“A Glass Of Water” and Other Poems, by Omar Sabbagh

A Glass Of Water

There is something about this man
that makes what it is that’s on
the cusp of happening
timely as the tide of what has been.
It’s frightful to know the future
as well as this; what was meant to be
a razed tablet comes in the shape
of a cage, tall and sure
and as though to the measure 
of some Mosaic law.  It’s not surprising
to feel the floor beneath your feet beat
to the same sad tune heard before
in the mind of a man with no, with
no memory anymore.

And though the melodic line 
is piece and part of a hackneyed vein,
blue beyond blue beyond blue, 
there are still a batch of things this man
wants to understand.  How was it
such a mass of workaday people went
gulled and guyed by a fabulous secret
without a window like this?  And how,
fooled by the way things might have been?
How is it they agreed to join in dream
like this, droplets in the glamor
of a glass of water it’s sure 
none would ever have agreed
to sip themselves?

And then, what of the water itself?
It sees of course, hears, goes
touched at the lips, but without a scent.
But when has water ever talked?
When, spoken of the things
that have stalked its clarity,
coloring its whiteness
or lack thereof?  And if not,
dyeing its wide largesse, the emptiness,
with the slur of some storm
of starless darkness?

It’s strange to see a score like this.
Nil, nil, of course, as it ever was,
the staves denuded.

And strolling along the staggered lines
of this book of sad and elastic music
the black marks seam 
in such a way
they disappear 
in the weave of what was meant by
the composer. 



When the carrion birds peck and squabble,
When they build the amateurs of their essays
Where all the organs of the slain are discussed,
There are always one or two of them who
Think themselves vultures better than the rest,
Who come-off like snobs, because, as they eat,
Still parrying away the others – who are also eating
Down from the sky’s fluent freedom the meat
Of the dead – they give themselves these airs.
These uppity few are so proud of their education,
About knowing what to do in all situations,
The others waiting in the gorging queue
Are put off, strangely, from their bloodied food.
They feel it’s unfair.  And they seem to resent
The one or two carrion birds who lend
Their bloody, picky work the sheen
And blend of some endeavor of bettering.  
They want what they do, animals at the last,
To be known for what it is: no sense of class
Or of classiness should ever be permitted
The look of the work of a good, fast,
Famished carrion bird.  The uneasy question
That seems to rumble from their lips – while spilling
The munched-at gruel of dead, flayed meat, 
Mixed with the fandangos of a bird’s saliva –
Is a question about effrontery.  The chutzpah
Of those few birds, the sheer uppity gumption!
Who do they think they are?  And how: better?
And in their minds, and in their minds alone,
Those who seem, so effortlessly, superior
Are actually the only truly humble birds left
In the annals of this famished tribe.  Bereft
Now of the old scholastic cue, the way that birds
Once upon a time knew what they knew,
These few birds of dead attack, so attacked,
Can only keep their silence, faced by major fiat.

A Hunger Artist
After Kafka

All day long he is hungry.  The nourishment that he
Hopes for is so large in the distance, and possessed 
Of such long and whittled legs, whittling and whittling,
It makes him angry…  The righteous and the free
Should not be caged like this, caged and made to pay
This toll, this tax, this fee.  As he views the wrongs
He pays himself, the storms of his gift, the stress:
He wonders, as though a note on a passing stave,
About this music, this beat, these feet: he raves
And rants his sum of warning wisdoms, because
He can’t forgive the one man who placed him here.
He can’t forgive the way this drama of unwinding fear
Plays itself across the stage of his exhibits.  The leers
Of the well-fed crowd, milling around, passing by,
Speak in tongues to him he can’t quite parse
Or gloss: he’s never quite understood what it is
To be a man or woman like this: plain, plain-spoken,
Hanged hungry for the simple things whose utmost token
Is to be satisfied – the length and width of those fat
Fires, needs, slaked for all to see: as he does, too, sadly.  The stet-
Like finish they evince, this passing, passing crowd, make him feel
A stranger before an even stranger god.  And as he kneels,
Offering up a doubtless waylaid prayer – chaser for the food
At the last, that might prove sturdy and burly and good –
He views again the weirdly filmic scene he’s trapped within:
This reel, turning on repeat, burning like the infinite sin
It always was, and is.  It was always easier for him to be
Hungrier than the rest, angrier, fearful, worried, unfree:
Because the food made to beat and sate his hunger
Named him, always, in ways he failed to like or love.  So, he
Wishes to stay weak like this, frail, farther from the stronger
Ways of a stronger body – which is safe in its safety,
Sure in its sureness, certain of the same old certainties
An artist can never know, feeling all things as they bleed. 

