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love note from a survivalist, no. 0000003 and Other poems

by Rasha Abulhadi

love note from a survivalist,
no. 0000003 after Naomi Shihab Nye

I want to be famous as fire 
is to breadcrust, famous  
as fertile silt to the small flood. 
I want to be known, in the end, 
as the throat knows spice, 
a lemony nice, known as  
the root knows the earth, 
as the worm knows the roots. 
All the regard I want is held  
by the overgrown magnolia 
whose branches say climb, stay  
awhile and so be sheltered.

Good Deeds Get the Blues

I. rescue blues 

We save a puppy— 
our arms, clothes, hands all muddy  
with dog in the winter thaw— 
with you smiling while I call the rescue line, and
tell the operator I can’t make it there without a
car. You offered yours, saying: you have a car, 
and then you couldn’t find your car. 

We played memory games 
up and down streets until we found your
friend, the one living with your ex-flame. 
You ask if he’s seen your car,  
and two more dogs appear. 
We wonder if we should take them home,
too, or give them away, or save them. 

I improvise a leash  
from the symbol I wear as a scarf– 
a declaration hidden in plain view.  
We discuss what we’ll do  
when we get to the shelter: 
what if the owner always lets their dog run
loose, wiggling its haunches up and down
the avenue? 

If They Don’t Reach The Owner And Might Kill the
Dog, Then: we’ll set her free, put her back on the

We get there, and they’ve found her
family, distraught, who say we will
hurry home. 
You ask if they will have to pay,  
for the new ways to go wrong by doing
right, but it’s only eight dollars. 
They must be expecting this, 
when they got her chipped,  
They must have wanted it  
to work this way. 
In the parking lot, I ask 
if this is what heroism is like: not quite  
sure it should be done, uncertain  
you’re the person to do it, concerned  
you might hurt someone, cost too much  
money or time, or somehow commit a crime 
against the greased and broken order of the universe.
Oh, almost-love, may we be so lucky  
as to know the right actions in this world  
and execute them with grace. 

II. travel games, travel blues 

You taught me to play chess over coffee later. 
The waitress brought a juice you didn’t order  
and you drank it all, telling me 
I could take a move back, actually,  
I could always take a move back. 
I asked: just in this game?  
do I always get to take it back? 
You said: in life? yes. actually there’s a little button and anything you didn’t— 

Earlier, on the way back from the shelter,  
you played the song you’re stuck on lately, saying: 
she left him and he’s feeling sorry for himself,  
but it’s his fault and he regrets it. 

In our game, the next move is yours.  
You take my queen and  
we trade rooks. You don’t have faith  
in a big plan; you’d learned to play games  
so you could meet people.  
You counseled me then that chess was a good thing  
to have on the road.  

You ask about my last flame and I laugh.  
The friction between us is sweeter  
for this barrier, two sad dancers falling across 
the sound of scratched records  
in the smoke of a bar far from our homes and families— 
friends in weariness, lovers in desperation,  
in a flirtation languid, certain and wry. 

I leave you at the soccer game in a side lot, thinking  
this was perfect, all the magic we’ll ever have, thinking it’s
too bad  we’ll never play checkers, which I’m better at.

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