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Yahya Frederickson: What I Learn About Poetry in Yemen


What I learn about poetry in Yemen,
I learn at a sidewalk café off Zubairi Street,
one of the main streets in Sana’a named
after the poet who fomented revolution with rhyme,

where I’m finishing off a plate of butterflied chicken,
the aroma of garlic and lemon marinade
mixing with the smoke fanned by a piece of cardboard box,
the grill right there on the sidewalk,

when a ragged old man tramps by looking
like a bedouin, a holy man in hard plastic shoes,
banging his walking staff on the pavement
and reciting poetry, which, even though I can’t

understand, I know is poetry. Maybe the smell
of the grilled food catches his attention,
but he doesn’t stop singing his poetry
as loud as his lungs will allow to the waiters, cooks,

and whoever else is listening, which I am
as I’m standing there paying my bill, and now
he’s dancing—banging his staff in rhythm, stamping
a couple steps forward, a couple steps back,

BANG!—and I’ve got to admit that I’m feeling it too,
so I put my arms up in the air like his,
and he grasps my wrist, and suddenly
we’re dancing together, the waiters smiling

and clapping as we go back and forth,
BANG! in front of the restaurant,
until the end nears, the big finish, and everyone
is standing and cheering, and I’ve got to

buy him lunch, I mean I’ve just got to, because
when was the last time I tasted poetry like this,
not just a cool mint swirl in the brain,
but a wash of chile in the marrow?

So I slam some rials down on the counter
for another platter of chicken and rice,
but he’s got no time to sit and eat,
so the waiters bag it up for him, and off he goes

toward the city center, his bag of food
swinging from one hand, his staff in the other,
his hard shoes clopping away, my day
swinging from his neck like a medallion.

From In a Homeland Not Far: New & Selected Poems (Press 53). Copyright 2017.


Street in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen

4 comments on “Yahya Frederickson: What I Learn About Poetry in Yemen

  1. Bosselaar-Brown Laure-Anne
    December 6, 2018

    What a powerful poem: such poetry in that moving moment…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Tricia Knoll
    December 6, 2018

    What a lovely poem. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

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