Umm al-Arabi

"Yaa' Umm!" I say. You are a bird. 
        I enter our conversation
            broadly sweeping through your tweed 

coat, your petite handbag. "Tasharaafna," 
        which is to say, "I am honored
            by your presence." 

While this morning jasmine is
        and everything else besides, 
            I am hurried. 

You, all elegant and ambling, 
        sit on your smile for
            a time until I settle in. 

Your withered frame a delicate
        statuary, huddled in
            herringbone, a silk scarf. 

What harm is there in reaching
        for a dark gloved hand? I wander down
            the road of your exile.

Between us, the flat mile of
        a table where the coffee is; where
            the war is, both black and harsh. We
drink from both, speak of neither.  
        "As-salaam aleikum!" Can you
            repeat yourself? Between us, 

the flat mile of a table. Is the world
        so much smaller than you remember? 

My eyes trace the ridges
        of your teeth, where the tongue
            strikes in certain phrases. The flash 

of gold from wire on a bridge, the
        corners of your mouth keeping
            secrets. The throaty sound you make, 

while you stretch American tongues
        to fit Arabic words, your breath
            clean as a bell jar.

I wander down the road your exile is, 
        Iraqi woman of the Dhod. Mother of all Arabs, I wonder
        which words cease being useful when
            you're in your cups; which words fail 

to meet the sum of things. 
        Do so many flowers wither, these garlands
            we heap upon one another, this 

jasmine morning of so many greetings, while the world
        is charged by lesser men?
            May you be at ease among family! 

Between us, the flat mile of a table
        where the coffee is, where
            our exile is, both black and harsh. What harm 

is there in reaching for a hand, while
        this morning of a thousand lights
            unfolds the shadows in these ram-battered cups. 

© Karekin M Yarian