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.
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.