The Earth in the Attic

The Earth in the Attic

Foreword by Louise Glück
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 96
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  • Book Info
    The Earth in the Attic
    Book Description:

    Fady Joudah'sThe Earth in the Atticis the 2007 winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. In his poems Joudah explores big themes-identity, war, religion, what we hold in common-while never losing sight of the quotidian, the specific. Contest judge Louise Glück describes the poet in her Foreword as "that strange animal, the lyric poet in whom circumstance and profession . . . have compelled obsession with large social contexts and grave national dilemmas." She finds in his poetry an incantatory quality and concludes, "These are small poems, many of them, but the grandeur of conception is inescapable.The Earth in the Atticis varied, coherent, fierce, tender; impossible to put down, impossible to forget."

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14516-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Louise Glück

    Definitions of political poetry are as varied, numerous, and absolute as those of the lyric, with this difference: American poets are eager to define the political in a manner that includes themselves, whereas the lyric will tend to be defined as what the poet has cast off. This was not always so, but in the unstable present, political art seems bold, important, serious, whereas the lyric preoccupations with abiding and insoluble dilemmas seem evasive and frivolous. At the heart of these impassioned realignments is the poet’s anxiety lest his art be considered a parlor art: specialized, over-refined, the amusement of...

    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. I.

    • Atlas
      (pp. 3-4)

      The end of the road is a beautiful mirage:

      White jeeps with mottos, white

      And blue tarps where the dust gnaws

      At your nostrils like a locust cloud

      Or a helicopter thrashing the earth,

      Wheat grains peppering the sky.

      For now

      Let me tell you a fable:

      Why the road is lunar

      Goes back to the days when strangers

      Sealed a bid from the despot to build

      The only path that courses through

      The desert of the people.

      The tyrant secretly sent

      His men to mix hand grenades

      With asphalt and gravel,

      Then hid the button

      That would detonate the...

    • Pulse
      (pp. 5-19)


      It wasn’t over a woman that war began, but it’s better

      To see it this way, my myth professor loved to say, a man

      From the South rumored to extort the bodies of college girls

      Into higher grades. My girlfriend of the time told me so—

      He was a creep, she

      Got an A in the class and liked his joke about religion

      As self-mutilation, it was Ramadan then and, O Helen,

      I was fasting. I lie awake in a desert night east

      Of the Atlantic on the verge of rain, the catapulted grains

      Of sand on hot zinc...

    • Proposal
      (pp. 20-22)

      I think of god as a little bird who takes

      To staying close to the earth,

      The destiny of little wings

      To exaggerate the wind

      And peck the ground.

      I see Haifa

      By my father and your father’s sea,

      The sea with little living in it,

      Fished out like a land.

      I think of a little song and

      How there must be a tree.

      I choose the sycamore

      I saw split in two

      Minaret trunks on the way

      To a stone village, in a stone-thrower mountain.

      Were the villagers wrong to love

      Their donkeys and wheat for so long,


  6. II.

    • Immigrant Song
      (pp. 25-25)

      In the kitchen in the afternoon, peeling oranges and splitting cantaloupe gut,

      All that is left is storytelling.

      The one-radio, one-coffee-shop village now an almond field

      And vacation-brochure ruins besieged by grass.

      Everyday around noon a boy on a mule, the men out in the fields,

      Bread fresh out of brick-oven, wrist deep in olive oil, elbows dripping.

      The one-radio, one-coffee-shop village without an ink-line on paper,

      Now spilled like beads out of a rosary.

      Not what they would have grown.

      We the people in god we trust.

      We the people in god we trust everyday around noon a mule....

    • Mother Hair
      (pp. 26-27)

      My hair, black now, was Achilles hair

      When I was a child.

      Or maybe Mamluk, maybe Crusader blood,

      Though Napoleon could only throw

      His hat at the walls of Acre—

      Or maybe the ischemic morning

      I rode the school bus

      Heading for the desert on a field trip—

      It doesn’t matter. My mother intuited loss

      And stroked my head before I waved goodbye.

