Three Poems of Nathalie Handal

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    Nathalie Handal
    is a French-American poet and playwright born in Haiti to a Palestinian family from Bethlehem. She lived in France, United States, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Arab world. She explains, “I don’t have a mother tongue. I grew up speaking many languages, and these different languages have slipped into my English. As a result, her books are written in English but laced with Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian, Creole, and even Russian and Sanskrit words.[7] After earning a MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington College, Vermont and a MPhil in English and Drama at the University of London, Handal became interested in the writing of Arab women in the 1990s.[9][10] She currently has residences in both New York City and Paris, and is a professor at Columbia University. The Neverfield Poem (1999) The Lives of Rain (2005) Love and Strange Horses (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010) Poet in Andalucía (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012)[ The Republics (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015)

    Duets in Kolkata

    I saw the world
    moving at the hem of a dress

    saw a green shutter
    reflect on every lane

    found music
    disagreeing with a mystic

    about the mantras
    in our shadow bones

    with Ram
    a window
    opened under our feet

    with Goutam
    a festival of heartbeats behind
    Tagore’s reflection freed themselves

    with Joy
    the Ganges united the hum
    of those we thought we’d never reach

    with Idra
    the temples built a river in our spirits
    so we could keep crossing continents

    with Catherine
    two girls giggling after Bengali sweets at Flury’s
    placed a smile in our wavering

    with Carolyn
    the gods let us reach the fist
    keeping a single word away from the world

    with Yusef
    death danced behind the haze of incense
    and doubt saved us

    with Ed
    in a taxi to Shanatiniketan
    darkness collided with closeness

    and with Jogen
    the sky drew us so we remember
    to honor the places we are meant to cross

    Note: The US-Kolkata delegation (USKLE) on a literary trip to Kolkata included Ram Devineni, Goutam Datta, Joy Harjo, Idra Novey, Catherine Fletcher, Carolyn Forche, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Ed Pavlic, Jogen Chowdhury is one of India’s most eminent painters.

    In Search of Midnight

    He kissed my lips at midnight
    I let him
    He took my blouse off
    I let him
    Took my bra off
    and touched my breast
    I let him
    He took my pants off
    I let him
    Took my underwear off
    and looked at me standing
    in this strange, dark
    black and white room
    I let him
    A small light dimmed
    by the window
    I took a glimpse of
    the city we live in,
    both do not know.

    Then he pronounced
    my name wrong
    and I stopped him—
    Asked him if he has ever
    been exiled or imprisoned
    if he has ever mailed
    letters to a woman he
    once loved but would
    never see again,
    if he thinks we can go back
    to a lover even if
    we might not love
    the second time,
    asked him if he ever
    robbed a small grocery store
    or stole a bread from a peasant,
    if he has ever crossed
    seas, coasts and mountains
    and still
    could not arrive.
    He answered:
    I did not pronounce my name
    correctly in my country
    so I was tortured,
    I did not pronounce my name
    correctly at the enemy line
    so I was exiled,
    I did not pronounce my name
    correctly upon arrival
    so I was given news papers.
    You see. A heart in search of midnight
    is only a heart, everything else is the same,
    except what the other is expecting.

    Strangers Inside Me

    (“We all have reasons
    for moving
    I move
    to keep things whole.” – Mark Strand, “Keeping Things Whole
    ”)

    Outside, the quivers of winter,
    a sudden moistness, a slow darkness.
    Outside, strangers looking for themselves
    in the silent motion of my handwriting.
    I stand at the corners of night
    hoping that violets will remain purple in winter.

    There is a country on my tongue,
    a small world between my heartbeats,
    strangers inside me that understand
    the strangeness of strange things,
    that understand they are not strangers
    to each other but it seems strange to
    others that they belong together, as if
    we can refuse ourselves ourselves.

    Words slide down my throat
    like velvet rivers, and outside
    a tiny echo calls me
    as I travel and move
    from one continent to the next,
    move, to be whole.

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