Simon Peter Eggertsen


Mass in Arabic

In the language of Islam, I imagine, mass is called
for the charcoal faces from the Nubian Mountains—
near El Obeid, praises in Arabic.

Bism Ellah al Rahman al Rahim.*

Or so I heard it. An unexpected oddity. An estranged cant.
In the midst of those sounds the lights sputter,
darkness grabs out, worship obscures in night-black.

In shadowed silhouette still, a response rises.
An orphaned tutorial line, clear as water from snow,
from the thinning, timbrel frame of the choral master.

The note strikes. Who will aid? Who will assist
in the tune carrying? Above the shaky rhythm beat,
another language's words loft, shaken loose from
some believers by a beaded drum’s questions—
the first notes an irritating shrill uulalaying,
feminine voices. The misses have amassed this night.

After the clamor, a solitary flame fights alone
to revive the spoken scripture sound. Again,
a strangeness. Arabic, I imagine, or was it Latin,
from a white European mouth? Then,
comes the single light, first haloing a head,
then glazing from the page, reflecting from the face
of the white bishop onto the gathered black.

The Allelujah! rises feather light. Allelujah!
Allelulu! Allelulu! Allah akbar. Allah akbar
God is Great, or so all present would want to believe.

Nothing is said of the smoldering, dark, body-shaped
spots of ash flaking the desert floor in Darfur, to the west.
The lights have gone out there also. Who will condemn
the jagged edges of worry only for their own salvation,
......not that of other’s?
Someone, even God, should say something, loudly in
......the dark. Any language will do.

*In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

I was born in Kansas, raised in Utah, educated in Virginia and England, now live part of the year in Montreal. I have degrees in literature, language and law. I spend most of my time working and teaching in the field of international public health. My pedigree in poetry is recent and modest. The word "emerging" comes to mind. Poems have been published, or will be, in Nimrod, Atlanta Review, Vallum (Canada), Salt River Review, Dialogue, Lunarosity, The Writers Post, Istanbul Literary Review, The Catholic News (Trinidad), and Wordbridge.

My work has won 1st Prize for Poetry at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference (WA, 2008), been named a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize in Poetry (Nimrod International, 2009), received a Publication Prize from the Atlanta Review (2009), and been a semifinalist for the Barthelme Prize at Gulf Coast (2009).

(author retains copyright)