      In the desert

      I ate the figs my father had left

      By my shoes the night before.

      In the desert

      Camels are ships

      Parting asphalt, and the school bus

      Smashed into them and killed

      So many children...

    • The Tea and Sage Poem
      (pp. 28-29)

      At a desk made of glass,

      In a glass walled-room

      With red airport carpet,

      An officer asked

      My father for fingerprints,

      And my father refused,

      So another offered him tea

      And he sipped it. The teacup

      Template for fingerprints.

      My father says, it was just

      Hot water with a bag.

      My father says, in his country,

      Because the earth knows

      The scent of history,

      It gave the people sage.

      I like my tea with sage

      From my mother’s garden,

      Next to the snapdragons

      She calls fishmouths

      Coming out for air. A remedy

      For stomach pains she keeps

      In the kitchen...

    • The Way Back
      (pp. 30-31)

      I know an axe and a turtle’s shell.

      I know the day I won

      A silver watch in school

      Then came home with my father

      To tell my mother her mother had died.

      I know the way

      My mother slapped him

      And let her nails

      Linger. Bleeding,

      He smiled to teach me:

      We slap whom we love.

      I know a boy and a turtle

      Each time he held it, it withdrew.

      And my aunt was a sea

      And two borders removed.

      I know the summer she spent waiting

      For a visa, sitting in bed, knees

      Bent to hold a book...

    • Sleeping Trees
      (pp. 32-33)

      Between what should and what should not be

      Everything is liable to explode. Many times

      I was toldwho has no land has no sea. My father

      Learned to fly in a dream. This is the story

      Of a sycamore tree he used to climb

      When he was young to watch the rain.

      Sometimes it rained so hard it hurt. Like being

      Beaten with sticks. Then the mud would run red.

      My brother believed bad dreams could kill

      A man in his sleep, he insisted

      We wake my father from his muffled screams

      On the night of the day he...

    • Resistance
      (pp. 34-34)

      When the thick skinned,

      Thin juiced, red

      Grapes of summer

      Ripen, love and war also ripen.

      Their taste and texture

      Don’t remind the old man

      Who prunes them or his wife

      Of home. For his part,

      He’s aware bird and insect

      Won’t let these strange grapes

      Live out their old age

      On the vines in peace:

      He brings them to the kitchen table

      Where they’re also beautiful.

      And the wife

      Smiles in protest.

      Because this shortens

      Her listening beneath the trellis

      On quiet afternoons

      To the bumblebees as they sip....

    • An Idea of Return
      (pp. 35-36)

      I look for your hair and find it

      In the night, holding color,

      Amber copper,

      After so many years inside an envelope.

      And I think of the soul

      Making speeches hours ago:

      The carpenter

      Dying of cancer in a hospital bed

      Saying, god, I know

      You’ve given me misfortune

      But when I get up there

      There’d better be a damn

      Good reason for it,

      I’ve got nothing against trees.

      The carpenter thought I was kind

      And searched my nametag for a while

      Then said: I know your people.

      They’re good people, they

      Have suffered enough,

      And the city is theirs—...

    • Love Poem
      (pp. 37-38)

      Say I found you and god

      On the same day at the border

      Of words, better two late birds than

      The stone that hit them.

      Say the stone is my death, when we met,

      You and I, near the cross

      Of the iv pole and fell

      In love with the other

      Side of the hammer,

      The one for removing nails.

      Say you will hold me tightly.

      Say the pharaoh’s daughter

      Wanted to play mother,

      So the pharaoh tested the divine

      With an ember near

      The suckling mouth.

      Say Moses lisped his promise.

      And termites chewed

      On Solomon’s stick

      Until they...

    • Travel Document
      (pp. 39-40)

      It must be like forgetting how to die:

      Your grass-grown ruins,

      Stonewalls, sadness without eyes.

