By Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani:
BATHROOM AT EAT-IN DELI ON 52ND STREET
He leaned against the porcelain sink
while I reached for him in the dark,
one hand on the cruddy tile wall, the other
at the root of it. A novice, I didn’t fall to my knees
as I had been told it was done, but instead
bended over at the hip, marionette puppet
with her jaw agape. I don’t remember asking myself
if I had wanted to do it—choice was not a language
my mouth had learned, but still I took him in
again and again. Took in everything
I itched to become, raced to the tower
of some blazing city, curled myself
around its lighthouses, morphed
like a strange creature keeping itself alive.
taste of copper, salty tip
blooming on my tongue,
alchemy of sweat and spit.
I took and took, labored
over what was broken, loved
what had been cast aside.
And in the taking,
there was reparation,
the shards of glass
finding each other
after the breaking.
I wake the morning of, run my hands
over the still water of my lover’s skin.
He tells me the story of how when he was a child
in the Philippines, the monsoon pulled him into the air
by his feet, lifted his miniature frame like a paper bird.
All I can do is turn into him, wonder
if the weight of my own body is enough to hold him.
But I am older now, and understand that gravity, not burden,
is necessary to love. Instead, I place wooden beads around his neck,
kiss his temple, send him out into the storm.
All night the wind is a wolf.
The tree outside my window
knocks three times, scrapes her fingers
on the glass and waits. Come morning,
the stagnant air hovers like a fly stopped
above grass. The end or the eye of the storm?
It’s all relative they say.
Irene, you left sixteen inches of water in my father’s wood shop, making him leave my mother alone with you while he went to pump the basement dry, caress the machines back to life and I imagine that instead of water, the basement is filled with all the whiskey and beer he has ever drunk in his life, and he is standing there waist-high in it, pumping the liquid onto the street, pumping for his life until there is nothing left but the machines, into which he places the engines he had removed the night before and they are humming again, and he is sawing wood and building new things, and the chips are flying and he is covered in sawdust and he can’t build fast enough, he can’t keep up with this newly found hunger to create which is now driving him and there is no more whiskey and there is only my father, his machines, his humming.
The day after the storm mother calls
three times in one hour. When I finally answer,
her voice is an old 45 crackling before the next song.
Last night the pots and pans fell to the ground, she says.
Your father slept through the whole thing.
Today’s poems appear here with permission from the poet.
Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani: A native New Yorker, Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani has been a poet and performer for more than 15 years. She was an invited author at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica and is a former member of the louderARTS Project. Her work was published in the anthology, Parse (FriendlyFire Press), and she was most recently published in the anthology So Much Things To Say: One Hundred Poems of Calabash (Akashic Books). Sabrina is an original member of the Hot Poets Collective, a group of diverse poets who have been writing and performing together since April 2011. They recently published their first collection, Of Fire, Of Iron.
Editor’s Note: In reading Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani’s poems I am reminded of the work of Ocean Vuong, one of my favorite poets of all time. And it is no wonder; these two are both graduates of louderARTS, a force to be reckoned with and an endeavor that has gifted us with some of the most talented poets of our day.
Sabrina Hayeem-Ladani’s poetry takes my breath away. Not with a soft exhale, but with a force that is at once violent and blooming. Her grip is as solid on the lyric as on the sexual and the narrative, and she maneuvers effortlessly between these realms with the skill of a true artist. This innate talent is coupled with moments where finely-tuned language and imagery exist as pure delight for the reader: “choice was not a language / my mouth had learned;” “But I am older now, and understand that gravity, not burden, / is necessary to love.”