Majda Gama

Bertha E. Jaques, Drypoint Peonies

In Maryland, Before the Dayton Accords

After Maghreb prayer: fat peonies in bloom over the pergola;
the hiccup of a baby bounced on a knee. Generations of women
sit on white lawn chairs arranged in a gentle crescent.
The men tend to the meat. Across the pool
I sit with my host and listen to their language. A man detaches
from the group, walks over with a plate of rice & a pack of cigarettes.
The air is awkward until all cigarettes are lit. I look into his eyes
although I was taught not to. They are hard, old as salt.
He rolls up a sleeve, the forearm a sheet of puckered skin: “shrapnel”
he says, then is still, & looks far past me into the kind of darkness
that turns a man my age into stone. The Bosnian
groundskeeper, whose peonies are so lush they should veil
themselves, he never smiled, not once.

Cybelle’s1An ancient Anatolian Goddess, with a cult that spread into ancient Greece and Rome.

In a rain-rinsed night at the top of a Tenderloin hill
neon lights proclaim the reign of the Goddess
of beasts & of the Near East.

I am her pilgrim, having crested many hilltops in a new city,
briefly fed on good poetry in a Mission
dimming with gentrification.

A sign can be almost anything, but rarely an actual sign;
blaring red, her name floats in a dark window.
Behind the pane

men knead yeasted dough, pull sweet soda from fountains
& greet my entry, my slice, my seat at the counter
with a welcome.

Cybelle’s: an American pizza joint like any other; faceted jars
of parmesan & pepper, a flatscreen tv airs the Cubs
(also her beast)

& on the mirrored wall beside me 99 names on a tapestry
(al-Rahman, al-Rahim) on the tongues of the men
a language I know.

1 – An ancient Anatolian Goddess, with a cult that spread into ancient Greece and Rome.

Overdoor panel, design of Cybelle seated in a chariot drawn by two lions; with frame representing Greek molding. Smithsonian

Majda Gama is a Beirut born, Saudi-American poet based in the Washington DC area. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Beloit Poetry Journal, The Fairy Tale Review, GMR Online, Michigan Quarterly Review, Nimrod, The Normal School, RHINO, and The Shore. Poetry is forthcoming from Poetry Magazine and Ploughshares.

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Spring 2022