Sam Hamod

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BIO

Sam Hamod is an American poet and writer of Lebanese Muslim descent, born and raised in the United States. He received a PhD from the famed Writers Workshop of The University of Iowa, and taught at Princeton, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Howard, Valparaiso and Indiana Universities. He also taught in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Hamod began publishing as the first major contemporary Muslim Arab-American poet in 1965 with Beaten Stones Like Memories, and thereafter, his award winning books as Dying With the Wrong Name and Just Love Poems For You.

Nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature by the famed Mexican novelist, Carlos Fuentes and twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Sam Hamod is a significant literary figure in American literature. His honors and awards, include the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Award in Poetry, a Larry Neal Award in Poetry, and the Friends of Literature Ferguson Award. Hamod is the former director of the Islamic Center in Washington, DC. where he also served as an advisor to the State Department. At present, he is the Director of The Princeton Writers Workshop and lectures and reads his poetry when invited.

 

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Dying With The Wrong Name

(Dedicated to all those who came to America and lost their names)

I

these men died with the wrong names,
Na’aim Jazeeney, from the beautiful
valley of Jezzine, died as Nephew
Sam.Eh’sine Hussin died without
relatives and because they cut away his
last name
at Ellis Island, there was no way to trace
him back even to Lebanon and Ima’
Brahim had no other name than mother
of Brahim- even my own father lost his,
went from Hussein Hamode Subh’ to Sam
Hamod. there is something lost in the
blood,something lost down to the bone in
these small changes. A man in a dark
blue uniform at Ellis Island says, with
tiredness and authority, “You only need
two
names in America, “and suddenly
as cleanly as air you’ve
lost
your name. At first, it’s hardly even
noticeable – it’s easier, you can move
about
as an American – but looking back
the loss of your name cuts away
some other part, something
unspeakable is lost.


At Fakhani, The Shoe: Lebanon, After the Bombing

It is a shoe
a single
baby’s shoe
I pull it from the wreckage in
Fakhani, a refugee shoe
separated from its foot, it is
April
and it is darkening in the covering black
Lebanese earth, the soft earth has
cracked its white surface, marked with
streaks of blood

And who wore this shoe, what
little girl, or was it a boy, what did
the father say when he smiled, did
he laugh back, or was she a shy girl
who had already learned to be a
coquette – or was she chubby and
withdrawn among people, if he
was a boy was he already strong,
his dark hair flying as he
wrestled his father’s arm – and
what did her mother say to her
father when they heard the jets
screech across the sky, did
they hear the whistle, or was it
an offshore song, Israeli
sirens at sea who sent in wave
after wave of glistening silver
sheets of sorrow. and why was
this little shoe left by itself to
wonder in the dark, to find its
way to the surface by itself, and
how
did it feel leaving its foot
behind— and what did the
foot say as the shoe
slipped away in the darkness toward the
surface, did the
child turn over as if in a dream
did he dream
his
mother and father were blowing
away

And what am I to say, a stranger
now to my parent’s land, in the
bright Washington afternoon,
here in Fakhani, holding onto this
little shoe, feeling grief in Arabic
saying it in English, so
that it is flat against the round care of
this shoe, something is missing, how
did this shoe come to surface today to
meet me, the
child who can explain it is sleeping
under the new coming grass, under the
splintered boards and shining glass,
and how long can we stand in the
shadows hiding what our hearts know –
like

a telegraph beacon repeating
someone is missing someone
is missing someone is
missing.

