Mohja Kahf’s ‘Copulation in English’


Mohja-kahfsWe are going to dip English backward
by its Shakespearean tresses
arcing its spine like a crescent
We are going to rewrite English in Arabic
(Arabic script: how sweet, how sweet)


and all the languages of our blood
We are going to give English the makeover of its lifetime,
darkening the rims of its eyes with Hindi antimony,
making it blush Farsi roses
(Arabic script: the night, the night)


We are going to make English dizzy
until English vomits its history,
Norman, Saxon, Celtic, down
to its Druid dregs
We won’t stop playing with English
We are the new bullies in the schoolyard
and we like the merry-go-round of nouns and adjectives
and onomatopoetics and objective correlatives


We will bewilder English in Aramaic of Jesus
(Arabic script: My Lord, my lord, why have you forsaken me?)
We know its biblical heart better than it knows itself
and hold the blades of these lilies-of-the-valley
against its jugular vein


We are going to make English love us
And kiss us and explore us with its tongues
Then we will play hard-to-get
and English will have to phone
and leave a message after message of desire on our machines
English will have to learn what to say to please us:
(Arabic script: “I humbled myself until even me enemy wept for me.”)


English has never tasted anything this purple,
Seen mangos this bursting, trickling down its poems,
pomegranates spraying the tart red seeds
over its stories like white white linen
English has never smelled the cardamom this ecstatic
or breathed rhetoric this thick with love


English will come to us hoarse with passion
we will have taught English to have
and English will never be the same and will never regret us
Although, after this night of intense copulation,

we may slaughter English in its bed and redeem our honor,
even while pregnant with English’s bastard
(Arabic script: “Here comes the dawn upon us like a fire.”)


after F. O’Hara

i have turned the corner and realized what you mean to me
though my heads been caught in lightbulb catastrophe
daydreams in some rough seasoned morning. I am always announcing
my return before I even leave. Rubies, swift jealousy and moons are small
and marvelous.
In rain or in snow or in immaculate yellow sun, with rusted
clouds draped over me like capes, tongues hang off of mine
and I cannot comprehend these muzzled linguistics.
I wrap your face up in my hands, your gold hair a mirror for two, with
falling parts one by one, a vow of a pedestal’s potential.

They wrote every warning like a patent. I am unable
at once to fully contain this loveflow my confusion of the altogether
of sundays to mondays or leaps, jumps, bounds of story. You twist your mouth
back and forth, my eyes race to catch it. There are terrible
winds today, it feels like the storm that left us all
laughing behind it. Yet
I trust you like you’d trust Roman excess or a book’s sturdy word. And if we find
the world’s falsities
exposed like foibles, folds undone accordion rhythm readiness then I guess
we had it coming.
I turn another corner and kiss your forehead with my moon-smacked lips.

April [15/15]

It’s Serious Business To Know Who You Are

The morning splits grey hair. It is not fooling anyone. Not the early spiders
collecting daily clues.
Not even the figs
despite their awkward name in which they feel no glory.
We awake, muzzy-minded to find who we are.

Crude down eyes see each other.

We must again fall in love with the footsteps
of stampeding challenge.

Birch makes no mirror — just an outline
as the sky makes a chalet of escape
as you make me, me.

If it takes another century to learn who you are again
I will stay half-melted like a tuscan grape
waiting to be turned beautiful to meet your mouth,
your town, your memory.

It will cause the first thought
undoubtedly causing bloom.

We are after something
not like the night which hides.
No we cannot do that
nor fade, nor turn in

April [14/15]

Retrograde Compassion

Here is random culture —
two sit outside a cafe
sun-busted open confetti
light upon lilacs. The street curves like a grape.
a tall blonde debutante
sips with a frenchmen. she bleeds out secrets
while he smiles enraptured.

the day smells like wood. it must be the million ants
chomping away near the fire escape.
Any scene is just a phase
the painters sort out.

the blond sips her drink,the foreigner dreams of his grandparents farm
I think. Our complete America
is in addiction to impossible vocabularies.

She wears a deep diamond she twirls back& forth on her finger.
Her neck has one too. It is a cold black pool of whispering
earth. And he wants in it,
but his just standard eyes
his ashy, flitted white hair.
He cannot move, though, which comes with catholic surprise
which does not mystify him — he knows just what this is about.

