Khaled Mattawa is a poet and translator who was born in Libya and moved to the U.S. in 1979. I have his collection Ismailia Eclipse (The Sheep Meadow Press, 1996), from which comes this prose poem:

DAYS OF 1959
Warm rain in Baghdad, the butchers calling it a day. They’ve wrapped their meat in burlap, sent their servants home. It’s been a month since the last coup and the wailing from funeral tents hasn’t stopped. On a boat docking at the river bank, a black boy practices on his nai. Oblivious of the struggle between captains and kings, he sees bodies swaying to his music in the city’s new night club. His voice is sweet, and lately he has made a living reciting verses at the new martyrs’ graves.
Nai: a reed flute.

He has a website that my browser won’t let me access for some reason (I click on the link and nothing happens), but Google cache allows me to read the poems there, and I liked this stanza from his “Samovar Love Compendium” (each stanza of which begins with the same line):

I love the word samovar and I love
hats, skull caps my mother brought
from Mecca, one I wore rising at dawn
to pray, a fedora a lover bought me
because my face matched the dreary green,
and the one you hid under all summer,
the times I needed to touch your hair
but tucked my hand in my pocket instead.
It’s hard to love your hiding, my hesitancy,
and the words that die unsaid.


  1. Was that a hint? I guess I need to get downstairs to “Al-Buhari Islamic Center” and ask for scull caps, to improve your collection.
    Does color matter?

  2. Heh. Well, I favor the darker colors…

  3. Interesting. I wonder, how did a samovar end up in a Lybian poem?

  4. Brought in a camel saddlesacks in return for some sandalwood sticks, I guess. By Afanasy Nikitin. May be.

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