National Poetry Month 2023: Day 18

Fady Joudah is a poet whose work I love and whose work I love more with each successive book. This poem is from his collection Tethered to Stars. The title, “Dehiscence,” is a word that means the splitting or bursting open of a pod or a wound, and it strikes me to the core at this time in my life when I’m looking down the tunnel of empty-nesterhood, both so close and so far away, when my late-stage adolescents are navigating our parent-child relationships in concentric, overlapping orbits with my own such navigation. 


I didn’t say goodbye to the kids.
I knelt into my weeping until my heart broke me awake.
My forehead touched the floor.
If dream is memory, I was captured in a van,
incarcerated. I was and wasn’t a leader. The prison
was a camp in the wilderness. Its warden
was kind. Unkindness came from the rules,
which came from behind desert mountains.
I didn’t say goodbye to my kids.
We were watching a soccer game when it happened.
My boyhood team is in a city that was steeped
in shipping slaves, water under the bridge.
Two of the goal scorers were Muslim.
One Senegalese, the other a Turk
who would have us believe
he’s German. I forgot to say goodbye to the kids.
I sobbed, shook, woke up
with a dry face and a cloven heart,
uttered the Arabic word for it.
There’s a world out there, people
no less beautiful than you are.
I lay down for an hour,
less water with time, recalled
the moment I no longer let me father touch me:
no more his little boy, his tenderness
wouldn’t visit me the same again.
I felt his acceptance
unaware he’d begun waiting for mine.
It was after lunch, on the couch,
he stroked my hair, neck,
and forearm. It felt good then I felt older. Slowly,
I got up, walked away, his fingers trailing the air
of my wake, both of us wordless.
I didn’t say goodbye to my kids.
There’s a world out there, people
who don’t ask me what I’m about
to say. You’re not time.
I served with time and you’re not it.


photo credit Cybele Knowles

Fady Joudah has published five collections of poems: The Earth in the Attic; Alight; Textu; a book-long sequence of short poems whose meter is based on cellphone character count; Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance; and, most recently, Tethered to Stars. He has translated several collections of poetry from the Arabic and is the co-editor and co-founder of the Etel Adnan Poetry Prize. He was a winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 2007 and has received the Arab American Book Award, a PEN award, a Banipal/Times Literary Supplement prize from the UK, the Griffin Poetry Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is an Editor-at-Large for Milkweed Editions. He lives in Houston, with his wife and kids, where he practices internal medicine.

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