Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lost and Found in Translation by Melissa Cannon

Lost in translation especially between cultures can be difficult to surpass.  Though as two consenting adults, certain cultures are still adamant that customs are to be followed.  It takes strength for those who are in love with someone in that culture.You have ensure that all feeling are controlled and sometimes the longer you are together the more difficult it becomes.

Winner of the The Robinson Jeffers Tor House 2012 Prize for Poetry
Lost and Found in Translation
Melissa Cannon

What’s in a sobriquet? My Iraqi boss,
whose self-taught English only goes so far,
renames us—now “habibi,” now “hemar,”
which, roughly put, means “dearest dear” or “ass.”
“Habibi” saves the buns before they char,
while “hemar” neglects to stock tomato sauce
and over-proofs fresh dough until that mass,
reeking of beer, sinks, flat and turning sour.
His Kurdish girl’s a frequent visitor—
she’ll pound the counter, giving grief and sass.
From the same country, both suffering its loss,
they lack one native tongue and have to spar
with ours: she, baiting when she’s really cross,
calls him the oppressor in their civil war;
he scoffs—her family’s clannish, insular
(the sense is clear, the terms less decorous).
We’re an unlikely pair: he might have been,
in a different, saner world, an architect;
a cook here, he describes his Shiite sect
to an ex-academic, skeptic lesbian
he’s dubbed “old lady.” Just sixty, I object,
but he claims stings help toughen too-thin skin,
shows the scar a bullet gouged along his shin
and reveals himself in ways I don’t expect.
I read things he needs read and I’ll correct
his grammar if he asks, suppress a grin
when he says, “That’s how is it.” We begin,
through daily chores and crises, to connect.
We shy from touch. Though, greeting, Muslim men
may kiss the cheek, embrace with warm respect,
touch seems to be reserved for those select
few—lovers, fellows of the faith and kin.
Since I’ve retired, we arrange to meet and chat.
He bought a house, remodeled every room,
now longs to fill it, marry and become
a father. His stubborn girl won’t set a date:
though they spat until their lips grow numb,
she craves her parents’ blessing so they wait.
But then, if it’s too little and too late?
After twenty years, he’ll finally travel home,
anxious, he tells me, to surprise his mom;
I’m anxious at the thought of tempting fate,
can’t bear the image as I contemplate
his brother, dead from an errant curbside bomb.
I surface, startled, when he adds, “I hate
to leave. You know, we are—“ We’re what? Well, some
elusive answer to this posed conundrum
perplexes, vexes, makes him hesitate.

Then he speaks to me in Arabic, intends,
I guess, to find the phrase still unexpressed
if he has to put each language to the test.
And yet so much of all we mean transcends
mere words—ambiguous, half-true, at best,
misleading us to figure out the rest;
it’s hardly any wonder that he ends
up shrugging , settles for “—we’re more than friends.”

Melissa Cannon was born in New Hampshire and grew up in Tennessee.  She decided, at 15, that she wanted to be a poet and, at 65, she still has her pen in hand.  Her first career was in academia; her second, in fast food--both, she comments, provided substantial entertainment.  Her poems have appeared in various small-press publications over the years--most recently in Indefinite Space and The Lyric. 

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