Stick Figures

Fady Joudah

The petals were phone-number tags

of an ad for a roommate

on the bulletin board in the department’s hallway.

The petals were between yes and no,

the tags were bangs,

bumper stickers, sticky labels,

tear-off strips

for runways during wars.

Everyone loves a winner. I will be loved by a few.

They will be forgotten as I will be forgotten.

The petals belong to my people who like any other people

are incapable of

or capable of given time

the great provider.

I sketch horror like children draw stick figures.

I distill the body in mass graves: sticks and bones

may break my heart of stone

but a heart of stone pays no mind, a heart of water has let the
  mind go.

According to the testimonies

the trees were leafing

through documents,

the birds had transferred for a better education.

The petals were corpses that made a bridge,

corpses that turned a river

red, a river ink.

The petals had names:

ordinary citizen

turned beast,

ordinary citizen period,

majority souls

silent and silenced,

the tree next door

for lynching

the tree that palms

a scoop from the river,

whales we guide

to suicide, a willow

sounding the barrier

reef: say

when will the madness end?

I asked the petals but they were between yes and no.

The children headed there

between yes and no and did the asking themselves.

The petals answered or kept to themselves.

The petals spoke only to bees and such.

It spoke to us, the children clarified, through bees and such.

And what did the bees and such hear?

We did not have their ears, the children replied

and added that there were also ants around.

The ants told the worms

to tell the birds to bounce back.

The petals were grackles in a football field on a middle school

morning. The fog told the grackles

the worms were looking for roommates.

The petals ate the worms.

The tags wore

big toes in rows

of yes and rows of no.

The petals kept my toes warm.

Fady Joudah is the author of five poetry collections. He is also a translator and a practicing physician.
Originally published:
September 1, 2022

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