Portrait of Summer in Bossey,
15 Years Since Her Death
When debris dissolves in the morning breeze,
I arrive to the house of half-breed poplars,
and my child says, God lives at the far end of lightning---
but here there are only rock shadows, arching clouds,
and we bend and open to last night's visitor: my mother
on alabaster stairs, saying she has uncovered Gaza
in desiccant cracks of the earth. Her stories are currents
that glide out of her, gliding like my father
as he returns from towing the mountain behind him---
my bedroom window is wide open,
the earth is reeking of shallow sleep,
and he says, There is no God but One.
What labors through shallow sleep? What aches in my mother
so that she bows her dark ochre head to the lyrics
of Sabah Fakri: It's been too long: I miss you as you are the light
of my eyes, eyes belling with water, as they followed her father
who walked to the podium with flowers strewn at his feet
to unveil Gaza's first statue of liberty. It later crumbled in the square---
first its long plaintive shadow, then the blue hush of the crumble,
but she is not sure what salted the roots of his heart: the death of her young sister or field upon field of exile---he walked for weeks until he reached the border
of Lebanon, the sky rearranging the evidence of place behind him:
So I told her: let no guard stand in our way.
You've lighted my night, you most loved of visitors.
Is this the calamity of roots? Are these the bleeding minutes,
the choked tendrils of love surrounding our life? I tell my father
that when she died, her oldest brother carried a faint smile and said:
angels have brief respite on earth, but my father is too solemn for stories tonight.
Tomorrow they will chop down the blue-green spruce she planted---
it obstructs the view of the Geneva fountain from the terrace, the fountain that
purred and spun, suddenly attacking passersby, my mother slipping, her children and friends in slivers behind her. For days, our bellies lunged towards laughter, but my father is inaudible in the rain-lift of a night's storm.
I carry her voice within me like all the living carry the retreating voices
of their dead, those white breaths that we seldom hear
unless we're afflicted: our arms swollen with water, our breasts bleeding
and blistering, the dark-gray shred of our lungs. Then other words sewn into our mouths until the time comes when they are unthreaded. The blunt sobs of her oldest brother bending and opening every doorway of the house. Her body washed in the full light of afternoon. Are these the captured shapes of love?
Were it not for the sudden blue-green gaze of sky, I would have asked my father for a story, and he would have told me he's known love.
In the beginning, my brother and I plowed like Vikings through the village
of Bossey, finding the smoky dungeon where the Duke tucked his enemies
away from sunlight's unquieting script on the horizon, from the scent of
old, bruised apples hidden beneath paper-soft trees, and from the rows of crimson rows shrubs that atoned for all the violence it took to make this place as beautiful as legend. We ignored the sky as it crushed water on the blades of
crosses, the blades bending and opening. My brother and I chased sparrows that flew towards the mountain. Later, we fell into the grass, beneath billions of moon shards, our parents sitting on the terrace, their sentences unthreading the dark.
The truest story: My grandfather was the mayor of Gaza, a man who walked where anyone would follow. He wrapped warnings around his children: If disgraced, I will sell my belongings and move to Switzerland. That my mother would be buried in a Swiss cemetery---wrapped by a mountain that throws the sun back to clouds---he would never know. I bathe her grave---sheet upon sheet of cool water stored in stone basins, all the while my ears pressed against the ambush of words told long ago: If she doesn't die young, I will cut my tongue out and eat it.
Along rock shadow, my child and I stare at purple flowers that gallop
towards the statue of mother cradling son---the mother's face bending and opening to the grief that hadn't yet materialized at that moment. We're lost, I say, and my child is flying towards the sparrows, and they are gliding across the mountain.