Magazine article World Literature Today

A Postponed Poem for New York

Magazine article World Literature Today

A Postponed Poem for New York

Article excerpt


Before what happened happened,

I mean, before the towers became a stairway to the day

of reckoning, and the world split into two

camps, water and sand,

I used to wish that I'd be among the poets

who would curse New York.

The poem was almost ready in my mind.

To write a poem about the jungle of asphalt and concrete

has become a tradition since Lorca

(inspired by Whitman probably, not Gibran)

had anchored the first rule for the poets

who would aim their pointed poem at the Big Apple,

the sex and money cobra,

the Babylon of our time.

It's not necessary that poets throw their explosive

cigarette butts in the Hudson's mud,

or swagger drunk on the cheapest liquor

across Brooklyn bridge, or listen to Jazz howl

in Harlem's glistening knife-dappled night,

or know that the Statue of Liberty with a flame

that can no longer illuminate a beetle's wing

was, originally, destined to the Suez Canal

but when the Egyptian state went bankrupt

to the cadence of Aidas opera

the new rising power, beyond the ocean the Arabs

pessimistically called the Sea of Darkness,

purchased it. And it doesn't matter

if the poets take the subway with round eyes

that guard their backs, or if they don't take the subway.

Because he ain't no poet

who doesn't try his luck with New York,

to describe it, defame it, threaten it

with a Sodomite destiny, even if he has not seen

cruelty's dice, the black tears of colored folks,

the muddy feathers of gray pigeons that are good

for anything except as symbol for a peace

that pours from New York's stony lid.


I've never been to America.

I knew it as others do

through movies, dreams, and wars

that gave birth in us - we whose trunks bend

under the weight of its metal ruckus

over the irrigation wheels

of blood and drought -

to two original emotions: love and hate.

And when I once found myself

in the land of maples, I didn't answer the call

of Ahmad, my brother,

who was constantly snatched by the urging

of gold and dust from the east coast to the west coast

until he ended up fighting for survival

behind the metal bars of a gas station

where his buddy was shot dead with one bullet.

I was afraid that my fleeting passage

through Upper Manhattan

would ruin my ferocious poem that cooks

on my slow fires

of acrimony. …

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