Poetry No. 45 – Stephanie R. Nahhas

Gutters of February

When my aunt got sick,
I didn’t understand how a brain
could eat itself away,
how can a brain eat itself,
like coils of a serpent eating its own tail,
that relentless self-destruction.
It’s not easy turning ash into ember,
not easy to undo what has been done.
If it’s beautiful and glows red and orange,
it still burns itself into dust.
When she wasn’t aching, (was she aching?)
there were moments
she’d forget the atrophy, the disjointed flails,
sharp edge of shale cutting her knuckles,
knocking out her teeth.
How many times
do I throw a penny into a pond,
until I realize that hope is the product of the mind?
That hope is a ruby smashed in mud,
that the mind in my family is often an enemy.
Little thoughts, give me a story to stomach.
No more throwing you into dirty water;
No more chicken bones thrown into the gutters of February.

nuances of sound

I have a native tongue that doesn’t hold home well

these syllables don’t roll
the staccato is not sharp

too foreign for here
too foreign for there
not an entity in either country

to hold roots in two places that want nothing to do with each other
to live in a land that tells your people they cannot come

but you are here
and here doesn’t want your people
here would have turned you away too if it could

how many times have I held my tongue
for fear of the sounds that would follow

to live in a place where they cannot hear my foreign and
they cannot see my olive

my tongue not chained to a dialect
or a language
or a border

have you ever heard the sadness
of geography

it is in my Arabic

Syria Villanelle

I will tell you what I remember:
Blood flooded gutters on the holy day
Not easy turning ash into ember

The clothes I wore were torn and tethered
Stench of sulfur led me astray
I will tell you what I remember

It was the middle of November
Smoke crawled the streets and down my airway
Not easy turning ash into ember

Ringing ears as I stumbled through town center
Heads like trophies were put on display
I will tell you what I remember

Spilled fruits of the local vendor
Neighbors shot down, refusing to obey
Not easy turning ash into ember

Ancient nation forced to surrender
The Syria I knew fades away

I wasn’t there yet I remember
Not easy turning ash into ember


Raised on the northwest side of Chicago, Stephanie R. Nahhas is a recent graduate from Butler University, where she studied creative writing and chemistry. She will be continuing her education at The Ohio State University pursuing her doctorate in optometry. She also spent her high school years as a member of her school’s poetry slam team. Much of Stephanie’s work involves her Syrian heritage and finding her identity within being a first-generation American.

© Stephanie R. Nahhas

Photo Credit: “camping dans le désert syrien” © gaelj / Adobe Stock