I must have just missed a parade—
horse droppings and hard candy
in the road, miniature American
flags staked into the grass, plastic
chairs lining the curb down this
two-lane highway, 36 in the open
country, briefly Main Street in town.
When I was small, I sat on a curb
only a dozen miles from here, my feet
in the ashtray-dirty gutter, and watched
stars-and-stripes girls wheeling
their batons, slicing the sun-dumb
air into streamers. I can still hear
the click of cellophaned candies
on pavement. I didn’t want to
leave town, not then, and I never left.
I am not a parade, my one car passing
through Centerburg, Ohio, too late.
The chairs are empty. The children
are unwrapping golden butterscotches
in the cool, shuttered houses.
But look up—the clouds are stories
tall, painted above Webb’s Marathon,
and flat-bottomed as if resting on something
they push against though it holds them.
by Maggie Smith
O, my daughter, once I was a poor boy
folding peppers into my sarong
to walk three miles to sell, but what
can you tell me of sorrow,
or of the courage it takes to buy
a clock instead of a palmful
of rice to go with the goat
we can’t afford to slaughter?
Look at the lines Allah etched
on your own palm: you have
a big brain and a good heart,
still, you don’t use either enough!
Once, I walked through a war
beside my brother parallel
to a gray river. Why do you care
about the few damp bills
I didn’t give to our mother?
Or the clock I bought to take apart? Well,
I left that country with a palmful
of seeds I’ve thrown across
this dry, hard Texas. Allah
has blessed me with this vine
that coils upward. I care
so little for what others say, ask
your mother. That nose ring
doesn’t suit you, by the way.
Once, you were small enough
to cradle. There was a coil
in that clock made of metal . . . O,
that something so small can matter . . .
No daughter, I
don’t need a glass of water. Look,
this will grow into maatir neeche aloo.
In the spring, you see, its purple leaves
will be the size of your own palm.
In the village, there is a saying:
“Dhuniya dhari, kochu pathar paani.”
I don’t know where the clock is
or how much it’s worth! There was
not enough for kerosene . . . why
do you always ask what can’t be answered?
"Your Own Palm,"
by Tarfia Faizullah
With booms & chirrs seals
speak under the ice of an ocean
Stationary ocean. Electrified song.
Color: snow day with autumn
leaves inside it,
glassene sheers of cantaloupe & kiwi on
lavender, gunmetal, jetwing—
When you rode the elephant through
the puncture, the first syllable of my name
parted the deep with your beautiful hand.
Sparrow shuddered in her dustbath, swath of pleasure
raked up & out.
This is where I sat
in the avalanche.
where I was born,
you pulled a cord of silk in your beautiful hand.
I heard nothing
under the ice. Bye bye now, our people would say.
Bye bye later.
then white everywhere.
by Kathy Fagan
I was under the kitchen table, guessing who was at the sink by how they used water when I heard my mother say to my father, what about this job, that one, those people, did they call? And my father said, everyone says no. I see all the doors but none of them will open. My mother said, maybe we just haven’t found the right key, I’ll go look for it. They laughed for a long time. Their toes looked at each other. Maybe they forgot the bag of keys in the crooked-mouth dresser. I lined up the keys on a windowsill, metal on metal on my fingers until they smelled like missing teeth. I looked at the best one: large cursive F, a scarlet ribbon tied to it. It had two teeth, like my baby sister. I tried the little door behind the community center. Then the big-kids door at my school. The shed of a house with a backyard so large the family could never see me. I got grass and sand and an ignorant pebble in my shoe. Dust climbed up my pants so I could spit-spell my name on my leg when resting. I went back to our neighborhood. There was a black cloud over it while the nice neighborhood down the hill shone. A girl said our house was darkest and the first raindrops fell on it because we’re all going to hell. When I told my father he said it was “isolated” or “separated” storms. So it was true we were set apart for a punishment. The next day dozens of dead flying ants covered our patio. I took all the keys and tried all the doors in the abandoned mall. One unlocked. It was a room with white walls, floor, ceiling. White squares of wood flat or leaning in every corner. The door closed behind me and no key would work. Maybe the room would swallow me and I’d get invisible if I didn’t stop screaming but then a surprised guy, white, wearing white, opened the door. I wanted to try one more time but my keys disappeared and everyone said they were never real.
by Ladan Osman