ARC Fellows: inside calamity, calamity
Submitted by our 2020 Poetry and the Senses Poetry Fellow:
Nathalie Khankan (Community poet)
anna’s mother began the day in her own bed in san diego a long way away from her birthbed in india. i began the day leaning over and remembering this marriage. i also recalled renee gladman beginning her day inside the world trying to look at it, but it was lying on her face making it hard to see. the light was shimmying and dull in the middle. our bed is not a front line and if not on the front line what do you do with these mounds of safety |
the daughters went about their day as you go about your day when you are nine and ten and school is out but on. later luma came in from a recess in the garden to let me know that dixie had pooped on our arugula and yes she still wanted one. the daughters want a pet because their friends are getting pets. the animal shelters in san francisco are empty now they say because all our homes are closed and open and mostly warm. we have our own house guests. we hear them at night scurrying about inside our walls and over our heads. basil went about his day looking for rodents. and other calamities. he also brought in hands full of lilacs. by afternoon anna’s mother was in an icu bed |
between teaching and texting and the next meal pockets of vacuous time to contemplate again our degrees of mortality and the mournability of lives. i looked at the yellow post-it note in front of me that says writing stricken with safety. it’s taken from one of syrian dissident writer yassin al-haj saleh’s letters to his wife samira al-khalil. he writes these letters from outside syria for her to read when she returns so she will know what has happened to her world in her absence. samira was forcibly disappeared from douma in 2013 alongside razan zaitouneh, wael hamada and nazem hammadi. samira and the rest of the douma four have been disappeared for more than 2310 days. there are more than 98.000 detained, abducted, disappeared, missing persons in syria. there are fourteen letters to samira |
i went back to check if yassin had published a new letter to samira in al-jumhuriya. i found instead a belated farewell letter addressed to his deceased mother. when she passed away a few decades ago yassin was spending his 3424th day in prison. he was released after 5813 days. he calls it his small absence. at least his mother knew where he was |
at 5.23pm a text message from anna said my mom is dying |
i didn’t know how to draw these waitings: how anna. how yassin in remembering his mother waiting in bereavement for her missing son who waits in bereavement for his beloved partner has become his own bereaved mother and all mothers bereaved. las madres de la plaza de mayo in buenos aires. the saturday mothers in istanbul’s galatasaray square. 98.000 syrian mothers |
at 6.03pm anna’s mother died on whatsapp. it was too soon but soon i would gently remind her she could always still wash her mother’s indian body like joy harjo washes her mother’s cherokee body in an american sunrise. or yassin his mother. you can always go back and open the door. you can always go back and turn the faucet on and hold your hand under the water as joy says |
but of course not all of us can hold our hand under the water. sometimes there’s no faucet. sometimes the door is so close lying on your face making it hard to see. sometimes your mother’s is a body you are unable to touch. and sometimes that’s the calamity inside|
Renee Gladman, Calamities, Wave Books, 2016
Yassin al-Haj Saleh, “Letters to Samira” in al-Jumhuriya
Joy Harjo, American Sunrise, W.W. Norton, 2019
*The Douma Four, household name in Syria for Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hamada, Samira al-Khalil and Nazem Hammadi, human rights activists and heroes of the 2011 revolution, were kidnapped on December 9, 2013 by masked men thought to be affiliated with either the islamist opposition coalition group Jaysh al-Islam or the Syrian regime.
Nathalie Khankan straddles Syrian, Finnish, Danish and Palestinian homes and heirlooms. Her first book of poems quiet orient riot (Omnidawn, fall 2020) explores birth regimes and the tendons of motherhood in occupied Palestine. Her current work is preoccupied with the children of imprisoned fathers. She is a lecturer of Arabic in the Department of Near Eastern Studies.
Note: Over the course of the spring semester, each 2020-2021 ARC Fellows will submit a short blog post about their project. We hope you will enjoy these short readings! Poetry and the Senses will create meaningful opportunities for engagement, research, and collaboration. As a think tank for the arts at UC Berkeley, ARC will act as a facilitator and connector between the campus and the many flourishing regional poetry communities. This two-year initiative (Jan 2020 – Dec 2021) explores the relevance and urgency of lyrical making and storytelling in times of political crisis, and the value of engaging the senses as an act of care, mindfulness, and resistance. To learn more about the program, click here.