THREE POEMS by Sara Elkamel

/ / Issue 18


They promised to give me the song’s weight in gold
so I carved the song in granite.

We put my songs in the fruitless garden.
Look at the light pouring there! you gasp,

digging around the cold
hard trees, rubbing their barks with milk.

I’ve carved all I could so I make more milk.
From the silver lake

you cry tonight’s desire
would split stone, rouse spring;

we sit by the cold numb songs:
these temples without doors.

I try to confess I know nothing about trees—
that I’ve always feared my songs

had the wrong kind of flesh—
but hoarse, you whisper Look at the light

pouring there
& I must protect god

from my doubt. My lack of imagination.

I ask you to be god. I lick the prehistoric salt map
off your back, wave to the lost 

pilgrims, the finches, the green horses galloping
from the next hurricane.

I count on my fingers to make sure
all the nights have had days.

I bark at the hours
songless. Afraid you will love me less—

afraid I will singe the new vines
around our waists.




Though they will be reborn
each morning with the sun,

the dead remain obsessed
with the image of a single rose

by a crocodile’s open mouth.

A wail from the corner of the room
usurps the room.

            Give me a mouth; I want to talk!

said the dead woman to the scale.

            The heart on the scale is the heart of a sparrow.
            My heart is the heart of a sparrow!
            The sparrow was unremarkable; I cannot give you her name.
            When I fell, she switched my heart for hers.
            Mine was a clay heart the size of the sun.
            Ask the sun, just ask the sun!
            The sparrow’s feather heart is not my heart.
            My heart knew nothing for certain.
            Loved nothing for certain.
            My clay heart did not know its own name.
            My clay heart envied goslings their nests.
            Envied mothers their sons.
            Smothered every fire before its hour.
            My clay heart cursed the heart of my mother.
            I stayed a child to have a child.
            I kept everything secret.
            My clay heart licked the milk off the mouths of little children.
            I chewed the hair off my knuckles to make the hands usable.
            I tried to be a woman.
            My clay heart thawed one night, I saw it.
            I gave a boat to a boatless man, and at the lips of water took it back.
            I wrapped the heart of my love in white muslin cloth and buried it with the others.
            I made a remedy for remembering and drank one half in the morning and one half at night.
            I couldn’t move.
            I gave myself running feet. Even remember how I did it. I scrapped sand off my
            toes and mixed it with pulverized red pepper. I spooned it into the river even
            though they said this causes a person to run from place to place, until she runs
            herself to death.
            I couldn’t move.
            The prayers I whispered into the walls bounced back.
            I am not pure, I am not pure, I am not pure, I am not pure.

They weighed the wrong heart and found it
lighter than a feather. 

            To the field of reeds!
said gently the 42 gods of the feather.           

There was water behind the door.

            But my heart,
 I said—

            Find the sparrow,
said Osiris, stroking softly the crocodile.

The sparrow soared freely
above the cliffs

 & the light fell on all of us.




            after Yasmine Seale


The lost maps show

We were all equally far from love and

there’s no mercy

hiding in the branches of rivers


so I excavated

even the darkest hours. I fought

an ancient fear

to resolve the problem

of a woman being a person

I hemmed a thousand nights with stories,

trying not to die, then I thought

but the night has never been a stable thing:

What if stories were not endless?

What if you begin to love that which

Might kill you? What if your story

Rewrites you? To escape I

riddled the plans of men. I

trapped water between my palms,

silenced myself, made a new map,

locked myself away in the eyes

of a river with no eyes, and I thought

of all the words

not a single word survived but

Then I found

inscribed on the riverbed

trilling in water:

I found a manuscript,

a marvel—

where all the characters,

In thousands of stories,

were women, and unnamed.

To become many women,

I named them all after me.

The Nile waxed our beautiful backs.

What a gruesome end:

All of us made brides

(the translators wrote)

of the night.

But what if we told another story?

We winnowed songs from the lungs of

the river 

god who

sang eternally of women who

refused to die.

refused to die.