The Sound of a Forgotten Letter

I look at a photograph of the city I was born in,
at its crowded roadways, the grey of its buildings,
the white dome and marble floor of the Umayyad Mosque,
the minarets so clear and pointed you can hear the call
to prayer that rises from them like artillery shells in the morning,
the mountainsides where the houses look like they were cut
straight into the stone by a machine gun, the arch of Souq Hamadia
where men walk so close to me that I smell their sweat
over the merchants’ cologne; I decide that if I look close enough I will not see
the black vests of the Mukhabarat as they detain
a University student from protesting the emergency law,
that I might see instead a young man who travels from the mountain
down the steep avenue into the city standing on only the handlebars
of his bicycle, that maybe instead of a Free Syrian Army soldier
being shot by a boy of eighteen who is studying to be an architect
so that some day he may design the buildings that will be put
in the rubble’s place, there is a boy thinking about a girl
and cannot stop reading Nizar Qabbani until
the jasmine springs from his hand, and blossoms
over all the flowers on the girl’s balcony her taytay
planted before the desert knew the sound of death,
or maybe the photograph is so vivid that instead of
being the ISIS soldier who can hear the casing of his bullet as it hits
the blood soaked streets of Halab, I am a man who plays
the oud with my wrist so close to the fretboard
that I can hear its whisper between the notes
that fill the hushed restaurants’ patrons ears, the thick part of the derbake players’
palms turning red from the cowhide, the bellydancer
contracting her abdomen and rolling her vertebrae
and leaning her head back until the band on her hair falls out;
but I most feel like the child who sleeps on the carpets of the Mosque,
its Arabesque containing all the shapes of the world that cannot fit
into the size of a photograph, and the child tries to determine
if he can eat a square, or a triangle, or a hexagon
until the janitor comes to teach him more Surahs from the Quran
because the Sheikh is busy writing his Qiblay about how Islam
is a religion of peace, no matter what the terrorists may do,
and the janitor sits down with me, who am the child, and swallows the air
around the letter Qawf, and teaches me that this is a letter
the Syrians knew in a time before the war,
and that it comes from deep in the throat,
and you need to drop your chin and let your whole mouth say it,
and that it is the most beautiful letter because it is the hardest to say,
and that the letter we replaced it with comes easier, but at a much greater cost.

Seif-Eldeine is an Arab-American poet living outside Worcester, MA, with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Tufts University. He is currently working on a chapbook on the Syrian Revolution. He has been published in Chanterelle’s Notebook and is taking classes at the Writer Studio. Currently, he is working as a TMS Technician in treating clinically depressed patients.