Poetry Sunday: “Migrant Earth,” by Deema Shehabi


So tell me what you think of when the sky is ashen?
         —Mahmoud Darwish


Migrant Earth

I could tell you that listening is made for the ashen sky,
and instead of the muezzin’s voice, which lingers
…..like weeping at dawn,
I hear my own desire, as I lay my lips against my mother’s cheek.

I kneel down beside her, recalling her pleas
the day she flung open the gates of her house
…..for children fleeing from tanks.

My mother is from Gaza, but what do I know of the migrant earth,
as I enter a Gazan rooftop and perform ablutions in the ashen
…..forehead of sky? As my soul journeys and wrinkles with homeland?

I could tell you that I parted with my mother at the country
…..of skin. In the dream,
my lips were bruised, her body was whole again, and we danced
…..naked in the street.

And no child understands absence past the softness
of palms.

As though it is praise in my father’s palms
as he washes my mother’s body in the final ritual.

As though it is God’s pulse that comes across
her face and disappears.


First published in Crab Orchard Review, then in Thirteen Departures from the Moon (Press 53    2011) and reprinted here with permission of the press.


Deema K. Shehabi is a poet, writer, and editor. Her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize five times and appear widely in journals and anthologies such as The Kenyon Review, Literary Imagination, New Letters, Callaloo, Massachusetts Review, Perihelion, Drunken Boat, Bat City Review, Inclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry, and The Poetry of Arab Women. Shehabi served as Vice-President of the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI) between 2007 and 2010. Her full collection Thirteen Departures from the Moon was published by Press 53 in 2011. She is also co-editor with Beau Beausoleil of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here (PM Press), for which she received the Northern California Book Awards’ NCBR Recognition Award. During 2009-2013, she worked with Marilyn Hacker on the renga sequence DiaspoRenga. Two plays, “Light not Touched by Fire” and “A Handful of White Petals,” were performed by the Arabian Shakespeare’s Company’s New Works Festivals.


Poet’s Note

My mother encompassed the largesse of homeland in such a powerful and integral way. The boundary of mother and land dissolved in my mind and became inseparable. “Migrant Earth” was the first breathing of grief for the loss of the mother as homeland and vice versa.

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  • Ikhlas Rayyes August 17, 2017 at 10:52 am

    A genius poetic description of grief for the loss of mother and homeland .. God bless Deema Shehabi

  • Janice D. Soderling August 15, 2017 at 4:27 am

    Beautiful poems here. I would like to subscribe, please.