An Iraqi woman who I was sitting next to at a poetry reading shyly handed me her card. Her logo ran, “The Maya Angelou of Iraq.” I had the feeling I had come across someone who was out of the ordinary, especially because she and the gentleman sitting with her have collaborated to present a program at various venues called,”A Muslim Woman and a Jewish Man: Reading Poetry and Hosting a Discussion on Peace.” Both Faleeha Hassan and David Steinberg are poets who have innumerable publications and honors. Faleeha herself is said to be one of the most prolific female writers in the Middle East. I include her poem Writer’s Block in my blog not only because it is evocative and compassionate, it also speaks to losses we rarely consider:
When I try to write
I sense that millions of readers are
Crowding the paper’s edge,
Kneeling, genuflecting, and lifting their hands
To pray for my poem’s safe arrival.
The moment it looms on my imagination’s horizon,
Gazing at the concept in a diaphanous gown of metaphor,
Young people smack their lips—craving double entendres.
Meanwhile, with piercing glances, the elderly scrutinize
Its juxtapositions and puns.
Then the concept smiles shyly, dazed at seeing them.
On the paper’s lines both young and old meet for a discussion,
But my words resist
And erect walls of critical theories.
Then the paths of personal confession contract,
My imagination calmly shuts down,
And the conception retreats inside my head.
At that hour, it afflicts my world with
Bouts of destruction.
Workers refuse their paychecks.
Farmer let their fields go fallow.
Women stop chatting.
Pregnant mothers refuse to deliver their babies.
Children collect their holiday presents but
Toss them on the interstate.
Our rulers detest their positions.
Kings sell their crowns at yard sales.
Geography teachers rend their world map
And throw it in the waste basket.
Grammar teachers hide vowel marks in the drop ceiling
And break caesura by striking the blackboard.
Flour sacks split themselves open, and the flour mixes with dirt.
Birds smash their wings and stop flying.
Mice swarm into the mouths of hungry cats.
Currency sells itself at public auctions.
The streets carry off their asphalt under their arms
And flee to the nearest desert.
Time forgets to strike the hour.
The sea becomes furious at the wave
And leaves the fish stuck headfirst in the mud.
The shivering moon hides its body in the night’s cloak.
Rainstorms congeal in the womb of the clouds.
The July sun hides in holes in the ozone layer,
Allowing ice to form on its beard and scalp.
Skyscrapers beat their heads against the walls,
Terrified by the calamity.
Cities dwindle in size till they enter the needle’s eye.
Mountains tumble against each other.
My room squeezes in upon me, and
The ceiling conspires against me with
Glass in the frame,
My clothes, and
The world’s clarity is roiled.
Atomic units change.
I vanish into seclusion,
Trailing behind me tattered moans and
Allowing my pen to slay itself on the white paper.
David wrote the following prayerful poem moments before his sister died. This led to his meeting Faleeha, when he presented his poem at the monthly meeting of the Society for Poets of Southern NJ. Faleeha subsequently translated this poem into Arabic.
Time grows short
As the hour draws near,
Transition shall take place
Gently, ever so gently.
It time to let go and
Escape the earthly bounds.
Angels waiting to guide you
To the next step.
May the White Light
Surround you with peace.
May the Lord
Guide your spirit.
Your work here
Is now complete.
Face the future
It is time to rejoice
You are Heaven’s gain.
And surly we shall
Meet once more.
This is an excerpt from the book by David L. Steinberg, Copyright, April 2014. “Pour Your Heart Out,” Condolences Sympathies, Concerns and Comfort. This features the 7 Stages of Loss, spiritual poetry, comforting thoughts, and breathtaking images for those who suffer loss in their lives. Permission is hereby granted to Karen Kaplan to publish it in her blog.