AL-KHANSAA COMPOSES ONE LAST ELEGY

The tribes bury infant daughters.
The men believe they bury shame and sorrow,

not flesh and blood. But mothers dig
deepest. Fingers raw, tattooed with dirt,

they plant their daughters like seeds.
Left alive, our girls would grow to grieve

for sons, brothers, husbands,
gone like the few rainy days each year,

their blood carried home
on another man's robes.

How do we watch them kill
each other? Soon we'll walk naked,

all our clothes ripped out of grief.
No words left to describe our sorrow.

I've spoken them all.
Every death haunts my words

like the spirits that bring madness,
poem after poem leaves my tongue

dry as the brush in the valley.
It's our boys we should bury:

Bury them now so we won't love them,
never miss them, never wish we held them tightly

in the darkness beneath. I dig a grave
for words, place them gently inside,

cover them with earth. The dead
need these tokens, reminders that we remain

roots shallow, spread wide, seeking water
wherever it seeps.


  Eman Quotah



Note: Al-Khansaa was a seventh-century Arabian poet best known for elegies for her brothers. Her poems were produced both before and after the advent of Islam, which she accepted.
TAR
EMAN QUOTAH is a writer who lives and works in Washington, DC. Her poetry has been published online in New Works Review, Absinthe Literary Review, and Pig Iron Malt (forthcoming).