowly making
the afternoon hers.
She washes her hands and mouth, the hollow
of her throat and, on impulse, pours
the rest of the water over her feet.
A man comes running toward her
to make all the stories come true
and, looming, bends down.
With cool hands, he takes
the bottom of her foot and kisses
her ankle, the whole city pausing
for an instant. Then he runs away again
between the people, the gates, the trees.
Under my fingers I felt
The small rustle of disturbed bone
Where there should be silence
The grape-picker holds out
his hand full of fruit but turns
his face, the slight, unavailable cast
of his head his most precious possession.
The woman who cleans your house
all day is in the places you can’t be,
touches your sheets.
what is held back,
not known to you,
kept, stolen, enchanted.
How Not to Stop
Pa came to collect us from school
in his white Valiant, the stern drive home.
Pa sat at the head of the table,
not talking at supper.
Pa stood in the driveway
with his back to us, throwing
seed into the wind with quick slings
of the hand, drawing the pigeons
as though he’d called them.
Pa carved his own domino set;
on weekend games sly as chess, slapped
the final piece on the wood table.
Pa drove us home past the house
he built, from which his family was removed
in 1968, never looking again
in its direction.
Pa bought his leaf tea and hard cheddar
from Queen Bess supermarket and bread
at Protea bakery, the same shops
down the street from their old house.
Pa rehearsed how not to stop, not to get out
and walk to the front door he had made.
We are Always too Close
The taste of blood never too far
the metallic salt of it
grit in the mouth
heavy as bruises.
The Sound of My Name
To step into another language
direct the breath
swell the mouth with vowels
feel the jaw configure itself around the word
write another script on the tongue
A woman learning Russian describes
the new inclination of her head,
her chest, her hands,
the muscular changes in the tongue
the way sibilance tightens
the upper lip
like bee stings around the jaw
the movement of air over her throat
a subtle invasion
taking possession of her mouth
I teach you to say the first letter of my name,
a sound between g and h,
for which there is no letter in English.
take a sip of water,
make a flat oval of the lips,
Remember the sound of the exhalation.
Clear the throat.
Between the two is the start of my name.