Sheila-Na-Gig online


David Swerdlow

Dr. David Swerdlow, Westminster College-20190728A finalist in the 2019 National Poetry Series competition, David Swerdlow has published two books of poetry with WordTech Editions: Bodies on Earth (2010) and Small Holes in the Universe (2003). His work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Poetry, The Iowa Review, The Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. His first novel, Television Man, was published last year by Czykmate Productions. Swerdlow teaches literature and creative writing at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.

Having Words in Alexandria

“They were, those people, a kind of solution.” —C.P. Cavafy

Ibrahim, I regret
how our day ended, how we argued

over money, how our whole day came down
to this: you couldn’t read, not even

the sum I’d scribbled
that morning, had agreed

to pay you when we were meeting and haggling at the end
of the Corniche. This wasn’t enough

money for a whole day’s work, you screamed,
into the crowd closing in

on us, as if they could make both public
and private our misfortunes. Remember

Cavafy’s apartment? My friend and I couldn’t enter
that day, closed, only the engraved

brass sign Michael and I stood in front of for you to take
our pictures, smiling. Of course you knew

where Cavafy lived. Perhaps your daughter,
the one you described while giving us the tour

of Alexandria on your horse drawn carriage, the daughter
you were sending to school, perhaps she’d read one

of Cavafy’s poems aloud for you. Is this why you kissed
my daughter’s forehead when you lifted her

on to your horse for fun? Did you see, Ibrahim,
later, the man angling toward us, his expression fixed

on me sitting in the front seat as we drove on, wearing
my American style ball cap to keep the Egyptian sun

from my eyes? Did you see how, at the last second, his eyes went
from mine to Eliana’s, just ten years old beside her mother

in the back seat, the foot-long leather strap
he tried to strike her with, Ibrahim? Ibrahim, descendant

of Ishmael, of the Pharaohs, did you hear the whip? Maybe
we were never to agree, on price, on numbers

or letters, or even history. Maybe, Ibrahim,
we are, and always have been, an argument,

Jew and Muslim, American and Egyptian, poet
and illiterate, buyer and seller, but we are,

at least, fathers, Ibrahim. Would either of us have sacrificed
our child on the Mount of the Lord? Somewhere between

faith and submission, west and east, there is a commerce
we might trust, our word

uttered or written down, our word that fell
from our mouths into the empty scroll

of the street where a minyan gathered to recite
our promises, our transgressions.


Is it the distance you admire, the flying
silhouette of the great blue heron

winging its way to the river, the dead
reckoning of direction and purpose? What if

this were your last day on the planet, you wonder,
and set the questioning aside

when mourning doves startle, tips of wings
whistling as they fly

from tree to tree. Do you think you must
be absorbed by the world? Or will you

step back into the kitchen sudden
with aroma, table full

of quiet things—the blue
coffee cup, the book

you are about to read? Are you
in their kind possession, even as you know

you will be called again
to a world more wild?
%d bloggers like this: