p
o
e
m
s

Driving a flatbed

truck of sheep alongside the

Qalamoun hills, he

 

glances at the mountains and

thinks of his brothers who are

 

still in Kirkuk. Once

borders were porous, work meant

crossings, for those who

 

are amateur refugees

now, inadvertent exiles.

 

 

Two hundred miles from

the refugee camp outside

Damascus, Zainab

 

descends the stone ramp from Baal’s

temple, becomes her namesake

 

Queen Zenobia

who held off Roman legions

Sanuqawimu!

 

White cotton scarf round her face

like the headdress of a queen.

 

 

Her father will die

without seeing her again.

He’s ninety-four now.

 

Safe in exile, they watch the

insurrection in cafés.

 

She asks her husband

“But who’ll take power after

your revolution?”

 

Not exactly truth

to declare that she wasn’t:

who knew what she’d write?

 

But she said “No.” Nonetheless

she didn’t get the visa.

 

 

The boy’s round-faced smile,

and the image of his corpse

returned, thus tortured

 

have gone viral on You-Tube

and on ten thousand posters.

 

Internet switched off

on Friday, the day of the

week’s demonstrations.

 

Where’s Joumana, where’s Imân?

Eina Najîb wa Ahmad?

 

 

The telephone rings

in Reem’s apartment. And rings.

Nobody answers.

 

She’s gone to market, or she’s

working in the library.

 

Rings late at night, rings

early in the morning. Still

nobody answers.

 

She’s gone to her family

in the country? She has none.

 

Chams’ mother tells him

three soldiers knocked on her door,

asked where her son was.

—thinks of the old man she loves,

the hills near Lattakia.

 

Chams calls his mother

and she talks to him in code:

“It rained yesterday,

 

a strong cold wind from the mountains

blew down the telephone lines.

 

Now the power’s back.”

A You-Tube of the demo

on his Apple screen,

 

but not his younger brother’s

face in the tide of faces.

 

 

He is becoming

an American poet

in his ellipses

 

lacunae and retentions,

deceptively simple words,

 

but sound and structure

of his first language linger:

the root keys that can

 

morph, blossom into wild but

logical alternatives.

 

 

Returning at last

she requested a visa

as she’d always done.

 

The man at the embassy

asked “Are you a journalist?”

 

Military service meant

he was still in the reserves,

 

called back to duty.

She said he was in England.

Now he’ll have to stay.

 

He hadn’t planned to go back,

nor thought he was in exile.

 

His cousin tweets from

“Syrian Revolution,”

needs cell phones, Zip drives,

 

so he’s on Turkish Airlines

toward two days in Istanbul

 

with his French passport,

appointment with a stranger

in their first language,

 

feeling like a boy again,

mother tongue and contraband.

 

 

In a Damascene

pizza parlor they worked on

translations of Plath

 

stacking up saucers of sweet

thick coffee they drank till dusk.

 

A year later one

portable phone’s been cut off.

No number to call—

 

the now-distant friend translates

silence that’s not poetry.

Marilyn Hacker is Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in Paris.

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