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Anterooms of Death
When I was a child, I saw a forehead
smudged with ash, crossed my ribcage,
stole cinders from my father's smelly pipe.
The Catholics jumping rope in the road explicated
Dust to dust. I didn't dare cross myself.
Dear ash, you're mellower than live coals.
You are my mother, my father sifted
through muslin dreams, ghosts of sputtering fires,
earthy flesh of chestnuts in foil, their burnt skin.
These children can't remember what they loved--
sesame from auntie's bag. Figures scratched in dirt look odd,
with torsos hemmed by stiffened hands and feet.
At dusk some hurl cement at carrion birds
while others bind their ears with scarves.
It might be bath day in the trough. It might be
bye bye, high-smelling winter tent.
A Syrian describes his chill basement,
medicine for the pancreas. Without, his dearest dies.
Bombs are louder than morning calls to prayer.
The signal drifts and fades.
Some streets don't wish to wake.
Old men will not hide, they play backgammon
in cafés. If a shell ends them, well,
I've lived. Birthdays don't announce themselves
and no point cooking sweets for Eid.
In alleys doctors sleep, this world finally destroyed.
Do they suffer even in their graves, can they try
the pleasures of the faithful, lamb with yogurt, new-picked mint,
this foretaste of a thousand and one beginnings daubed with ash?