Maqam, by Zeina Hashem Beck
If I die, you say you will let your hair
turn silver, grow long, and you will go
into the dark place, for you’ve already begun
to forget what Mecca means.
Where we come from, you and I,
maqam means home, means music; the Qur’an
can only be read as a song; a sheikh recites the Fatiha
as if he has built a house among the lines, the ayas.
We’ve both called our daughters Aya, and when they ask
about their name, we play holy verses for them, listen
to how the sheikh lingers long enough on each letter,
how the audience claps and whistles — Is it Umm Kulthum?
our daughters ask. He knows all his maqamat,
this sheikh, says God is greater, and Allah, Allah,
reply the faithful and the unfaithful alike,
for the earth is such a small planet, and look,
there is Ithaca, almost always on the horizon —
float, my friend. Ithaca — It is rough, but raises good
men, says Homer, but oh, the women, the women
know how to house the bodies of the drowned. They sing,
In the Name of the Cross, of God, the Merciful. A child
in Syria has amputated legs because he has ventured
into a minefield to eat grass. He still has two eyes,
two arms, a mouth. God is greater, is greater, stay
with me in the light a little longer. You light two cigarettes
at the same time, give me one. Tomorrow you will fly to Lesbos
to translate. The refugees will say shai, and you will say
tea, home, Mecca, Ithaca, maqam, maqam, maqam.