Poem of the Week: The Stranger in Her Feminine Sign
Iraqi American poet Dunya Mikhail has published numerous volumes of work in both Arabic and English. Much of her work grapples with war and censorship. We can see below how she explores language through both her content and her style of verse, questioning the way we use words, define gender, and define people. As a poet who has been lauded with the United Nations Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing, Mikhail stands as a strong voice as we continue to explore Women's History Month.
The Stranger in Her Feminine Sign
Everything has gender in Arabic. History is male. Fiction is female. Dream is male. Wish is female. Feminine words are followed by a circle with two dots over. They call it the tied circle, knotted with wishes which come true only when forgotten or replaced by the wishes of others. In the town of tied wishes, people feel great anticipation because a stranger will arrive today in her feminine sign. Someone says he saw her two dots glittering, refuting another’s vision of a cat’s eyes hunting in darkness. So scary, he says, how the moon hides in her red circle. Everyone is busy today listing wishes on pieces of paper they’ll give to the wind. When the stranger finds them on her way, she’ll collect them and garland them to her circle, tossing some old wishes to make space for the new. They say the dropped ones will come true. The stranger’s lateness worries the waiting. Someone says she’s searching for a word to complete a special sentence, the gift she’ll bring to town. Another wonders if she seeks a verb or a noun, offering to find her. A third warns that the stranger may turn him into a flower with one touch, blooming for only a moment, before a withering death, and her circle throbs with songs causing sadness and elation, and something so obscure no one has a name for it. Will she complete a verb or a noun phrase — or give a solo, a word complete on its own? They wonder. When they finally hear footsteps, they know the stranger must be near. Make sure the gate is open, they remind one another. They hear clinking — A bracelet? A chain?
- Dunya Mikhail
From In Her Feminine Sign