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Yahya Frederickson: Hussam’s Heart

 al-Wa’r, Syria


 My flat smells stale, so I go ask Hussam,

the young neighborhood grocer, if he sells incense,

a shard to crumble over my censer’s coals.

He raises his eyebrows once, slowly, which in Syrian

means no. But then he pauses. He stands

on a plastic chair and, digging behind the stacked perfumes,

he finds what he’s looking for. He brings it to the counter

and sets it in front of me: a small Damascene box,

a geometry of wood and mother-of-pearl.

Hinging open the lid, he reveals a red velvet lining

cushioning a chunk of incense pressed into the shape of a heart,

beside it a tiny silver hammer. The heart is his, he says,

meaning it’s not for sale. Hadiya hay min habibti,

this gift was from his beloved. Habibti—the feminine grammar

even the most tear-drenched love songs can’t bring themselves

to utter, the faint pulse of a concluded tragedy:

she was a bedouin in his eastern town,

they were in love but their fathers refused the matrimony.

They were so in love they even contemplated running away.

But without family, to whom would they run?

So that was it, the period ending the book.

She sent him this box, this fragrant heart for him to break, burn,

and remember. He cracks off a lobe. Khuth, he tells me, take it,

and holds it out to me, both of us waiting for what comes next.

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

A Bedouin woman (Photo: Blaine Harrington, UNESCO)

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