Heather Derr-Smith is a poet and human rights activist with four books of poetry, Each End of the World (Main Street Rag Press, 2005), The Bride Minaret (University of Akron Press, 2008), Tongue Screw (Spark Wheel Press, 2016), and Thrust, winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky/Editor's Choice Award (Persea Books, 2017). She is also the director of her brand new NGO called Cuvaj se, an organization that supports writers in communities affected by war and conflict. She teaches poetry workshops in conflict zones with refugees and survivors of trauma.
Iraqi-Style Fish Shop, Damascus
By Heather Derr-SmithAdded: Friday, October 14, 2016 / From "The Bride Minaret" (University of Akron Press, 2008). Used with permission.
The fish are opened up like salad bowls,
Slid between the metal bars of baskets,
Roasted in the wood-fired ovens, Iraqi style.
The flesh glows as if it were made of glass.
The men gather. Their fingers pull pieces of bread
From one giant flat loaf, as round as a bass drum.
His wife collapsed when she saw his skin,
Purple and green like a tie-dyed shirt.
His daughter erupts in tears, and she is only four.
A bird hops in its cage and sings to the streets below.
The oldest girl says, See, I have found this in the refuse,
A bicycle pump to inflate her ball.
See, these are the shoes I brought from Iraq,
silver football shoes. She wears them only in secret.
Naranj is a small bitter orange used to heal.
It grows in the courtyard, resisting the concrete.
We call the orange a Portugal
Because the sweet orange came from Portugal.
This is interpretation in the House of War.
The Ummah Is Changing is written on my chocolate bar.
The flavor is Ummah Orange.
These are the delights of the House of War.
Back home, the dense orange groves were scorched.
Through the warren of alleyways
And cinderblock homes was an incense of burnt oranges,
Burnt blossoms, burnt Portugal.
You can still buy those little Ramadan happy meals we used to love.
Mubarek Olsen, with little zombie children praying.
Remember the birds everyone kept in cages?
No one keeps birds like that in Europe anymore. It isn’t humane.