(A poor neighborhood in Southern Iraq)
The woman sits unveiled
allowing the low-ceilinged darkness
to shroud her hair. Night softens
the spare dwelling and brings a wind
that sings to the room of coolness.
Her eyes watch the oil lamp,
its flame leafing into yellow
rich as the bowl of rice
she prepared for supper. This gold
spices the room, camouflages
the mood of old paint and scarred floors.
Electricity is rationed, two hours each day
and for the rest, time makes the household
into servants of routine, lugging ice, buying food
and drawing water from the village pump.
Seeking a moment’s stillness
seems like stealing bright fruit
from the marketplace, ripe thought soothing
the tongue with words sheltered
in the husk of poetry. She remembers
how The Prophet’s nurse, Halima,
heard the air dispersing voices.
They foretold how a thousand sunbeams
would bind her in light and reveal
its unseen fortune. Now she, the mother
of an only child, the bride of a book merchant,
feels that same breath of illumination.
Still, she has her house, her street
has been spared fire and her daughter
comes up the stairs, safely home
and looking beautifully ancient --
as the girl crowns the last step
with arms around a large urn,
the water cold and each hand
splayed against its hammered brass
like the fantail of a dove.