On Skeletons and Wastelands

by Jessica Proett

Photo by Pedronet via http://flickr.com/photos/40271931@N00/3344193989. Creative Commons: Some rights reserved.

– for Seba, and her art.

Her paintbrush
reminds me of a skeleton’s wrist,
finger joints, or individual ribs…

A wasteland is
not this
or that
I associated it with
in a campus courtyard under fallen leaves;
it is what I’ve read and rewritten
each time I feel Time

When I met her in Saudi, I rewrote it again.

“The wasteland is a morning without sun,
a body without skin,
yet not naked.
All that’s left is bones.

It is myself slowly slipping away
until I am only my essence
or else lost.

It is hope and hopelessness
so closely intertwined
that art doesn’t even know what to say anymore.

It is now, in this poem, speaking of my friend,
and her beauty,
not the horrors
we know we should speak out against.

A skeleton is not horrific.
It is honest.”

We lived in a desert and
sometimes sand covered the sun.
It rode into Riyadh like a tidal wave,
except slower,
sky turning orange,
terra-cotta red and then black.
We cover our mouths.

We still choked.

When I realized this wasteland
we both created
and lived in,
was no longer metaphor for me,
or escapable for her,
the first line I wrote was,
“The sand in our chests
became hourglasses counting time.”
Both then and years later
we still couldn’t breathe.

Art became our alcohol,
codependency, and friend.
I wrote and she painted

but we even lost that for a time.
We gave up
and tried to be happy.

The art we created felt more like darkness
enveloping us
than escaping us,
so we tried to be “normal”
to live
in the status quos of our countries
where people seemed, at least, content.

Words became themes.
Alter-realities we happened upon
by knowing two worlds,
Saudi and elsewhere,
crossed and then separated
leaving us split by borders
and identities.

We kept thinking about bones.
Not knowing if it was premonition,
jealousy, yearning, or metaphor.

We couldn’t exorcise sand
from our bodies,
so the doctors prescribed inhalers
and sinus meds.
They don’t believe us
that the sand is alive.

When we gave up on art,
we clung to our bones,
knowing they are an eternal memory
of our memory.

Sometimes we still think art might save us.

Alchemy then and now:
Still breathing,
she wakes up
to a dark glow,
sand covering the sky
and Al-Mumlaka tower,
draws flowers spilling out
of her ribcage,
paints them without hope or hopelessness,
transmuting loneliness into art again.

I write this poem in Denver.

She gives birth to phoenix dreams,
posing in her beige portico with red lipstick,
painting a self portrait with eyes- very much alive-
and soft facial features,

but the rest of her
below the neck
like sand
crumbles away
becoming part of something eternal,
shifting with wind,
traveling spaces and time.
It is not a loss.
We’ve known it for a long time now.
We are bones,
still alive,
and grateful.
She draws her ribcage with flowers spilling out,
below it her humerus, ulna, radius, and pelvis.

I, like her, wonder if I will return someday.
If that part of me that is roaming sand
will come back to fill me when I learn
more of myself,
alchemy, or spiritual truths.

“We are all returning,” she says,
naheno jami’an na’ouda,
to the source.


Jessica Proett is a published poet and previous staff writer for the Levantine Review. She holds an MA in Middle East and Islamic Studies from American University of Paris and is currently living in Denver after several years abroad.




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