The Ruins by Josh Calvo

“The Ruins” is Josh Calvo’s monthly dirge for sundry Aleppos of memory—all real, all lost, all his. “The Ruins” is a term borrowed from pre-Islamic poetry, in which “weeping over the ruins” is a favorite gharad; the word gharad, which literally means “purpose” and roughly corresponds to genre, is used to indicate not so much a poem’s theme as the driving force behind its utterance. “The Ruins” is the title of both the series and the first piece in the series. Josh Calvo, who is first and foremost a true writer though he also translates from  Hebrew and Arabic, among other languages dead and alive, can be reached at this email.

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Entrance to Aleppo Castle, G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, 1898. Source: loc.gov

Then the rains washed over the ruins, like a book whose text is written and rewritten….

— Labid (d. 661)[1]

For reasons he has kept to himself, Hakham Abraham Yeshaya Dayan–—born around the turn of the nineteenth century in Aleppo, and risen to become a rabbinic leader in its Jewish community, authoring several religious and scholarly books which have now become obscure, the world to which they are addressed having disappeared and the city in which they were to be read and applied having become in the hundred years since he lived unfathomably and irreversibly unrecognizable—decided suddenly, with the dawning of what would be the decade before his death, that the time had come for him to walk along the walls of his ancient city in search of signs from its long history. For want of some sense of his inner motivations, of what he beheld in his mind whenever he tried to see Aleppo in times he cannot have known, of what image of the city as he knew it over his own lifetime had been building itself in his memory, I can discover little more than he himself has admitted—or that has, by chance or by force, admitted itself—into his words. The nineteenth-century Hakham would not have needed to describe the impression left in mind by what he could still see outside: like the feeling of what remained of what once was: or the music of the undead voices of those who lived before: the cold stone of a synagogue surviving in the walls of a mosques: or the distant echoing of King David’s cavalry and Mongol horses heard faintly, aloft the wind from faraway mountains. And now that the Aleppo he knew has smoldered and will never again be seen, what remains are only these silent words by which it will never be described.

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𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 1900

Having worked for years to prevent war, and seeing the folly of Italy and America being at war—! I certainly wasn’t telling the troops to revolt. I thought I was fighting an internal question of constitutional government. And if any man, any individual man, can say he has had a bad deal from me because of race, creed, or color, let him come out and state it with particulars. The Guide to Kulchur was dedicated to Basil Bunting and Louis Zukofsky, a Quaker and a Jew …

What I was right about was the conservation of individual rights. If, when the executive or any other branch exceeds its legitimate powers, no one protests, you will lose all your liberties. My method of opposing tyranny was wrong over a thirty-year period; it had nothing to do with the Second World War in particular. If the individual, or heretic, gets hold of some essential truth, or sees some error in the system being practiced, he commits so many marginal errors himself that he is worn out before he can establish his point.

The world in twenty years has piled up hysteria—anxiety over a third war, bureaucratic tyranny, and hysteria from paper forms. The immense and undeniable loss of freedoms, as they were in 1900, is undeniable. We have seen the acceleration in efficiency of the tyrannizing factors. It’s enough to keep a man worried. Wars are made to make debt. I suppose there’s a possible out in space satellites and other ways of making debt.

— from The Paris Review interview with Ezra Pound

1962

 

 

Tam Hussein: The American

Christopher Anderson, Kunduz, Afghanistan, 2001. Source: magnumphotos.com

“What do you reckon that is?” Abu Imad said, tapping the scope. He looked at me, rubbing his bushy beard thoughtfully. He wanted me to make the two-meter journey to take a look.

“I’m all right here to be honest,” I said, looking at Abu Imad’s powerful frame. In my experience, God creates two types who stay on for the long haul. Either the rugby player variety or the wiry knife wielding sort, used to taking down bigger opponents. Abu Imad belonged to the former.

“Come,” he insisted, “come.”

I didn’t really feel like giving him my opinion. I didn’t want to entertain the mad shit bouncing around his head. What’s it going to be? Either some mountain goat or a hardy plant that has somehow emerged out of this cruel valley where we’d been stuck for years. What new excitement could this brother show me? We hadn’t progressed against the enemy, not because we were weak but because the commanders were arguing sometimes over strategy, sometimes over tactics, most of the time over honour and on rare occasions about God. In spite of them, we held this crag. We were mountain lions in courage and mountain goats in stubbornness.

“Come,” he pleaded, “check it.”

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Joe Linker: Milk

GERMANY. 1960. "Carnival on skis".M-GE-SKI-001

Herbert List, Germany, 1960, “Carnival on skis”. Source: magnumphotos.com

A milkman delivered milk bottles to the house a couple of days a week, came into the yard through the side gate, white uniform, and cap so light and delicately placed we wondered how it stayed put, picked up the empties and left the fresh bottles of thick cadmium white milk on the back porch. We could hear the milkman coming in the early morning, his square truck, the door always open, pulling up to the side of the house, under the three carob trees, coming through the back gate, the milk bottles jostling in his wire milk bottle carrier.

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Zachary Prong: “Young men accused me of being an American spy”

I made these photos in Cairo during the summer of 2015. The news coming out of Egypt at that time was mostly violent; “Car bomb attack kills Egypt’s top public prosecutor”, “Islamic State ‘behind blast’ at Italian consulate in Cairo”, “Croatian hostage beheaded”, “Deadly attacks hit Egypt’s Sinai”. I didn’t capture the facts of these events but they loomed large over how I experienced the city.160821-cairo11

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Marcia Lynx Qualey: A Review of the Newest Arabic Novel (Remix)

Arab Muscle Dancers, 1898, by B. W. Kilburn

Insert Title Here, by Our Arab Author, translated by So-and-so. Such-and-such publisher. $12.99.

What do you know about how people live in Cairo or Beirut or Riyadh? What bearing does such information have upon your life? We in the West hear about the Middle East all the time, but for most of us it remains unknown and unknowable. More complicated still is that, as I learnt at the weekend, forms like the novel and short story were alien to Arabic culture before the first decade of the 20th century: the genres are, themselves, imports.

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