Elegy for a Kaleidoscope


We found her in Socorro etched
on a tombstone in a cemetery that’s changed
public and private hands, though it’s feet
that lands change, boots and tarsals.
We were grateful

to the music of frontiers. She, whom we’ve
made our dead, possessed a name between
ebb and flow in the arts of belonging.
That her life split the tail and head
of two centuries, this we considered
remote and thus relevant
for our current standing
in an expanding universe. And went
on a search. A docudrama whose stack
of letters we turned podcast for the cochleae
of small towns and lonesome households.
A terrain through a train’s window.
This Southwestern find is Arab. A poet
without record in some obituary dug up<
on microfilm, an immigrant wife
whose husband’s life was the one
well archived until now.
Their two sons and the premature
death of their daughter
on the path of inclusion bodies.
Our protagonist’s

best friend was the spouse of a missionary,
inaugural dean of a college founded in Cairo.
We adapted the letters the wives exchanged
into a movie. Dissertations followed.
Journalism unearthed that her elder son
was a falafel king in Chicago, then
a shawarma po’boy fusionist
in New Orleans. His daughter litigated
and won a lawsuit against Detroit’s
neglect of its workers. In L.A.,
the granddaughter married a black
saxophonist, and gossip nearly hurt them
when her uncle lobbied Congress
that he was Caucasian enough
for citizenship, as Jesus was. By then,
our poet, our fulcrum, was gone. She left
us a few poems in her Cairene mail.
Her verse offered English little.
The few good lines that endure
speak the usual wisdom
in old forms:

The spirit is a magus
irregularly good. God is a fly you can’t
swat. A mosquito that doesn’t need
your blood to go on living, still
it settles on your skin.

Fady Joudah's most recent poetry collection is Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance (Milkweed Editions, 2018). He's a recipient of the Yale Series prize and a Guggenheim fellowship for poetry.

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