The International Literary Quarterly

May 2009

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Two Poems by Stephen Cushman  


American Dream

What do I want?  A harem?
Independent income?  My name
breezing out of everybody’s mouth?
No, just a small cell in a monastery
abandoned on a mountaintop above the sea,
old frescoes in the white-washed chapel
worn down to nothing but eyes,
enough oil for the icon lamps,
a stone well with cold water,
incense from an almond tree.

Aramaic in Sednaya

In candlelight her tear-tracks outshine
icons all over the underground chapel,
even the one the faithful have come
so far to supplicate, the Virgin herself
painted by Luke, now on the wall
of a dark little grotto abstaining from sun,
where many believe that spending a night
will help them conceive, Christian and Muslim,
their shoes at the door whether they wear
headscarves or not, whether they make
signs of the cross again and again
before each image or dip some cotton
in bowls of oil and take it away
to someone sick who’s left at home,
someone elsewhere who cannot see
tear-tracks shine in candlelight
or hear the old nun, the desert become
anything but desolate, begin to pray
in her savior’s native tongue.