How to Build a Dad Out of Bricks

Two poems by Rasha Abdulhadi

How to Build a Dad Out of Bricks

A riddle in which were they heavy or were they bright

My father was a bag of bricks 
my mother carried around, 
stone enough for foundations 
but stubbornly refusing  
to become a building. 

My father was a right pallet of bricks  
of the opinion that buildings  
were corrupt, ugly, and foolish— 
so better make a ring of stone  
for a cookfire, better make a circle  
at the lakeshore for the fish  
we caught, out all night  
by flashlight with the hooks  
catching in our arms. 

My mother was heavy, too, 
with sleep, forgetting to drink 
water, remembering to drink  
too much to forget and sleep—
the twin fish of her moods 
tugging against herself, 
and she was light, too, a kite torn  
needing a third cord 
to ground her, who found 
my father, lovely bricks, 
to hold her down. 

My mother tied me, too,  
for flotation, to a story  
she’d anchored at the heavypoint— 
possible suitor, lost career— 
her vessel backwards 
through hardship toward 
a wider story or wilder fruit  
than the fallow years: she would 
unharvest me, unhusband 
into a more musical life, no  
baby floating in the front-row  
cloud of smoke at a truckstop cafe. 

They were heavy, here, 
at the balancepoint—still possible— 
between tragedy to come and the past; 
they might yet rescue themselves and each other.

They were radiant, too, lit from within 
the binary gravity they made, 
the tight dance of interlocking pulses—look: 

my mother is here, relishing 
my father in a tuxedo, cooler than omar sharif, 
descending the grand stairway, 
of the mafia restaurant where they both work—
his every step lighter than her hopes 
as she walks, heavy with worry, up, 
and she is then more girl than I am now 
or perhaps have ever been. 

She has not seen him in three days, 
not since confessing what she’s survived, 
and he asks, as she collects her last paycheck, 
        Are you going to be home tonight? 
and she says–all she can say–is:  
        Yes.


Fathers Named by Sons

My father talked so often
about how glad he was
not to have a son
that it became clear
how badly he wanted one
who would take from him
his given name and've given him
another one, baptized him
as the father of the son
so named by the father,
Abu ibni, and in this way
my father could become
a self-named man.

What a son I became
first-born, j-turn
on a dirt farm road,
tall girl, gun-comfortable,
I threw my body over gaps to bridge
a divide that would not die.

And my father kept his name--
the one his father gave him--
on paper only: 'Abd, a servant
to no one, and gave himself
to everyone as Hadi,
the peaceful.

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