Back to Issue Twenty-One.

empire with a harp inside it



Recipient of the 2017 Adroit Prize for Poetry
Columbia University, ’19

Selected by Safiya Sinclair

All light unmade you. As the snow fell
I stood in the yard behind a house

Left to the city of our birth. Though it wasn’t
Even ours I knew that this far north

Each hour becomes a door
To the interior, as if to say Open,  

Just open & let mercy have
Its way
. & so I spent my nights

Wandering from one full room
To another, holding the thinned father

At the waist, the boy & his sister
By the hair. Yes, nothing

Was silent. Nothing
Astonished you. Eventually I lost

All interest in their music. Eventually there was
Nothing to do but remember, & so

I thought of the only story
You loved, of the blind doctor

Standing at his sister’s grave in his own last years.
& how, as he knelt, smiling,

In some ancient field covered in vultures,
With his arms raised because he’d been

Commanded & because he knew
To lift them must mean

A kind of surrender, it began
To snow. It just had to. But in the grasses

Of a country that would neither end
Nor begin there was no longer anything so clean

Or brief as winter, as surrender
Or conquest—only memory, only the slow

Wasting of its harp. And because it was
Not yet winter, his widow carried

Their firstborn toward the only border
She could think of, then fell

Three miles from a watchtower as the guard
Stared & thought of love, of anything

But her & the slow child who only stares
At him now, who will not stop staring

Until he makes her. Then snowfall
Ended. You kept talking. I touched you.

Snow, as it does, as it must long to do,
Covered the yard. Often

I could not hear you for the winds,
For their once-terrible invitations.


Safwan Khatib is a poet and translator from Indianapolis.

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