Ramadan Day 11: The Comfort of a Poem

*the galumph is currently on vacation, traveling to the future to bring you back their infinite wisdom from knowing exactly what will happen to everything and with everyone. several emails haven’t yet been answered, but the galumph will respond to all in time, in time.

 

What have I been up to? You ask…

 

I was hanging out with my nephews, my sister, and my mom. I did an aerodactyl pokemon raid in the morning with my sister and the kids. I picked up my visa from China. Then, a new friend of mine, Libya (pronounced [ley-bee-uh]) and I, took a walk. It was so good to be hanging with a queer Muslim in the Bay Area. I mean, really good. There were so many perks to being friends with Libya, I discovered. One, she’s a writer (nonfiction, fiction, poetry). Two, she gives driving directions in the way that I need to be given driving directions when I’m fasting. Repeatedly. There’s more, of course.

 

On our walk, we discussed many things: Islamic closets, football (though it’s just dawning on me that Libya may have been talking about soccer while I was talking about the NFL), what we were going to eat that night. My fast brain was clicking at a stop motion speed. I mean, we were walking, but every vista made me forget a little and a little until all I knew was what lived in front of me.

 

I’m reminded of this old tv show, Married with Children. Al actually has a scheme where his “harebrained” daughter Kelly is going to win big on a game show and get him a new t.v. set. This is because she can remember almost any trivia. What he doesn’t know is that she only has space in her mind for a set number of facts – and after Kelly reaches capacity, she literally remembers nothing except the set facts. So, as he passes on the knowledge, and we get to the game finale scene, you see an image of a slot machine. The facts pop up with each question, but the last fact is replaced by a random audience comment. Kelly loses the show because she simply states the last fact she heard. Al loses his t.v.

At some point, when we reached the peaceful summit, a clearing of grass, I reached capacity. Libya and I were discussing her past, and I said, “maybe you’re sublimating the pain you don’t want to feel.”

“What does sublimate mean?” Libya asked.

“You know like when you put a thought like into your brain but like into your subconscious or something.” I imagined pressing something down into our body, like a book, and then people walking in circles and laughing but like the pressed down thing was in their chests. Of course, I was out of it from no water and climbing the hill so I didn’t have my words. Instead, I explained, “sub means under and lim means liminal, like light. Put it under the light?”

“I mean I know about sublime. Aren’t those the same roots? Isn’t that when something is really good?” Libya’s voice carried toward me from a distance as I huffed and puffed behind her.

“Wait, well liminal means in between – but I’m confused. We’ll look it up later.”

For the rest of the day, much of what was in my head was are the words sublime and subliminal related, like are they from the same roots? And why do they seem to mean such different things? HELP.

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Eventually, Heka came over to Libya’s place, and we had dinner. By had, I mean, we made dinner. It’s such a treat to cook with friends. I could feel the love as Heka shredded garlic and chopped away. I put together a kale and collard dish. Libya made a shrimp and rice dish that she seasoned with these caramelized onions. Usually, I’m really hungry When I could finally break fast, Libya kindly said a prayer for me in Arabic since I can pray with a lot of pure spirit and all that, but I have no good Muslim game.

 

But rewind: before we started our prep, Heka was already supplied with the sustenance. She knew we needed feeding. She recites a poem.


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By June Jordan


 

For the next hour, all I could think about was lizards: the ways I used to chase them and catch them by the tail, how messed up and cruel it was that I did that, how I really wanted to see a creature lose a part of itself but go just as fast, as if it didn’t matter cause we can just grow it all back. I think I wanted to be like that lizard. To regenerate.

 

Eventually, we sat down to eat and talk. I’d found it, the Etel Adnan book. Heka read from the last page.


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from Night by Etel Adnan


 

Had we invited our shadows? Now, the lizard was gone, and in its place was something dark and vague, ominous. It sat on me. I didn’t know what to do with it. Where had it been? I’d felt so comfortable with myself these days, since the two months in residency. Could I have made friends with it? Was this another gift of Ramadan? Was I so tired from the fast that I was no longer separated from my shadow. I was slow. It had caught up to me. I’d accepted it. So much so that it had become me. We’re not apparent.

 

I wondered how Heka and Libya were feeling. You see, all three of us were suffering from various stages of heartache. Mine feels far away, ossified, and for me, Heka’s feels newest and raw — that tenderness at the beginning, and maybe I would describe Libya’s feels ongoing, as if it’s on that precipice of change but is still standing on the bluff with her.

