I’m so glad it’s Thursday, because I’ve been sitting on this poem for days now, twitching with the urge to share it. This is another in the long line of poems which found me, as opposed to my having to search for it, or having even known the poet. Thankfully, American Life In Poetry, a project by former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, highlights brilliant poetry regularly and I came across it on Twitter.
This is a lovely poem, pure and simple. The title immediately grabbed me, given I’m an Arab poet and I’m unused to seeing Arabic words in English poems. Hell, I’m unused to Arabic in general, and more’s the pity. I only have chunks of the language in my mind, like mangled chainlink fence riddled with gaping holes, and I need to repair it. Need to read more Arabic writers, too, and that was reinforced by reading this poem, by the ache of familiarity I felt when I saw those words. (To be clear, I’m not sure if Lameris is actually Arabic, and it doesn’t affect the brilliance of the poem one way or the other.)
It begins like this:
I don’t know when it slipped into my speech
that soft word meaning, “if God wills it.”
Insha’Allah I will see you next summer.
The baby will come in spring, insha’Allah.
Insha’Allah this year we will have enough rain.
It is not necessarily about Arabic or even God, so much as it is about language, about the words worn smooth like river stones beneath the tongues of our mothers, our aunties, and grandmothers, handed down to us with a hundred different inflections to choose from, one for every situation.
Every language must have a word for this. A word
our grandmothers uttered under their breath
as they pinned the whites, soaked in lemon,
hung them to dry in the sun, or peeled potatoes,
dropping the discarded skins into a bowl.
It’s a short poem, so I won’t say any more but I just want to quote the whole thing, I love it so very much. You can click the link above to see it on American Life in Poetry (and you should, given there are so many other excellent poems to be found there). Or if you’re lazy and skipped it, here it is again. 🙂