“Schehirrazade” by Amal El-Mohtar August 22, 2010 – Posted in: Poetry


By Amal El-Mohtar

to the sound of Taqasim on Violin by Simon Shaheen…

This poem appears in Sybil’s Garage No. 7.

For Cat Valente

Woman DancingYOU BRING THE East to me
in a palmful of rice,
a scattering of doves,
a burning temple,
the green smell of tea. You smile,
hold the sun plucked from a Grecian sky
between your teeth, laugh
shake gods and poets from your belly
into my waiting hands, pile them there
like coins and jewels and jasmine petals,
seashells with the sea still in them,
the desert’s weight in sand.

You knew Virgil when he was young, you tell me,
and sitting beneath a willow, whisper
that his bee-loving hands were soft in bed,
that you saw yourself when he spoke of Dido,
her clever fingers on the ox’s hide,
her smoky hair, her tragic eyes,
her fabled skin backlit by fire,
smelling of cardamom and myrrh. I see you, too,
and long, and long
to unfold a treasure from my tongue,
to take your hand in mine and hide there
a stone, a seed, a key,
any small thing
suggestive of mystery.

But my mouth is dry and full of echoes, hoards
your syllables like savory
I dare not chew, much less dare swallow
for fear of scraping my throat red-raw
with tiger claws, iron hooks,
the teeth of wide-jawed women
screaming laments into my chest,
stealing my shallow breath.

So I go, instead. I flee
to ocean, forest, ancient streets,
mountains and the tops of towers
to gather stories like wool from rocks,
dew-wet in the morning, to wring
from them a cup’s worth of augury,
season them with dry air and dust,
bottle them, wrap them ‘round rings and combs,
polish glass, silver, hematite,
and lay them at your feet. I would
sheathe you to the knees in gifts, saying,
“I am not subtle, I am not
a siren with the world for wings,
not Alissar by any name, but look, look,
in these hands,
on these feet,
with the wind in my eyes and the moon on my back,
I’ve brought the East to you,”
hoping you will find in them
even the smallest piece
of something you did not already have.

Amal El-Mohtar is a first-generation Lebanese-Canadian, currently pursuing a PhD in English literature at the Cornwall campus of the University of Exeter. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in a range of publications both online and in print, including Strange Horizons, Shimmer, Cabinet des Fées, Sybil’s Garage, Mythic Delirium, and Ideomancer; her work has been broadcast on Podcastle, and The Honey Month, a collection of poetry and prose written to the taste of twenty-eight different honeys, is available from Papaveria Press. She won the 2009 Rhysling Award with her poem “Song for an Ancient City,” and co-edits Goblin Fruit, an online quarterly dedicated to fantastical poetry, with Jessica P. Wick. Find her online at http://tithenai.livejournal.com.