Chocolate Gifts
For Mohamad and Alia Sabbagh
She is getting cannier now, savvier.  Small round pellets, colored across the rainbow, hold little loads of sweetened chocolate to be crunched, rolled around the tongue, savored.  But there is more to the sweet gift than this: for it is the cordoned-off domain of only jiddo’s care.  At first, her grandfather drove the monopoly for self-seeking reasons, passions; it wasn’t meant to be, in truth, an exemplar of the supposed Marxist ‘laws of production’, whereby concentration and centralization of the source of supply are groping, babbling tendencies one can’t resist in a market economy evidenced by the periodic fall in profits.  No: nothing so salacious, tasteless.  It was in fact a quite natural progression in a place as warm and warmed as this, where power is identical with its better: authority.  No Gramscian hegemony, achieved by cooption, a surreptitious cahoots-forming coercion, makes sense here.  The hegemon is a father and a grandfather, and fills these roles without a single stagey mask.  The tenderness as it appears melts all hearts, so that the large wide living room where this daily rite is performed starts to flow again with rivers of blood, the oaken wine given time to breathe, mature; the oaken wine of goodness in the process of being groomed.  The chocolate lies hidden in a cabinet too high for Alia’s reach.  That said, she now knows where the stash is, stashed.  So, by the third or fourth day here, staying with my parents, it was not just a case of a grand surprise in the clenched grip of her jiddo; it was, rather, her pacing forth to tug-at this old and loving man’s stone-colored abaya, tugging him at the knees with her right hand while swinging her waylaid left to point towards the deep mahogany cabinet just round the corner of her tugging, the while, making small chimp sounds of adorable appeal  The operation of chocolate gifts now has two stages, phases: two dovetailing parts to what is a darling maneuver.  First, the call, the imperative call from the toddler, wise-to; then, the grand effort beneath an effortless smile, of rising from the deep seat of the couch, and goose-stepping for comic relief round to the cabinet.  My daughter follows my father, amused, but still with a brow’s gunning intent on the prize.  Before being gifted a small pellet of sweet, sweet chocolate, she must name the color in the open hand.  She always does; thus, demand is sated.  And so, this is how the generations (once again) hook and latch onto each other in the rooting ways of a family-tree whose soil is love.  The sweet gift, the gift of sweets, work like a chiasmus, thus, whose turnstile between the two opposed conversions is this smitten middle: father, son.     

Omar Sabbagh is a widely published poet, writer and critic. He has published five poetry collections, two novellas, and much short fiction, some of it prize-winning. A study of the oeuvre of Professor Fiona Sampson, Reading Fiona Sampson: A Study in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, was published with Anthem Press in July 2020. He has published scholarly essays on modernist, as well as contemporary poets. Many of these works are collated in, To My Mind Or Kinbotes: Essays on Literature, (Whisk(e)y Tit, 2021). He also has two books forthcoming, namely: Morning Lit: Portals After Alia, a forthcoming book of poetry and prose (Cinnamon Press, 2022); and Y Knots, a collection of short fictions. He holds a BA in PPE from Oxford; three MA’s, all from the University of London, in English Literature, Creative Writing and Philosophy; and a PhD in English Literature from KCL. Presently, he teaches at the American University in Dubai (AUD), where he is Associate Professor of English.

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