The Shadow of Their Former Selves

My mother was a beauty queen
You would not know this if you stared
At the dark folded rugs under my eyes
Or observed the puffed pastry of my face
Rising and falling as I breathe. Good genes
Skip a generation as if it was rope.

They were young and beautiful still,
When the men came knocking on the door
of our Baghdad mansion.
These were early days and discretion
had not yet been cast to the wind.
So the men crept up to the door
like the abundant beetles that
Patrolled our garden in spring

Father was whisked off in a black Mercedes,
Through a night hole hastily sprung,
Emerging on the other side to the warmth
Of an interrogation cell.

He returned in the morning, a man transformed,
A Ulysses that had conversed with the dead
about the nature of death, about the easy access
the government provided to the
Realms of death. The stench of it
smeared his clothes.

Years passed as we hopped
Like a family of frogs across continents
Until finally we found ourselves marooned
On the grey island, west of France.

They were no longer young.
Time had blown away most of
My father's hair, leaving strands
in every country we bucked.
Mother began to buy henna in bulk.

Their PhDs hang on the wall,
In frames where summer spiders
Weave their nests.
Age has loosened their bones.
Placed a cough in both chests,
Transformed them into shadows
Of their former selves.

Worst still, are the shadows

Their former selves have cast
On their late afternoon,
Leaving them wondering what might have been
If fate had dealt a fairer hand.

My mother is a beauty queen no more.
But to my mind remains a queen of the rough sea,
Having taught me (through action, not words) that
All you can do is build the best boat you can

Then pitch it against the storm,
Till the final wave
(Snapping the wire,
Switching to darkness)
Takes you home.

Hassan Abdulrazzak

If you've any comments on this poem, Hassan Abdulrazzak would be pleased to hear from you.