Foundation Stone

by Nigel Holt

‘This house’, she says, ‘secretes its memories
behind the grime; behind the fingerprints
that mark its walls. Its ghosts though, are not his.’
She doesn’t say his name out loud: the hint

of conversation in the room next door
suppresses any more that might be said;
might serve to point out guilt and shame, which war
had forced to ground and shelter in her head.

The kitchen window is an open wound
the world has still not healed. Each day
she looks on through into its heart; its ruined
vessels, once so full of life, their way

obstructed, grey with constant death in life.
‘His hands were small.’ Her sudden words cut through
the waiting air, they pare it like a knife;
prepare the day for ancient pain’s wu’du.

The ‘asr adhan calls her small surrender,
its amplifier buzzing like the flies;
she might have said his hands were ‘small… and slender’,
but ‘might have been’ was swallowed by the cries.

The kitchen wall has been rebuilt with mud,
though straw’s in short supply—it’s fed to cows.
Once, she might have joked ‘they have enough of blood!’
She rubs the soap block down her faded blouse.

Death came here in Al Naqba—forty-eight;
no houses then in Rafah, only sand,
barasti huts, cholera and fate.
‘The final time he ever held my hand.’

What year that was, she doesn’t say out loud;
an aeon-spanning second she relives
but never mentions, ever—she’s too proud;
it never gives her peace. It never gives.

The moment when his grip went slack and failed.
The moment when the bullet raised his head.
The moment when time stopped, the adhan wailed.
The moment when his jellabia bled.

She’s hanging out her sheyla on the line.
Two sons, a husband, three nephews and a niece
—and him. She stitched each shroud; each Palestine;
each laid in war to rest in hope of peace.

She talks of them, each one, but not of him;
for though they say she’s nearly seventy-two
when she conjures him, she’s sullen, grim:
the brother that she never really knew.