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Ruth Awad


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Interviews - Reading

Ruth Awad

Let me be a lamb in a world that wants my lion

In the beginning, there was an angel with cloven feet who stood by me,
and the angel said, My wings are an ocean, and its shoulders split until
feathers fell around us. This is how you leave your country.

On the back of an ocean. Choked with feathers.

If someone gives you water, drink. And if they hand you a glass of blood,
tell yourself it's water. If they hand you a lamb and say eat, they will
see a lion. They will call you lion when you walk down the street.

When the towers come down. When blood is the water they drink.

When my belly sings with hunger, it's asking, Will you die for an idea?
I dreamt I walked the shore of my country and each wave cracked like
a bone. The sea of my childhood rattles with skulls, and their mouths --

agape with my name -- drown its vowels, call me S, say it's the name
the sea spoke when I dragged my feet across an ocean and became
somewhere new. I call my dead Beloved but they have too much

time for me. If I close my eyes, I see my father on the beach,
his hands cupped for water. He says, The dead are always thirsty,

and I wake up in time to catch the L for work that hardly keeps me fed.

Heaven, leave your light on a little longer. I looked for you on earth
and found my daughters. I looked for you and saw your stars strung
electric as sorrow and they wound my current across their backs

and carried me here, the middle of a grocery store parking lot,
the whine of flood lights burrowing into my capped head
and the black night ahead, and I think, My god, will I ever not be

surprised by what I can survive?
The long country of my loneliness
stretched out before me, my hands heavy with the food I can eat --
I'm so full of honey in a time of war, winter in a land

I'm learning to love, in a land that won't love me.



Smoke clots.
Fire rushes
back to the earth,

back to minutes before,
back to a man on his balcony
and the missile's
pointing finger
and the body blistered.

drag themselves
like a dagger
on the waterline.

Men can run--
what else?
What else
will save them from
the world they've burned? 



Tripoli, Lebanon, 1976

My father at fifteen walked the unguarded streets
having learned the cadence of rounds, measuring
the distance between safety and crossfire.

In those days the electricity stuttered
or failed, and water had to be brought
from the reservoir on the edge of town.

He was thankful for his older brother's absence,
thankful to be the one his mother sent for water
or rice priced like grains of gold.

He walked the streets where the sun
cut glass into sharp glares
and he was thankful for that, too--

he'd drifted around the dark flat too long,
in the caged-lantern light between shut doors,
school off again until the fighting staved.


His father still went every day to his tailor shop
where he met with neighbors and smoked the argileh.
The undraped dress form tied with measuring tape,

paneled mirrors reflecting and multiplying the men
until they were surrounded. Smoke sagged like old news.
The stationary Singer needle hungry for work.

A man asked about the other's Mercedes.
Then they asked about the tailor's boy in Romania,
how many Mercedes he'll buy once he's a doctor.

My father's father glanced at the unfinished suit on the worktable,
chalk-marked for his oldest son's return, but he didn't say
anything. Instead, he passed the dish of kdaameh.


My father ran from blockade to building, making war games
with his shadow, flattening his back against the brick
and whipping his glance both ways before slinking on.

He slung the water jug on his shoulder like a missile launcher,
knelt to steady his aim. The sun in the palm of mountains,
in his sights, he imagined its thousand glittering pieces.

He wandered to the next neighborhood, meeting a friend
at the water reserve where in the distance gunfire crackled
and lured them to the overlook above the river,

water chasing the smoke zip-lined overhead.
Their hearts reeled blood to their feet,
roping them there as they watched the bullets volley.

The wind shifted and pealed past their ears, the report
steering toward the ledge where they anchored, so they bowed
and scraped to the stone wall, elbows plowing the gravel.

It seemed proof enough that they were invincible
when they stooped in the shade of the barrier, a few stray
shots notching the spot their bodies had been.

They jogged home in the dirt-kicked light, giddy with
the breath that filled their chests, and lobbed small rocks
at each other. A hit to the gut and my father performed his death,

hands seizing the invisible pierce then reaching
to clutch his wound's trajectory. From his hand,
the remaining stones kernelled

the road, sugar-white as the candied chickpeas
his father only brought home for his brother,
and he crumpled to the dust of the empty road,

extremities folded like a paper star,
the pebbles freckled around him,
an inheritance.

