Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, and Other Poems (Zaqtan, trans. by Fady Joudah)

It can be hard to read a whole poetry collection and “Best of” collections are challenging as well. Absent a theme, as in Blake’s Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, what makes a poetry book into a book? Sometimes, I just dip in and out of several collections at the same time, but I wonder if that’s giving those authors a fair shake.

It’s odd but predictable, I suppose, that Zaqtan is lauded as a Palestinian poet who does not choose to write – at least explicitly – about Palestinian politics. Naomi Shihab Nye gets some of the same ‘criticism’ too. Do certain kinds of authors have an obligation to address particular topics?

To the poetry. . .

Zaqtan kept me off balance. He seemed to like to set up a rhythm only to disrupt, often in just a mild way – as though to suggest that you might not have heard the needle skip.

My favorites include “Salty Hills” –

“[W]e don’t concern the birds.”


“We are many like affliction / few like content / that’s how we became the soil of the story / and its mud.”


“Beirut, August 1982” –

“O what the songs didn’t tell us!”


“The Orchard’s Song” –

“I wish you’d turn serene.”

“Alone and the River Before Me” is a masterpiece. . .

“I have a suspicious heart, brother, / and a blind statue, / and the news that amateur refugees brought from Baghdad stunned me, / there’s a lot they haven’t seen yet / they were crossing the bridge by chance / Intentions are in the ports / befuddled as their owners left them, / incomplete as the murdered left them. . .


I will spend a lot of time thinking about the phrase “amateur refugees.” In the same poem, there are “women undressing on the edge of an abyss to distract death / from their children.” Perfect line break. And. . .

“like textile workers we hold threads and spin them to weave memories / that pant behind us and follow our steps like bewildered dogs.”


“I have a suspicious heart, brother / and my stance is whole.”


“[I]n sleep I see the invisible.”


It’s hard to write about poetry, too.


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