Poetry Collection

40 Martyrs Church, Aleppo


A deacon points to each saint,

identifies well known iconography in cracked French:

St. John with his head on a platter, St. George and the dragon,

Mary with Jesus and the Baptist, St. Joseph, the Last Judgment,

the altar and the pulpit.

The patriarch, Gregorius, severe Armenian,

as if he expected to bear crosses


buried beneath his feet,

the fourth-century entombed

strata below these medieval stones

and the rest massacred.

Once remembered here.

Near the door, a vase of flowers riffled for one red carnation

handed to me without apparent thought for history.




Aleppo’s Citadel

Early March haze barely hides the sun

strong enough to make a donkey blink

as it climbs the ramparts of the castle and bows

its head under a pannier full of cola bottles

prodded from behind to find the rough grid

meant for Arabian stallions passing by two pairs

of stone lions, one laughing and one crying

at the ceremonial casket laid in state, St. George

taken from the crusades and entombed;

having risen to heaven, he’s left an empty box

draped in green silks, woven in local looms

perhaps on the main avenue of the castle’s

now shuttered souks beside empty cisterns

bleak as prisons. Arrows at right angles

mounted, difficult to imagine flying as torture

in the porcelain pots shaken from earthquakes

and excavations. Scattered pieces, catapult

with cannon and there the eunuchs’ quarters,

like Allah inscribed in stone as witness

to what’s been done and can’t be restored.




Learning to Write in Two Languages

English requires space, asserted autonomy

in separate seats expected to fit average knees


and arms kept an understood distance

from neighbors, untouchable,


a caste kept to the exit rows on airplanes

assumes the necessity for order


before dislocated rivets and bones

break from bodies arbitrary as letters


standing alone in Arabic: A not S, O not N

set apart by design revealing where they are


not where they’re going. L nudging B or T,

squeezes their sides, physicality


taken for granted like bumping into people

and boys holding one another’s pinkies.





Elba in June Without Tourists

would have been preferable to Jehovah digging in his Old Testament heels,

nodding at the pillar of salt and spousal disobedience in Sodom, as if history

didn’t make Assad nervous enough, this pile of stones as read by an Italian

archaeologist could be the very stuff of war, or at least guerilla action,

the Massad sneaking across the border and scooping out new territory,

carrying off armfuls of Syria and rewriting it as if it were Roman.

All those clay tablets, records of what came in and what went out, words.




This Year’s Living Legend


Mario Vargas Llosa

bows his head

for a thick ribbon

with a shiny medal,

accepts applause,

and says,

“I do not want to die dead,”

the weight on his chest

not to be mistaken

for his working heart.

He’s eighty this week–

his new novel

a gauntlet.

It’s no December Dean.

But discreet, like his hero

with plans, a rebel

to epitaphs of praise

for what’s past.