Majda Gama was a finalist for the 2017 Neil Shepard Prize in Poetry

The Verse of Opening

The table we ate at is bare. Hours ago our fast broken
at sunset & cannon-strike with apricot paste & Kingdom dates.

The sugar stirred us awake to the shorba made of barley & stock.
We dined together every day, now we sway with shock

in the desert of pre-dawn as a body is laid on the iftar table,
folded between layers of white cotton & sharp herbs;

cousins read Quran, I follow, yet don’t know the verse
for the dead, only the verse of opening.

Aunt Noor is shifted onto a board long as a door
& carried by her nephews to a car, Makkah-bound.

We forget to eat. The sun rises.

Ode to One Thousand

*Alf and not **alef, a letter parts them
like the door between self & mosque.
One a beginning, the other a penultimate night,
so near the end of a story told orally over centuries
before a western man in our clothes secreted himself
in our seraglios & souks, to listen, to take,
to inscribe his name over the original
storyteller: Sheherazade,
what was the 1000th night like?
Had the nights strung together
like the lights on a wedding hall,
or had they dragged like poorly made
shoes purchased from a tourist trap in the souk.
I know the nights of my youth
were vast behind my own walls
& marble yard. That girls
lounged & laughed & listened
to New Wave while holding off the moment
a man would come to take one of us home,
& in Ramadan Alf Layla Wa Layla (1001 nights)
flickered all night on the television, beamed
by Egyptian satellite, everywhere in that month
there were lanterns of light—
I never loved daylight like I loved
the way light travelled at night,
maybe only the way light refracted
in a swimming pool, or through an ornamental
fountain. Or, a fountain lit at night, making
the water an ornament too. This is blessed
to the degree our blessings are multiplied:
one thousand.


*the Arabic for one thousand **the letter A in Arabic