Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Aria Aber






              We sip Arabic coffee and warm our faces
              by the oven, which glares at us with its black snout.

              The watch cools on my wrist. I am swung open.
              Scrupulous, this listening to the meter of time.

              One hears everything here, where the landscape
              is a clean knife, slicing the mute—just a cat

              wiping its face, roofs with snow for weeks, ice
              falling from fir trees like books pushed off a shelf.

              The mind evades me. It flees into flesh, seeks
              peace in bread, lentils, pear wine. My animal self

              purrs in my head, waits for the I to dissolve with a you.
              We study the cracking of eggshells against glass bowls,

              exchange words like shampoo, nuclear waste, missile.
              Tsvetaeva on the wall: she was happy living as a clock.

              We lock the doors. Our feet are washed, we feel safe.
              Nobody refrigerates secrets in the rustling of tinfoil.

              Nobody enters the garden, where the willow sprouts.
              Red and alien like foreigners, her catkins surprise us.


Self-Portrait as Wounded Doe of Artemis

              I wake up
              pollarded by desire
              to see jawbreakers city-scuttling,

              to rage among halva wrappers,
              diamorphine sparkling
              across the night-womb.

              I need to assuage this fury
              at my center:
              poppies tether me

              to the soil, while on my forehead
              the ghost of horns
              blisters into scurs:

              myrrh, orange blossom, lamb
              kebab. All I have now
              is naked, rubies

              rotting my head—
              I am the worst
              girl I can be,

              galloping, an invisible screech:
              inside my body’s

              meadow, a herd
              of selves soughs
              to expose itself.

              Fur and itch—
              under my dress of rods
              I’m armored,

              hot and ready to pierce
              into Zeus—but he has
              lonelied this city

              now, so I perforate
              his trembling cats, the elders.
              Stop me.

              Split me. Yes,
              once I was frail
              with holy, a handful

              of pistachio shells
              breaking under
              my heel—now I’m too much

              to handle, a rocking
              sound, an un-wine-dark
              pooling around me.

              And the pale hands that sink
              into my hindlimbs
              pluck a kalimba:

              sweat, buttermilk,
              a colossal chirr.
              I am fingered like dirt,

              a hothouse of plums—
              and I break open
              like the country I come from.


from Operation Cyclone

I. Chaos

              Listen: let me tell you
              of how old I was when I learned
              of the cyclone; of how barbed wire

              threshed into me its damp
              thorns like lost photographs of my father’s camera
              strapped to his white bones—

              he was an apparition, silent in the mirror, before
              he fled to Herat, then Iran—
              and hid somewhere,

              I imagine, in pehran-e-tumban,
              maybe behind the shrubs on a hill,
              as now, on Facetime,

              I see him pixelated on
              a mattress in the country I am trying to rewind
              to make it, at last, truly

              mine—my project is to say
              fuck, to keep up with the news,
              my kneecaps pressed

              to masjid carpet, against church pews,
              or on toilet tiles, my god
              whittled down to love

              pushing into my mouth. Day after day
              I shiver on crushed, scintillating pills,
              hands cupped against my lips—

              sometimes I don’t know
              whether I’m praying
              or begging to be gagged

VII. Ares

              dedicated to the gallant
                                    mujahidin fighters rolls down
                                          the original cut of the saturated

              last scene of Rambo III. The blonde light
                                    moves in your eye. These fat, white letters in
                                          the desert cry for no one.  Imagine

              sand lining each actor’s pockets, sand lining
                                    the cutlery drawer, sand grains on 35 mm film
                                          depicting a well-oiled Stallone in wife-

              and headband, victimized by the Soviets and saved
                                    by the mujahedeen. I did not, said Joanne Herring,
                                          the bombshell blonde, feline

              in her fangs, create al-Qaeda; I cannot
                                    predict the future. Southern Belle. Star of Pompeii. Helen
                                          of Troy. What, do you think,

              does she know of torture? How wedges of lime,
                                    lemon, and wild vine accelerate the decomposition
                                          of bodies, erode the stench?

              A man I loved once called me his sexy little terrorist.
                                    Sand-digger. Camel-hoe. Still, I searched his
                                          mouth for a profligate

              myth, the softness of cosmos. Even when
                                    we don’t sing what we mean
                                          the body continues its riot; desire

              the war horse blazing its chariot, burning a hole
                                    through the mind. The incorrigible mind.
                                          The mind that marvels

              and sobs. I did not, she said. I cannot predict
                                    the future. Darling. Is this what they mean
                                          when they say it was an inside job?

Aria Aber is the author of Hard Damage (University of Nebraska Press, 2019), winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and a 2020 Whiting Award. Her recent poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, and The New Republic. She lives in Oakland, California. More from this author →