Early one morning, when the sky was still dark, Annie locked herself in her room. She turned the key three times, then went to her bed and opened a book.
At half past seven, her mother knocked on her door and told her to get up. When Annie didn’t appear, her mother tried the handle and found the room locked. Half an hour later, she put her ear to the door and heard nothing, not even the loud whisper of the ceiling fan. A strange feeling got hold of her; she knocked and spoke more sharply. “Open!” She slapped the wood with the palm of her hand and began to shout for her husband. “Come quickly! Annie’s not coming out—something has happened to her!”
I have dreamt of this Arabian Gulf Portfolio ever since I was a teenager, writing about snow and squirrels and picket fences—despite living in Dubai where I had more experience with temperatures of 40+ degrees, karak chai, compounds… Because English was my first language, the fiction that was available and accessible to me at the time was perpetually happening elsewhere. My high school education focused on the British and American canons, meaning that we had no exposure to global Anglophone literature, let alone any works set in the United Arab Emirates. The bookshops sold mainly self-help and cookbooks in the 2000s. The public libraries were few, poorly stocked, and dominated by Arabic literature that was also generally quite dated. Consequently, for most of my teenage years, my imagination was furnished by foreign clutter and peopled by strangers I had no knowledge of first-hand. There was the book-world and there was the real-world, and I didn’t even appreciate how separate they were in my mind until I began to write about rivers and forests and realized there were none around me. The mimetic dimension of literature had been severed entirely.
“We want to simulate Mars on Earth and so we need a place that looks as much like Mars as possible. And we found it here in Oman.” —Alexander Soucek, lead flight director of the AMADEE-18 mission, in Phys Org, October 30, 2017
The first time my husband visited me in Oman years ago, he peered down from the plane window and received his first glimpse of the landscape: an undulating palette of browns, beige, mauve, and grays. This is Mars, he thought to himself. Mars on Earth.
Sure, every photograph is an elegy to what was, but this photograph— which I’ve turned into my screensaver— of my son, dead nearly three years, has him suspended in mid-air He has just jumped from a rocky outcropping thirty feet above the shimmering water of Lake George that flashes silver and gold. The day itself is glittering with light
that has the feeling of being
excessive and there are (I’ve counted)
seven different shades of green in the hemlocks and cedars and white pines growing from the rocky soil of the island. My son is alive in the thrill of his airborne body,
though it is quiet in the photograph,
no cheers and whoops from his friends who are waiting at the top to jump, no sounds of the boats idling below, or the waves sloshing against their bobbing hulls. I will not see him cleave the surface of the lake and vanish with hardly a splash
and then break back into the light,
silvery water cascading from his hair and shoulders.
And I will not see him climb back up the rocks,
eager and intent on his next single-second flight.
But almost daily I give thanks
for this moment in which the past is gone
but never dead, this glimpse
of the terrible sorrow to come, but also
of something like an afterlife
in which his body, relaxed, calm, hovers
as if it’s forgotten its heaviness,
the air holding him fast, halfway between
two places at once, the good light of sky
and the ease of bright water that waits.
Robert Cording has published nine books of poems, the latest of which isWithout My Asking. He has recently published a book on metaphor, poetry, and the Bible called Finding the World’s Fullness. A book of poems and prose titled In the Unwalled City, which includes the poem in this issue, is forthcoming.
You can’t defeat nature, you can only work with it. Just as speculating on a perpetrator’s motives—sex as power, power as hard exercise of a phantom sense of impotence, blah, blah, blah—is trackless, so too is asking what does it want, it wants far less than you or I could ever envision in our least released lives. It means no harm. It needs a warm host. We invoke genre to accommodate events terrible and intimate, to give fleshly narrative to cataclysms of globular dimension—private/public, macro/micro —samskara, samskara, these fictions sizzling through the World Wide Gap, racist, replicant, and species-specific.
Before the sea became my journey, it was love,
folktales, it was our origin staring at us,
it was our shadows, then the ships of migration
came, reminding us, that years back, people left
in canoes loaded with hope, with spices, seafarers
who navigated water, holding stars in their bosoms
until the sky became road. We never saw them,
only heard the rumors, only heard they grew wings
We shouldn’t use Latinate words,
too many syllables, abstractions, flowers.
Instead, use words with Germanic roots,
shorter, to the point. As if half our tongue
was wrong. As if flowers, too,
didn’t belong. Oh, you know what I mean.
Yes, I do: erase those empires and the gods. Say fall,
not autumn; ghost, not phantom;
drought, not famine; fire, not flame.
We have aches, not pains, graves, not tombs.
As if no one from such places
could speak of concrete things,
as if no one came here from such places at all.
Like immigrant. Say one who comes.
Angie Macri is the author of Underwater Panther, winner of the Cowles Poetry Book Prize. Her recent work appears in The Cincinnati Review, The Fourth River, and Quarterly West. An Arkansas Arts Council fellow, she lives in Hot Springs and teaches at Hendrix College.
“Saudi wastemen came over the bridge for boozy orgy celebrations.” —Noor Naga
The horror of the city. As Dhari tapped the steering wheel, he calmed himself by visualizing the beautiful woman who should be sitting next to him soon: shoulder-length blonde hair and sky-blue eyes. He eyed the two security guards idling at the gate of the hospital, joking with each other. The gangly one spit on the ground, then turned to the one with long hair, who handed him a cigarette. Dhari’s friend Dawood got caught with a woman he wasn’t related to once. Dawood was actually lucky to spend only a week in jail, but Dhari knew he couldn’t handle prison for even a day. If only he could have been born somewhere else, where people weren’t separated from one another like this. Whenever he watched American movies, he marveled at how men and women got together, threw dinner parties, clinked glasses. Relationships, dances, first kisses, all these things were taken for granted. How would they view Saudi weddings? Separate ones for men and women. At a wedding, all one did was shake men’s hands, drink tan Saudi coffee in small ceramic cups, and sit, waiting for meat and rice to be served.