      -from Set to Music a Wildfire (Southern Indiana Review Press, 2017)


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Interviews - Reading

In Ruth Awad's, "Inheritance," the speaker imagines her father at fifteen. In the final stanzas, she watches him "perform...his death, // hands seizing the invisible piercing then reaching / to clutch his wound's trajectory." We've all seen children do this; in fact, we have probably played at death ourselves. Tell your own story of playing death or of watching children play at death. Perhaps imagine how your mother or father played it. If you have children, how do they pretend to die, and why?

Once you have the story down, think seriously about language, particularly word choice and diction, and how that language can add another layer (or layers) to your narrative. Performed, seizing, invisible, piercing, trajectory: Awad doesn't use this rich language just for fun or to show off her verse-skills, she uses language rich with connotation to tell a story within a story. That's what great poetry does. Get to it!


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Interviews - Reading

Ruth Awad is an award-winning Lebanese-American poet whose debut poetry collection Set to Music a Wildfire (forthcoming in 2017) won the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize from Southern Indiana Review Press. She is the recipient of a 2016 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and her work has appeared in New Republic, The Missouri Review Poem of the Week, Sixth Finch, Crab Orchard Review, CALYX, Diode, Southern Indiana Review, Rattle, The Adroit Journal, Vinyl Poetry, Epiphany, Drunken Boat, Atticus Review, and in the anthologies The Hundred Years' War: Modern War Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2014), New Poetry from the Midwest 2014 (New American Press, 2015), and Poets on Growth (Math Paper Press, 2015). She won the 2012 and 2013 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and the 2011 Copper Nickel Poetry Contest, and she was a finalist for the 2013 Ruth Lilly Fellowship.

She has an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and she is the blog editor at Agape Editions. She writes and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband, two Pomeranians, and two ungrateful bunnies.


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Interviews - Reading

An Interview with Ruth Awad by Peter Laberge, first published at The Adroit Journal

First of all, congratulations on the release of Set to Music a Wildfire! I was absolutely thrilled when it was picked up, as we’ve (clearly) long been fond of your work. I’d love to know—is there a poem or two that you feel set the scene for the collection and its exploration of guilt, survival, and uncertainty? Which poems from the collection came first?

RA: Thank you! The first poem in the book – “Let me be a lamb in a world that wants my lion” – is the last poem I wrote for the collection specifically to set the tone / encompass the themes and the distances (geographic and emotional) that these poems span. It was important to me that the first poem center my father’s voice and the elements that kept surfacing in the interviews I had with him: his home in Lebanon during the war, his early days of being hungry in America, his relationship with his now-deceased father, his identity as a father himself. Some of the earliest poems I wrote toward the collection are “The Keeper of Allah’s Hidden Names,” “Surah al-Qiyamah: My Father Talks to God When Syria Occupies Tripoli, 1976,” and “Love like Samson’s Lion While My Mother Shaves My Father’s Head” – poems about my father’s faith, the Lebanese Civil War, and my parents’ marriage. I think those poems helped me locate the lynchpins in this collection.

With stunning poems like “My Father in Virginia, Surrounded by Water” and “Inheritance”, Set to Music a Wildfire deftly and intimately explores what it means to define, prove, and exist as family. I’d imagine writing this sort of collection would greatly alter—or perhaps the correct word is ‘enrich’—a great many perceptions. Did you find this was the case for you? And, if so, what do you feel was your most valuable takeaway?

RA: Oh, definitely. “My Father in Virginia…” forced me to think about my parents’ marriage as a romantic relationship and that was edifying – it was the last step in fully seeing my parents as human, complex and fallible and trying to set aside their doubts enough to simply exist together. These poems also made me consider the labor and balance that goes into being a family – the small sacrifices that make it work and the selfish impulses we still indulge.

What was the greatest challenge of drafting, editing, and releasing Set to Music a Wildfire

Read more at http://www.theadroitjournal.org/issue-twenty-three-a-conversation-with-ruth-awad


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Poems - Prompt - Bio - Interviews - Reading


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                  Ruth Awad

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