a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
the dough so quickly I dizzy.
I thought everyone ate them. Sweet
fatty lamb and rich pine nuts. Cinnamon
and bitter parsley. Yogurt tang to sweat
the tongue. Your recipes undecipherable
dashes and ribbons across the paper. A dance
in the mouth, even before the mouth.
Silent, confident fingers that crease and twirl.
It can’t be 30 years, Sitti.
How could you go before teaching me
the word for faith, for hope? February 2021:
12.4 million Syrians are food insecure.
80% of the displaced are women and children.
Where is your recipe? Numbers I can
understand. 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon.
4 cups of milk. Sorrow steals my sleep.
I am not immune. I need handfuls
of surety, pastry commune.
Green parsley bruise the only ache.
Was it the Oklahoma City bombing? No. It was my grandmothers’ living rooms.
Meditations on Germany. Iran. Lebanon. Israel. From the French, terroriste, 1795,
to take down a king. Guillotine for injustice. Or, 1920, to colonize a country. One
grandmother could name hers. Hitler killed her, she said fingering a photo
of my great-aunt’s curls. Terrorist = fanatic, one who causes terror, but, also,
terrorist = those who seek to purge perceived difference, to create the world
in their image. Someone who, as Voltaire said, “persecutes his brother
because he is not of his opinion.”
My other grandmother would say, fear your neighbor. They’ll lend you
milk one month. Hitch your feet to the car’s bumper the next.
Both grandmothers assumed everyone who wasn’t us wanted us dead.
We/you are an impediment. We/you who cause alarm; dread. We/you
who cause panic.
My grandmothers are dead.
Tell me: In which moment do you become blind to another’s face?
It is sometimes hard to leave the house now. Signs everywhere declare the
need for justice. The word gives me hives. I do not know when here became
here. I do not know when my brothers and sisters in Lebanon, in Syria, in my
own town, went from demanding with voices to demanding with guns. And was it
us or you who changed the flag from symbol to spear? Are we fighters? Are we
I am uncomfortable with my own face. My rage sparks daily. For my daughter’s sake
I hug my own chest. Breathe into my rapid heart. Stop now, I say to the mirror.
Stop now, terrorist.
for Mohammad Bashir al-Aani
you recall that water goes back to the sea
though I’m a stream forgotten by the clouds
the valleys of me don’t plump
I’m salted, torn meat; I hang on
the past dissolves in our daughter’s hungry
hole, mine is barely alive
I could fake it—but that was never our story
even now as you pretend to want what’s left
a friend said she gave her pussy to the second child
her clitoris cleaved and jagged
I’m a poet
I claw my way to desire
the poet takes whatever they feel
and heals the world
(before the war the orange tree silenced us with its blossoms)
(before the war we were three: my wife, my son…)
the poet takes whatever is left
and breathes it back alive
Syrian poet Mohammad Bashir al-Aani and his son, Elyas were kidnapped and murdered by fundamentalists in Syria, March 2016.
Claudia F. Saleeby Savage is part of the performance duo Thick in the Throat, Honey. Her latest collection of poetry is Bruising Continents (Spuyten Duyvil) with recent work in BOMB, Denver Quarterly, Columbia, Nimrod, Water-Stone Review, and Anomaly (the interview series “Witness the Hour: Arab American Poets Across the Diaspora”). She is a 2018–2021 Black Earth Institute Fellow and her collaboration, reductions, with visual artist Jacklyn Brickman, is forthcoming in 2021 in Detroit and Portland. Her poetics are influenced by rabid reading, Alice Coltrane, and long hikes in drippy forests. She lives with her husband and daughter in Portland, OR.