The International Literary Quarterly

August 2008


Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
David Dabydeen
Alice Fulton
Richard McKane
Jonathan Morley
Michael Schmidt
Tuğrul Tanyol
Alan Wall
Marina Warner
Edwin Williamson
Xu Xi
Gao Xingjian

Founding Editor: Peter Robertson
Art Editor: Calum Colvin
Consulting Editor: Marjorie Agosín
Consulting Editor: Jill Dawson
Consulting Editor: Beatriz Hausner
Consulting Editor: Mimi Khalvati
Consulting Editor: Suzanne Jill Levine
Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor:
Jeff Barry
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Issue 4 Guest Artist: Arturo Di Stefano

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture.

Flesh Rose: A Poem Cycle

by Meena Alexander

Sand, Music

The wind is blurring our faces
We do not know who we are or what songs we might sing.
A stranger enters the village, lets go his horse.
A woman drags a cart filled with pots and pans,
Pulling the sky behind her.
When I was a young girl, I saw nothing,
My skin set fire to everything.
A tethered horse is pecked to death by songbirds.
In Muhagiriya everything’s laid out
As if in a Japanese garden, the sort one dreams of –
Circles of sand, beaten rocks, tree stumps
Tilting into blue. A child’s elbow pokes out of a well.
In a mosque, men kneeling, five beheaded.
And the daughters of music brought low.





In Our Lifetime    

Flushed by the rose of flesh
Pierced by barbed wire, a wound that will not heal.
The iron of attachment cuts
What we take for ourselves, ways of living
That will not last for very long, untenable, yes.
A boy moves on the plain, his goats beside him.
Trying to find his way through clouds of dust --
Haskanita, where children rushed by men
On horseback discover the guns’ temerity,
Where stars startle themselves in broken water
And the boy with his goats, trying to turn home
Remembers what his father never told him –
Open your legs wide, run
Not those staggering towards slaughter.


Green Leaves of El Fasher

Everything that’s real turns to sun:
Stones, trees, the jeeps they came in, those men,
In Jebel Marra, the leaves are very green,
Here, in El Fasher too.
I am singing, stones fill with music.
Do not touch my hair, I cried. They forced me
To uncover my head then beat me when my veil slipped,
Not the pink one I am wearing now, with stripes – this
My aunt gave me. I am not an animal,
They are more free, birds in the tree, horses too.
I am your language, do not cover me.
I am burning in what you take to be the present tense.
We are the letters alif, ba, taa, mim
What the sun makes as it spins a nest of fire.


Last Colors

In another country, in a tent under a tree,
A child sets paper to rock,
Picks up a crayon, draws a woman with a scarlet face,
Arms outstretched, body flung into blue.

(Hashsha – to beat down leaves from a tree.)

The child draws an armored vehicle, guns sticking out
Purple flames, orange and yellow jabbing,
A bounty of crayons, a hut burst into glory.

(Yatima – to be an orphan, the verb intransitive.)

The child draws what’s near at hand and common,
Not what’s far away – not the ghost house
In Khartoum where a father lies
Whose hands and ears are torn.

(Idhash-shamsu kuwwirat – so the sun is overthrown.)


Note: These poems were inspired by drawings by children from Darfur who lived in the relief camps on the Chad border. The children used crayons and paper that visitors from Human Rights Watch brought. I am grateful to Steve Crawshaw of Human Rights Watch for allowing me to see the drawings kept in New York. A selection can be seen on the web Green Leaves of El Fasher appears in the journal Nimrod. The image of a girl in the pink striped scarf was evoked by a photo by Ron Haviv.