Poem of the Week | November 07, 2022
“Avareh” by Athena Nassar
This week’s Poem of the Week is “Avareh” by Athena Nassar.
Athena Nassar is an Egyptian-American poet, essayist, and short story writer from Atlanta, Georgia. Her debut poetry collection Little Houses is forthcoming from Sundress Publications. Her work has appeared in Academy of American Poets, Southern Humanities Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Salt Hill, Lake Effect, New Orleans Review, Zone 3, The Los Angeles Review, PANK, and elsewhere.
Outside the urgent care, we sit like crescent moons dropped
from the sky, our bodies hunched over the sidewalk. Down here
with everything so up close, we can see the people, holograms
of themselves, pushing through each other on the street, droplets
of water falling past them, oranges toppling out of brown paper bags.
Gravity is something even the moon cannot control.
I turn to you, your mother and brother fallen with the droplets
and the oranges, and think, what do I know about grief? I know
the sun was punctured before light came pouring from it
like the yolk of a runny egg. I know I wake some mornings
with the fear of my mother dying too soon, the thought a bird
I must shoo away again and again. I wonder how you
shoo them, your many hands flying in every direction.
These birds, immigrant children, like us. Look at how the moon
glows a blood orange with all the fruit that fell in it,
all the mothers who populate the sky. I watch the swinging
doors of the urgent care and ask myself, what good does it do
to worry about my own? Will it slow my mother’s descent
if I hold her, like a brown paper bag, from underneath?
In Arabic, we have five ways of saying okay — Tayyeb. Tamaam.
Hasanan. Zein. Mneeh. My mouth attempts to pronounce
this shared language of acceptance, but the word hasanan
sticks to the back of my throat like a grain of rice. I’m scared
to tell you I never did like leaving, fleeing one place
to populate another. Your mother country calls these people
avareh, longing souls, their feet at the edge of a well to another
country, a puddle of souls floating belly up. They see
themselves in this puddle, but they also see themselves
in the droplets yet to fall in, happy tears of God spilling like fat
melons from somewhere above us. I want to pry them
open, swish their many seeds in my mouth. I want to tell you
I’m scared of waking up. My heart, a bird batting its wings to go
nowhere. My mother, a sound lodged in my throat.
In the process of writing my poem “Avareh,” which was inspired by a friend of mine who lost his mother and brother in a car accident as a child, I began to activate the fears I have about losing my own mother, who I am very close to, and the poem became this confession of guilt, but it also became something much more. It evolved into a poem that says I know who came before me and what they needed to do in order to survive, but I am also scared, because I am so different from them.
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