The discovery of Palestinian-American poet Fady Joudah is something earth-shaking, huge, both indelible and too quickly passing, like the flight of a bird. A practicing physician who devoted significant time to Doctors Without Borders, a man who takes his causes and compassion seriously, he was selected by Louise Glück in 2007 for the Yale Younger Poet Series Prize for The Earth in the Attic. (Did anyone else notice Louise Glück has great taste?) His work as a doctor shows up in his poetry in startling ways. He has also translated two books of Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry, and was a finalist for the 2008 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Among other awards and achievements. Recognition for work such as that below, where truth is shown as something that understands a bludgeon to the head cannot be understood or mitigated by a bludgeon to the head.
And for this month of Ramadan, this poem,
The Tea and Sage Poem
By Fady Joudah
At a desk made of glass,
In a glass walled-room
With red airport carpet,
An officer asked
My father for fingerprints,
And my father refused,
So another offered him tea
And he sipped it. The teacup
Template for fingerprints.
My father says, it was just
Hot water with a bag.
My father says, in his country,
Because the earth knows
The scent of history,
It gave the people sage.
I like my tea with sage
From my mother’s garden,
Next to the snapdragons
She calls fishmouths
Coming out for air. A remedy
For stomach pains she keeps
In the kitchen where
She always sings.
First, she is Hagar
Where tea is loosened.
Then she drops
In it a pinch of sage
And lets it sit a while.
She tells a story:
The groom arrives late
To his wedding
Wearing only one shoe.
The bride asks him
About the shoe. He tells her
He lost it while jumping
Over a house-wall.
Breaking away from soldiers.
Tea with sage
Or tea with mint?
With sage, he says,
Sweet scent, bitter tongue.
She makes it, he drinks.
And for this past month of re-awakened violence in a place called Gaza, where violence is never allowed to sleep, always blamed on those who are killed, or we might say, chopped down. This poem:
By Fady Joudah
Between what should and what should not be
Everything is liable to explode. Many times
I was told who has no land has no sea. My father
Learned to fly in a dream. This is the story
Of a sycamore tree he used to climb
When he was young to watch the rain.
Sometimes it rained so hard it hurt. Like being
Beaten with sticks. Then the mud would run red.
My brother believed bad dreams could kill
A man in his sleep, he insisted
We wake my father from his muffled screams
On the night of the day he took us to see his village.
No longer his village he found his tree amputated.
Between one falling and the next
There’s a weightless state. There was a woman
Who loved me. Asked me how to say tree
In Arabic. I didn’t tell her. She was sad. I didn’t understand.
When she left. I saw a man in my sleep three times. A man I knew
Could turn anyone into one-half reptile.
I was immune. I thought I was. I was terrified of being
The only one left. When we woke my father
He was running away from soldiers. Now
He doesn’t remember that night. He laughs
About another sleep, he raised his arms to strike a king
And tried not to stop. He flew
But mother woke him and held him for an hour,
Or half an hour, or as long as it takes a migration inward.
Maybe if I had just said it.
Shejerah, she would’ve remembered me longer. Maybe
I don’t know much about dreams
But my mother taught me the law of omen. The dead
Know about the dying and sometimes
Catch them in sleep like the sycamore tree
My father used to climb
When he was young to watch the rain stream,
And he would gently swing.