They see me
and begin their own poems
of fear, spite, and either the complete destruction
or intolerable seduction
of me and the ants.

April [13/15]


Eve’s offering with its new name
– Evening –
built upon waiting things
in which it all happens.

Heavied eyelids
dig up circumstances pirated
previous centuries ago. Eve dreams in specific rhythms
we have come to know
we are obviously always, anyway.

The kingdom alarms itself with garden spectres,
haunts which snake through sanctuaries. A prince
gets wasted in sunlight.

Unfortunately for our originals
they’ve been offered up with oleander
we are meant for repetitions, twisted with arcadian mass each and every time.
Eve’s offering is a new dark each night
and that is why we came
why we come
and why we’ll do it all over again.

April [11/15]

eso y esto y tu

a rooftop awaits. brickwalled towers
enclosed on the hills up there.
I await the intensity that you bring softly
the storm inside the tomb.

These are those more international evenings
where we feed our foreign selves in photographs
clearer puddles, rooftop puzzles. City
passing you by.

To be settled in the heart and spree
to one’s feet. It’s fine
to dream in spectacular unison
if you contain it in a dream.

Fumbling particulars in this curious language
dislocating identification
throttling absence of vision, or at least
the sad end of another sentence lost on enormous maps of words.

this all would be a lie
if it weren’t.

April [9/15]

Clouds The Sky

all ships are eager to isolate.

here, where you are secretary to sea cadence —
a plaintiff for land down under.

And you begin to miss green & spring
two things the ocean leaves behind. variations
on land heartbeat. Where to roam right away
is innocuous enough. Here, one must matronize
the sea for any influence.

You are mapping categorically with pictographs of clouds
for it is sin to build a map out here.
Only of memory they say. You will be without
even knowing for some length of time.

You set sail to a cirrus woodblock and end
with wings drifting apart. What does Cupid do over the ocean?
Later you throw an anchor out in the shadow of a heavy cloud, bruised
itself of faraway desert dust. It collected languages
before slipping off the coast. It remains naked now
and impossible to draw.

You brought 43 pens and are down to 6.
One day you decide clouds are Rorschachs and make stories. Some are lifted
mythologies, you know that, but you don’t know from when or where
or what gods.

Some days there are no clouds. One cannot just look at patch of sky
and pretend any meaning. But the whole sky is a great snake
stretched by gods you named, and then its dressed of sun so bright
it must mean blindness.

When you dock months later you hitchhike to the airport and
buy a ticket for the longest flight available.
You want to reach out and touch the snake and thank
it for not leaving you alone.

April [6/15]

Memorizing Rilke, Reciting Mallarme

Pooling together what we know is first order.
We move forward in each others languages
or not at all.

I am memorizing Rilke, not so far up the shore.
You recite Mallarme over my nervous meditation.

Together, we are mincing the obtuseness of our genetics,
while I down a million heartworms. Later,
we can pillage the rent of other fabrics
aside from language, form, semantic obliteration.

Read another passage out loud, I say,
neverminding the words being lost as tickets. I realize
I am only here
to hear

Let’s stop being those people right now
paradies of promise
pioneers steering away from pnemonic pasttime.
It’s time to retire these sinking alphabets and not crumble down with it.

One day, when I am
old enough, rich enough, stable enough
with fame that marks my face another poetic geography
I’ll return these messages to you

And the pooling will no longer be a delusion
but togetherness I’ve founded
that’s easy
and bare.

April [1/15]

Why People Need Poetry (Stephen Burt’s TED Talk)

I’ve actually said before that this would be a TED talk I’d give. It’s a simple idea that I find to be truth — poetry would help us as a people understand our world, our selves, and our capability to produce and find beauty.

I would’ve used different poems, but Burt does a good job breaking down the wall of answering the ‘what does this mean’ question. It can mean whatever you’d like. He’ll show you how a critic might interpret a poem, but ultimately that’s not the point.

Just as we use music to inform, increase or unlock our feelings, poetry too sits on a mountain waiting to be discovered. Our schools have done a poor job of keeping it as a pillar in a curriculum, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective.

Click the picture below to hear the TED talk!

burt poetry ted talk