Sun Theater Sonnets

(for whose world is not in ruins, whose?)
Agha Shahid Ali

You wrote me from a bed where you’d see
the mountain’s alders corral the sky—who’ll
empty my last pocket when I’m gone? Once,
sitting with you on a fountain’s edge, I
unpinned the debris in my pocket
into the basin, where you had un-
fingered rose petals, their outline fading
into our bleating desires, the still.
When you passed, they transferred a ring from your
small hand to mine, and I rested my lips
in your mouth’s smallest pocket. O Mother,
I tore your letter and hurled my body
to the sun-long corridor; your skin was
desolation, come, hovering angel.

Come, hovering angel, desolation
leaves me gray, chain-smoking by a quaking
aspen tree, who moans a throaty sea song
when the wind bristles through its taut rib cage.
I’m your daughter, holding a place, panting
on a roadway where you leave me no sun
to pass through. In a morning dream: I dwarf
you, removing a seashore from your face.
Then, your lips move, and you wave your hand. God
almighty, you say, your eyes sewn tightly,
though you drag your thick desert voice over
zoysia grass, exhuming miniature
yellow butterflies and displacing them
to a thicket of dusk, after the wet.

To a thicket of dusk, after the wet,
you pray, don’t let me leave this earth broken-
willed, o’ coiler of sorrows, o’ lost root.
Eyes like forest trees, you breathe it in whole,
while the mountain pelts you with clouds, semen-
scented chestnut-tree blossoms, edelweiss.
Thirty years before, you trailed a messy
sun to your father’s small tomb in Gaza—
salt in your nostrils as the lemon light
bound your eyes to the orchard’s gray marrow.
Decades later, your daughter averts her
gaze from the limb-mined earth while her lover
says: breathe. The soil coos & rallies her waters.
For whose unlucky dead are at peace, whose.

For whose unlucky dead are at peace, whose?
Karantina. Every seaside city
juts a neighborhood where its illegals
sell love fruit in the streets. What disguises
itself to feed you apricots, mangoes?
Late afternoons, pigeons pelted the sun
while we ambled underneath rusty-green
shutters. Do you remember how easily we held
hands, how the sky was full of twigs when our
skin touched? To open this hour is all, you’d say.
At the corner store, we hemmed our skirts,
dawning heels for long embroidered dresses.
The seamstress swears she saw you as you were:
a field misting the pond, a bent country.

About the Author

Deema K. Shehabi is a Palestinian-American poet, writer, and editor. Deema is the author of Thirteen Departures from the Moon and co-editor with Beau Beausoleil of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, for which she received a Northern California Book Award. She’s also co-author of Diaspo/Renga with Marilyn Hacker and winner of the Nazim Hikmet poetry competition in 2018. Deema’s work has appeared widely in literary magazines and anthologies, and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize several times.