      The body puts on its phantom

      Limbs’ pain as true account

      Of what happens, and a woman

      Who’s worn the wrong size

      Shoes, all her life in flight, her toes

      Now crooked, calls flowers by names

      You gave then took them back.

      If it’s the body you want, there is the body

      That couldn’t return, there is the one

      That wouldn’t. Sullen

      Vengeance. An egg’s

      Invisible axis rising and sinking

      In boiling water, salt

      As measure for pickling olives,

      Hands without echo’s desire

      To be...

  7. III.

    • Landscape
      (pp. 43-44)

      I am the distance from birds to Jerusalem

      Is a metaphor I like, just because

      It follows the laws of calculus,

      Much as how the chicken crossed the road:

      Notwhy, buthow

      A humility of science:

      In the first instance,

      There is a point A, which is fixed,

      And a point B, which is in flux,

      AndI amthe distance

      Between them. In the second,

      Two objects collapsing in on each other

      In an oblique time,

      The car pushing perpendicularly,

      The chicken running hysterically

      Across the long way out,

      Children cheering on both sides

      Of the upright...

    • Scarecrow
      (pp. 45-45)

      The rice field birds are too clever for scarecrows,

      They know what they love, milk in the grain.

      When it happens, there will be no time to look for anyone.

      Husband, children, nine brothers and sisters.

      You will drop your sugarcane-stick-beating of plastic bucket,

      Stop shouting at birds and run.

      They will load you in trucks and herd you for a hundred miles.

      Old men will teach you trade with soldiers at checkpoints.

      You will give them your spoon, blanket and beans,

      They’ll let you keep your life. And if you jump off the truck,

      The army jeep trailing it...

    • Anonymous Song
      (pp. 46-47)

      When the shooting began

      Everyone ran to the trucks

      Grabbed whatever their backs needed

      And made for the trucks

      Except K

      And they begged him to get on

      The ones who ran to the trucks

      But he refused them all

      Later they found him

      On the road running

      And howling and still

      He refused them all

      Since he knew

      His legend would grow

      Then sightings began

      He was clothed or naked

      Cooking or sleeping

      Eating or drinking what

      The others gave him

      And their begging remained the same

      The trucks going loaded

      Then coming back empty the same

      Until it...

    • The Name of the Place
      (pp. 48-48)

      There, from atukulebuilt on top of a hundred-years-old

      Termite hill, you can see above dry season elephant grass,

      You can see a boy and a girl undressing

      Then lying down below your vision. The termite hills

      Are also sentinels for soccer matches, fertile terraces

      For sweet potatoes, rootholds for savanna trees

      And what would be a national park had it not been for the hungry

      Refugees calling you by skin’s name,chendele,

      Can I please bring a sack of peanuts along for the ride

      (To sell, to feed my sister bleeding in a hospital bed,

      Please, doctor, one...

    • Surviving Caterpillars
      (pp. 49-49)

      They are green stripes dotted black,

      Bodies yellow, on branches

      Of mango trees. To collect enough

      We wait

      For the moon to shine tendon white.

      They glow

      Then suffocate by numbers

      In our buckets: the ones on top

      Survive but we squeeze

      Their heads like bubble wrap,

      Separate flesh from gut in a snap,

      Toss the body in a skillet. And the moon

      Doesn’t have to be full:

      Just enough to steal

      From another’s tree,

      Get caught and thumb-sliced

      Down to cartilage.

      Next comes revenge:

      An axe in the spine.

      And our sunflowers

      Taller than our houses

      They stoop heavy...

    • Morning Ritual
      (pp. 50-51)

      Every morning, after the roosters

      Crow back whatever prayers were passed

      Down to them that dawn

      From the keeper of their order up in heaven,

      I drink my coffee

      To the sound of squealing pigs

      Being bled to death

      In the market up the road—the same market

      Where I buy my fresh bread

      For my peanut butter and jam. The pigs

      Are bled through an armpit wound.

