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


Majda Gama

MAJDA GAMA is a Beirut-born, Saudi-American poet based in the Washington, DC area where she has roots as a DJ and activist. She has read her poetry at the San Francisco Lit Crawl and the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. Her poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Beloit Poetry Journal, Duende, Jahanamiya (the first Saudi feminist literary journal) Slice, The Normal School, The South Dakota Review, Wildness, and the 90’s anthology Come As You Are. Majda reads and edits poetry submissions for Tinderbox.

Latest posts by Majda Gama (see all)