J. C. Todd

In Whom the Dying Does Not End

Just as her eggs began
to cluster along
the genital ridge
and the neural groove
began to close, its cells
churning toward brain,
just as a vacuole
opened to become a mouth,
and nubs of her limbs budded,
Hafez, father of Bashar,
ordered the military
force of his regime
to crush the revolt of
the Muslim Brotherhood.
It happened in Hama
while I gestated, TV off,
newspapers unread,
in Harrisburg, my thinking
sludgy, speech cut back,
consumed by what I fed.

In February, the month
I mostly slept through,
a cat curled at each hip
and a riot of cells
firing between them,
from the second day
until the twenty-second,
the troops of Hafez attacked
the people that Hafez ruled.
Twenty thousand dead,
some say more, in twenty
days, while her thousand,
thousand, thousand cells
swelled and halved, dividing
into human, the only daily
news I was aware of.
Loved, she grew, singular,
anarchic, safe in the province
of my body, and Hama was razed.

Hama. The mouth opens
to begin. Ha. Then closes.
Ma. Dampered. Hama.
Two exhalations
drained of oxygen.
Hamah. They say to say
more dishonors the dead,
dishonors the living in whom
the dying does not end.

Hama. Some said submit.
Some said resist. None
dared to say the names
of the dead except in secret
Hama. Thousands distilled
into smudge, smear, stain
on crumbling walls whose shadows
the living merged into,
hoping to be unseen.

What happened in
Hama. Not asked
as a question.
Stated to point to
what can’t be said.
The city, rubble
and crater, the dust
of flesh, of sand
and stone, a red
reproaching speech.

In nineteen eighty two,
October sixth, my speech
returned, my breasts reclaimed,
abuzz with milk, I woke,
delivered by her birth
into what I’d missed,
the world where she would live,
its playing fields and killing
floors. Tiananmen.
Somalia. Cairo.
Standing Rock. Gaza.
Ferguson. Aleppo,
where some will say nothing
is left, not even names.

From Beyond Repair
Copyright © J. C. Todd, 2021
Reprinted with permission from Able Muse Press

J. C. Todd’s recent books are Beyond Repair (2021), a special selection for the 2019 Able Muse Press Poetry Book Award, and The Damages of Morning (Moonstone Press 2018), an Eric Hoffer Award finalist. Winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Prize and twice a finalist for Poetry Society of America annual awards, she has received fellowships from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Leeway Foundation, and residency programs. Her poems have appeared in the Baltimore Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Mezzo Cammin, The Night Heron Barks, The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, and other journals.

From Lullaby to Requiem, Ona Gritz in Conversation with J. C. Todd