 

“What’d you talk about on your walk?” Heka asked at some point.

I answered, “Mainly, we talked about the difference between sublime and sublimate. They seem to mean really different things, even though they have the same root.”

“Right, because sub usually means under, right?” said Libya.

“I’d like my poems to be sublime,” Heka said. Libya and I beamed at her because they are.

I up what sublimation meant and found one explanation that became a fascination for all of us: From Latin sublimis “uplifted, high, borne aloft, lofty, exalted, eminent, distinguished,” possibly originally, “sloping up to the lintel,” from sub “up to” (see sub-) + limen “lintel, threshold, sill” (see limit) n.

“What’s a lintel?” Libya and I both asked.

“Oh, that’s the top of a doorway,” Heka explained. “We had a lot of lintels back home.”

“How did you meet that word?” Libya asked. It was a lovely concept, that a person meets a word.

Heka gifted us a beautiful story about a man and a temple and the beautiful images carved on the lintel.

As she spoke, I felt the shadow shift, melt, dissipate with Heka’s smile. Libya would’ve said that it was sat on my shoulder.

“Do any poems comfort you?” I asked Heka. Heka turned the word comfort around in her mind, like a coin that she wasn’t sure she wanted. “I mean, not really. I guess I’m not used to that.”

Heka invited us to each read a poem.

Libya began:


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Throughout the night, Libya and Heka discussed the line “8 strawberries in a wet blue bowl.” They were frustrated by the repeated question (by reviewers and interviewers) of whether or not Sharif referenced Ezra Pound with the line.

Heka explained that part of the frustration was having women of color’s works constantly be judged as if they couldn’t stand alone, but must be associated with the white dude hierarchy. “It’d be like if every time you wrote something, Libya, we’d compare you to Walt Whitman. Or, are you discussing Robert Frost, Serena?”

“I love that!” I said, “I do. In my poem brown spot on the snow.”

“Well, I love that line in Sharif’s poem,” Heka said, “To me, it’s alive. I can see and taste the strawberries. I can feel the wetness of the bowl. You know how a bowl sweats when you’ve taken it out of the fridge.”

“Yes,” Libya said, “and the rest of her work is so stark and colorless in comparison.”

Then Heka read from Jean Valentine. “I think she does comfort me. Her words are so open, so present.” She placed her hand on her chest and held it there.


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by Jean Valentine


 

“I love that line about the daffodil. I can see it with the blanket pulled up to its sheet.”

 

“Of course, the sports medicine aficionado would notice the physical detail!” Heka remarked, delighted by the observation.

 

I loved that line about being the daffodil. Heka studied the words and mentioned, “She’s lying in bed thinking about Willi.” We read the poem again. Each of us, I imagine, imagined being in bed, thinking about someone we loved.

The hour was late. We were sleepy.

“Nighttime is hard for me,” Heka said as she washed the dishes, “That’s why I get quiet. Night and mornings.”

“Me too,” I said, not sure if she heard me.

“Me too,” I imagined Libya to say, not sure if heard her.

“Read a poem, Serena.”


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Startled by the poem I picked, Libya said, “Really, that poem, Serena?”

Referencing the fact that we’d been discussing our trauma around the missing kids, disappeared by US immigration. We’d also been discussing exes that loved Girmay. It was an insensitive choice.

 

“This poem brings me comfort.” I tried to explain. “I first read it on the back of a metro card that I’ve kept to this day.” (Yes, I spent hours sifting through my boxes this morning to try and find my metro card. Le sigh.)

When I finished reading, Libya said, “read it again.” And I felt so embarrassed by my insensitivity that I didn’t want to repeat it. But Libya grabbed the phone and read it again, and I loved hearing her read it.

“Look,” Heka said, “each sí is different. And there’s the si that’s a yes and the sí that means if.”

“I had no idea,” I said, in awe. “I’ve read the poem so many times. Over and over again.”


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All three of us are suffering from heartache. Maybe we’re in different stages. I don’t know. I can’t pretend to know what my friends are going through, even as I walk side by side with them. Even when I listen. We are poems that change every time we’re read. I do know that heartache is made of the same material. Love.

The definition of sublimation is to return us to our original state, but changed.

 


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From Night by Etel Adnan


 

 

A friend of a friend is severely ill and trying to raise funds to see a specialist. My dear friend Ayesha donated an original painting to her medical fundraiser. If you’d like to bid for it? Go HERE.

 

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