Have You Seen This Word?
By Asma Al-Masyabi
This poem explores the mystery of lost words and where one must go to find them.
i. I have lost [ ] on many occasions. Sunny days when nothing seems amiss, and I am just a little hungry. Or winter ones, falling away with hollowed longing. I rarely misplace رومان ru’maan. Sometimes one helps find the other. As if searching for a missing person, I recite to my sister its picture, red-stained fingers reaching for bitter tissue our father’s hands, rounded, carved jewels between teeth. I let the curve ر of ra linger between us. Pomegranate Have you seen this word? Sometimes it is she who asks me. Sometimes we must figure it out together. We often lose things easily retrievable. ii. Suddenly, I remember I have forgotten. The edges are blurred and though I feel its outline on my tongue, I cannot taste it. [ ] Cutting cucumbers, I slice them lengthwise, once, twice, into wedges. I reach for fragments— ص ا ع recall its sharp s sound, sa’d, the lengthy yawn of ‘ayn and alif. د Dal resurfaces. I play anagrams with echoes of letters, stumble upon a name, a bowl, happiness. I pierce the thin flesh of a tomato, dice it into three, then four, then four, then— My knife poses above lettuce leaves. The blade slips into green and I snag on صداع Su’daa— headache. I wonder why words escape, chew cucumbers in silence.
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This poem began just as my mentor Kaci and I delved into the world of prose poetry. After we read Vahni Capildeo’s excerpt in The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem where she describes the sensation of losing the words for “wall” and “floor,” Kaci prompted me to write a poem where I “lost” one to two words of my own vocabulary.
As I typed out the early draft of this poem, I found that responding to this prompt came easily to me. Being bilingual, or perhaps just being me, I lose words as if I have a small hole in my pocket they always manage to slip out of. Usually, they’re words that don’t quite matter, but still sit in the back of my mind, pleading to be remembered. Like the three phrases for “please” I know in Arabic, or types of clouds—except for, strangely, cirrus.
Because we began by studying prose poetry, this poem started out as a paragraph of text. Luckily, though, Kaci encouraged me to take it a step further as we dove into learning about line breaks. As soon as I began to restructure the poem, I knew this was the perfect format for the piece. I loved the way the lines took up so much space, begging the reader to consider each one more carefully, instructing them, almost, as to where to pause and how to read it. After that, it took a few more drafts, and heavy consideration of each word and line, before Kaci and I decided the poem had found the best version of itself.
Although I regularly write poetry, this poem tested and expanded the limits to what I believed I could do. I was fairly new to trying out more experimental line breaks, but I quickly fell in love with them in the process of writing and editing this poem. Bilingual poetry, too, is something I haven’t attempted before this poem—I have Kaci to thank for introducing it to me and encouraging me to try it for myself.
Asma Al-Masyabi is a free-verse poet and visual artist based in Colorado, who occasionally delves into flash fiction. She is currently pursuing her Associates in English with a concentration in creative writing. Her two biggest passions are crafting the written word and art and she wants to pursue a life-long career where she can do both. She’s dreaming big dreams, reading good books, while simultaneously baking chocolate chip cookies. When not experimenting in the kitchen, you can find her reading all the comics she can get her hands on and watching the next big hit her mom found on TV.