Now
sucking in the air we drink Palestine,
we taste Lebanon, we hear Syria, we
remember Jordan, all the same land,
the home of the same shoes, split
now, like this foot from its shoe,
the blood smell coming from the piles
of debris in the hot Lebanese sun, and
so we are at home, tearing away
the language and names of
countries, of villages, tearing away
the memory of these past two
weeks, believing this shoe never
had a foot, something lost
from a shoe store by mistake, something
made
alone and single in the tannery of Rafik
Dibbs in Machgara in southern
Lebanon, some sort of dream of what it
was like in Alay and Zah’le, when
people would stay up until early
morning doing the dab’kee, eating
olives and
Kib’bee by the flowing creek

A place where there were no airplanes,
a place where there were no rockets,
no ships lobbing in shells from the
blue and glistening Mediterranean,
but this shoe, we know is missing its
foot- shall we search in Tel Aviv, in
Washington, in Moscow—shall we
search, or shall we make another
speech, shall we make another poem,
shall we empty the canister of
language and simply Cry.

The shoe yes,
I give you this
shoe,
it is
not mine,
it is
ours
.

The Fight

(For my grandfather Hajj Abbass Habhab, and his sons, Abudee, M’humed, Abbass and Ali)

My grandfather the Hajj
Abbass Habhab one
later afternoon wrapped
a chair around the neck
of one hillbilly named
Gene,
closed another around Fred from
Knoxville, and had Nick the
Hungarian
in a head- lock,
all this
after they jumped him
in the kitchen of my
old man’s hotel,
Third and Jefferson
Gary, Indiana
Christmas
Day they were all drunk
except
my Grandfather the Hajj Abbass—who
never drank but loved to shovel coal
and to fight
.

Keeping That Cancer Letter to Myself

(For my late mother Zinab Habhab Hamod )

It’s as if
I can hold time back
as if
I can keep that letter in my briefcase
as if I can
keep my mother
still alive
upstairs in the white room, as if I
can still hear
her blood soaked
cough want to tell her it is
something that will pass, lie to
her, tell her the letter is good, the
treatments will work, tell her that
we’ll make that trip to Romania
get some of those “miracle drugs” we keep
reading about, that we’ll sit on the front
porch again in the spring marvel      at
the clarity of air,
talk about when she was a little girl in
Iowa
when the circus would come to the field
across the road, when she raised her
brothers and sisters after her mother
died when she was nine-baking bread
each morning
and each year the exciting circus would
return- that we’ll get her passport
ready it will be a long flight we can-
then there’s that deep wrenching
cough again
and I’ll lie
again, tell her that she’s worried for
nothing
that the pain in her stomach is only
gas, I’ll choke up again unable to
talk turn away my  swelling
throat tight, unable to-then we’ll
strain out talk of dandelions and
grapeleaves
we’d pick when I was a boy, by the river in
Iowa,
by the roadsides in Indiana, then she
falls asleep, moves fitfully go back to
my briefcase   not open it
wish the letter away- now that she’s
passed, that briefcase sits, full of
papers, unopened, but my eyes blur in
this poem
because in this life
there are some things we never fully close

Lines To My Father

(On the Death of my Father; Gary, Indiana, outside his Mosque, 1967)

My Father is watching over his mosque,
silently he hovers now, praying my Father
is sitting on the step watching holding his
chest where the bullet entered his prayer
holding on, the maple trees blurring in his
eyes
he cannot rise,  he is praying as his blood
comes,
my Father is planting maples beside his
mosque   digging
each hole
carefully, patiently, knowing the trees
will grow
he is watering the grass outside his
mosque at 3 a.m.,
his work is done;  now my Father covers
the grass with love.

My Father is moving East, to Lebanon,
eating kib’bee, his mother offering him
grapes and shade, he is walking in the
mountains, drinking water;
my Father is sitting on a park bench
beside me
taking the air, watching my children in the
grass, he is talking of
water, trying to rest,
but he must go
his mosque
waiting. my Father,
dreaming of water
when wakened
when I found him   had only blood in
his mouth.
..

Sura: Of Poetry

(For Al Ghazzali, Sufi Mystic)

two cracks in the ground
rub them together

bone

worm

bury this under
an olive tree in
Bagdad in the
grave of Al
Ghazzali, the
Sufi

He’ll understand
*****

SAM HAMOD’S INTERVIEW

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