Coins for the Departed by Rasha Abdulhadi

52 lines
Issue 1 (Winter, February 2023)

One day death will divide and break
the bonds we spent our hours braiding, and then,
only messages in bottles will pass between us
in this conversation that sails on and on

I remember the river of laughter where we lived
as in one body, the long dance of dinners and games
of chess over breakfast, the gift of knowing
what you were thinking, all
the while thinking i was hiding
my traitorous thoughts well—
well, i was wrong: you moved through walls
of fear, doubt, desire unspoken
and i still don’t know what it did
to your bones, to make yourself
a shape to endure, anchor in a dead lake

I had wanted, with you, to trace an arc of earthly joy,
to burrow a haven as sweet and warm as a warren
in the winter of this little life. I liked the weight of you
against my flight: night anchor, bright house

What was it you held that first night, when i was
more loosely strung than a marionette,
dangling in the wings of an unlit theatre?
You kissed the holes in my clothes,
you wished to please me, then, and i was easy,
i’d walked so long on worn-through shoes

I gave you summer evenings, grateful
for mirror witness, someone to give stolen beauty to—you
look at me sometimes and I don't
know how to reclaim my heart

We never talked
about the seas where our bones would sleep
about the companies we'd keep
or the vessel to hold them all,
what we would wrestle deliciously,
whether together or parting.

How sad not to know the ones you loved before,
never meet the ghosts who measured
our kitchen conversations. But I know
their knives, the ones you kept
beneath your pillows and under
your tongue, the new wounds you would weave—
yes, it was me, weeping in another room.

After the bright coins of our bought days
fell from my eyes, only then could i buy
a ferry to carry me a river away

I've collected so many departures
unbought and unburied, and raised
these ferries to carry the departing,
fighting the draught of lip against lip

I wanted an ocean ship, not this river crossing
and though it felt like you leaving
the dearly departing was me
making a self-rescue swim.

Now I drop the coins of my days
into a fishbowl by the door
and no one hears the scales fall or knows.

Rasha Abdulhadi is a queer Palestinian Southerner disabled by Long Covid. Rasha's writing has appeared in Kweli, Electric Lit, carte blanche, Shade Journal, FIYAH, Anathema Spec, The Deadlands, and Strange Horizons. Their work is anthologized in Essential Voices: A COVID-19 Anthology (forthcoming), Snaring New Suns, Unfettered Hexes, Halal if You Hear Me, and Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler. Their recent chapbook is who is owed springtime.
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