      You can see it coming throughout the day before,

      Hogs tied sideways to the backs of bicycles,

      Tight as a spine, going as far as the border

      Where the price is right....

    • Moon Grass Rain
      (pp. 52-56)


      Here, shooting stars linger

      They give out

      A sparkling trail like a cauterized incision

      Silver, or amber

      If the moon is low and rising red


      And the rain melts the roads

      And the roads

      Can rupture a spleen

      Or oust a kidney stone

      As for the heart

      It needs a beginning

      The narrative

      Burden of events


      “Mize, zey eat mize”

      The Frenchman exclaimed with a smile

      “Rraized and shipped from za States”

      We raise rats! I thought

      That’s a lot of protein!

      “Maize maize!” it was, after our chickens

      Have had their fill


      She was the...

    • Along Came a Spider
      (pp. 57-60)

      On mornings of this refugee settlement,

      After the rain falls in stalks

      Of mushroom clouds,

      The spiders bloom anywhere there’s a web-hold

      And the earth is like an attic.

      By noon, the webs melt from sun or starvation.

      And I wonder, how did it really end

      Between the prophet

      And the holy spider,

      The one who had webbed

      The cave-mouth shut, quick-

      Silver to hide him inside? I wonder

      Staring at a black spot suspended in azure sky.

      To the left of the spot,

      A savanna tree

      Whose roots refugees accuse

      Of shallow-clutching the earth.

      To its right, a termite...

  8. IV.

    • An American Spandrel
      (pp. 63-64)

      One of two things, the sweeter of which

      Is bitter, uncorrected, held up

      By the heat of the ant march

      On morning highways and the enuresis of the mind.

      The other, the less sweet, the lie

      Of the needle, the thread

      You wove around me

      So softly, this, I give you back a history

      Of ideas, a parrot with first words

      And no one around to hear it,

      An amputee and a rosary

      Whispering possibility, impossibility,

      One leg walking, the other

      Space-walking . . . I am none of those

      And neither sweetness. I am

      Your favorite night-hour, the one...

    • The Onion Poem
      (pp. 65-65)

      Why are there onions the size of swallows in your maple tree?

      In the land of cactus wind the one-eyed dwell.

      Where is the village whose name holds back the sea?

      Caterpillars are for home demolitions in a globe of tents.

      Autumn or spring, which is your plumage of choice?

      Every empire is a return of the dead.

      And Whitman, what would have become of him had you lost the war?

      A rooster in rigor mortis pose makes vultures descend.

      Is that the easiest pain?

      The Hittites veiled their nuclear weapon for as long as they could.

      But lilies have...

    • Ascension
      (pp. 66-66)

      After fish, we had olive oil ice cream for dessert. The valet brought my steed, only it wasn’t my steed: it had topaz eyes and emerald forehead. The valet said: this is your ride from Mecca to Jerusalem, so I kissed my wife goodnight and rode. In the old city, I tied the creature to a rock, took the stairs down to the subway where a throng had gathered around a launch pad to inaugurate me—see me off to god. Between each station was a year of light. At line’s end, there was a man with ulcerated skin in...

    • Night Travel
      (pp. 67-67)

      In the first circle of hell

      I undressed

      A homeless man so drunk

      I couldn’t tell if he was dying or sleeping.

      The one by the wall, on a stretcher,

      Met the king east of the river

      And the king gave him a horse.

      And in bed 9

      The weather pilot for Enola Gay.

      He said his orders

      Were Tokyo first, but bay

      Fog was a shelter. Then another

      Gasping a ballad.

      He’d written it while watching his buddy

      In Vietnam die, and he knew

      Tonight was his night—I ran

      Back to the gate, the guard

      Said he’d let...

    • Condolence
      (pp. 68-68)

      Your best friend died while on holiday

      In Casablanca. He’d called the day

      Before and left a message

      On the answering machine.

