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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Hilary Plum: Lions

Saul Leiter, Barbara, 1951. Source: designobserver.com

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The long fact of the turned face is named faith.

Through the tall windows opposing the tapestries

that depict the gaze of the lion, low hills with dark cows

remain far. A pheasant plump in the dirt, a voice saying you,

and modern angles guide us into the room where we were

never again, as in the absence of any machine a man

watches the ball propelled down the lane toward him

then bends, pins in hand. I hear his regular breath.

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Anita Nair: Letters to a Man Never Met

ITALY, Fashion story in the mood of Egon Schiele. Katalina.

Ferdinando Scianna, Italy. Source: magnumphotos.com

Murad: Desired

One day, just another still, warm day in February, there was you… Sometimes I wonder why there wasn’t something to suggest the birthing pains of this love: a camel-shaped eyelash, a rainbow above my roof, frogs raining, a tree bursting into yellow bloom overnight, a snatch of a song. But there was nothing. Not even a twitching eyelid or a skipped beat of the pulse. And yet, now when I think of the time before you, all I think of is this grey and metallic sheen of the strangled day and the death-like silence of the night.

Last Sunday the neighbours brought me a glass of something tall, cold and sweet. They had a name for it: thandai.

Did I know there was opium in it? I did. Why didn’t I say no? Probably because I wanted to know where it would lead me. Opium. Melded into milk and almonds and chilled so the sweet creaminess could slide down my throat while a foot soldier in black crept through my veins to the silly point of my brain.

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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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