      The same friend who, years ago,

      When your first brother died, dropped by

      To honor the dead: we were having a feast

      On behalf of the soul and he refused

      To eat, but you kept on cooking for each

      Visitor who didn’t bring his goat or chicken,

      A carnival for the poor, mortality

      With financial ruin, he said,

      And the two of you laughed . . .

      Then your second brother died.

      Checked out hours after a wedding,...

    • Image
      (pp. 69-69)

      My love asked me:

      How come the terrorist’s eyes seem so kind?

      And I thought she was a secret agent

      With a wig to hide her medusa hair . . .

      My love, whose last name is the same

      As an ex-secretary of state’s,

      Was abandoned by her father

      When she was three,

      Abused by her mother

      Who shot at her and at her two sisters

      With an anti-aircraft gun

      Until she (the middle child) alighted,

      Became a gazelle, swift under the moon . . .

      She has long long lashes, the sand stops there....

    • Bird Banner
      (pp. 70-70)

      A pelican flock flaps as cyclists in the Tour de France do.

      They pedal the draft backward, the last one not needing to bat a feather.

      Then the rotation: pelicans are a kamikaze of the sea.

      And pelican children, when they go hungry, or are

      In a feeding frenzy, peck the flesh of their parents’ pouches.

      High on our honeymoon cliffs

      We spot the condor, vizier of wind.

      She needs only to thrust her thighs and spread her jewels.

      And what kills a condor is not another condor.

      Damaged state-of-the-art feathers are famine’s sisters: they dance instead.

      And whoever wins...

    • American Gas Station
      (pp. 71-72)

      I never knew Bob.

      He was older than some countries

      Or a staleness between the teeth and lips,

      Nothing the tongue can’t sweep away

      With few strokes in the middle of mountains

      Which are creatures of god.

      I had already seen the black-magic-

      Marker sign taped to the glass door

      Of his gas station,

      In the god-damned Sierra,

      Where I was grand and American,

      Chrysler red and rented, running on empty:

      Bob died last night.

      And the pumps were locked,

      The moon a cataract,

      And the man inside, head in one hand,

      Waved me away with the other.

      I never...

    • At a Café
      (pp. 73-73)

      I am still a Muhammadan hunched like a gibbous moon and veiled: outside, a woman who speaks clearly in order to be heard, right out of the parlor, nails trimmed and polished, afraid to pop open her diet Pepsi and damage the cuticles. I use my own teeth-trimmed nails instead, and she thanks me. We’re at a café, not a mosque. And she makes it back safe to her Jaguar, cell-phone in one hand and a sip in the other, speaking about the stone in the middle of her heart. The pain doesn’t radiate to the left shoulder, neck, or...

    • Home
      (pp. 74-74)

      I will know it despite absence of glass

      And through women who own shards for mirrors.

      A striped wasp will flutter

      Like a flag, I will watch it

      Come and go building nest,

      Or any word other than nest, earth

      Grains in mouth spit-glued

      Inside the room’s wooden window.

      Forgetfulness will make me

      Strike the nest down in rifle-butt motion.

      Forgetfulness, because after violence

      Simile blooms in wasp’s neural return

      To ruins and mouthfuls of grain.

      Someone explained this to me once

      As a bedtime story. I wanted what

      Other powers my wings have.

      The thousand feathers that aren’t mine...

    • Additional Notes on Tea
      (pp. 75-76)

      In Cairo a boy’s balcony higher than a man’s deathbed.

      The boy is sipping tea,

      The view is angular like a fracture.

      Surrounding the bed, women in wooden chairs.

      They signal mourning with a scream.

      Family men on the street run up the stairs and drink raven tea.

      On the operating table in Solwezi a doctor watches a woman die.

      Tea while the anesthetic wears off,

      While the blade is waiting, tea.

      The doctor says the woman knows god is sleeping

      Outside heaven in a tent.

      God is a refugee dreaming of tea.

      Once upon a time an ocean married...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 77-77)