YASMIN MARIAM KLOTH
Daughter: Five Poems
My daughter is the German-Polish border
that moved across Danzig. She’s
the old stone castles of Irish fields.
My daughter is the city of Palmyra
before its columns were destroyed. She’s
the white sands of the Sphinx. She’s a mountain
in Beirut made of Cedar groves.
My daughter won’t know Arabic in the way
I heard the language split French phrases
in my parents’ house. She won’t know the German
her father’s forebears whispered
when the night would rock their ship
from sea to here.
My daughter’s hair is soil in sun,
her skin an almond shell. Her eyes
are olive branches, her lashes shade.
My daughter laughs the way
the sky sounds just before it rains. She
cries in riverbeds where the rocks
have gone soft.
My daughter speaks.
When my daughter speaks
her voice is a wildflower planted
far from here.
At the Fountain
It’s your favorite place
in the little town square,
this mossy fountain
surrounded by green
bushes and wooden benches.
It’s our routine the two of us,
when your father is traveling
and the weather warms,
to buy an ice cream
on the corner with sprinkles
and little candy eyeballs.
You eat the eyes first,
then worry you’ve destroyed
the face already melted
in the sun.
We sit by the fountain with our
single scoops in hand
you ask me why you feel
rain on your face.
I tell you it’s the fountain
spitting water when
a breeze blows by.
I didn’t hear you at first
when you asked me
if there was a bird in the water.
Your words brushed past me
a spider web on a walk
through the woods.
Your words brushed past me
until you asked again.
I knew without looking.
I knew in the way the tiny hairs
on our skin will tell us things
about a person, a place, a dream.
I peered over your shoulder.
The bird on its belly,
its wings spread
as if it were human
with arms stretched
to embrace a friend.
You stared at the scene
questions in your eyes.
I took the cotton of your sleeve
and pulled you away.
I thought how close we are
to all of this, to the way we
can lose things
like the life of a bird
while we’re eating ice cream
in the sun.
A Letter to My Daughter on Her First Day of Kindergarten
You stood behind a yellow line
painted in the pavement.
This, we told you,
was the safest place to wait.
You watched the yellow bus
pull up against
a yellow summer sun.
You crossed the line without us,
crossed the street without us,
backpack hanging on your body,
how is it possible your body
looks both small and big.
Your hand left the end of the skin
of my hand.
Today I learned:
There are places where we can’t follow you.
We can tell you to be everything:
strong, kind, brave, thoughtful, tough–
We can tell you our love follows
like a magician’s cape, tell you
how it trails the halls behind your feet.
We can tell you our stories of this time
when we were young and
summer stretched like thread
into short nights and humid mornings.
We can tell you we didn’t know
it would all pass so quickly
and how we send the children
we once were
to cross the line with you.
The day ended and changed
the morning light. I stood in the shade
of the stop sign and the pines.
You stepped off the bus a small face
on the other side of the street.
Head right. Head left. Then running.
Your hand found the end
of the skin of my hand.
I didn’t have to tell you anything.
You told me everything
that was new.
Sometimes I wonder if
my hugs should
feel this hard, this tight, wonder
if it’s normal
to grab on like time
is running out,
or running fast, wonder
if it’s normal I
keep my hands on
these small shoulders for
one more moment.
One more moment
buys me time,
buys me a second,
buys me a lightning strike,
I hug you so hard I hear
what’s wrong with you, why
do you squeeze me so hard,
stop it Mama that hurts, your
I’ll trip over my tongue
patience and goodness and kindness
I’ll trip over the words and what
These days I feel
I cannot be
your teacher when
I fall short on all these things,
when I need to practice more
kindness and patience
in this wide open,
I cannot teach what
you already are.
I look into your fresh face and wide eyes.
I stop talking so I may see you, so
I may hear how you are all the words
I have been trying to say.
I am not equipped to pull this house apart.
The only tools what I found in the garage—the saw and the leaf blower, the pickaxe,
and the tree limb cutter.
I am not equipped to pack up all the things that do not belong to me. They were left for me to sort in piles (Throw, Give, Keep)
years after she died—Chinese fans and masks, painted blue ceramic cups, a teapot.
Gifts my father carried from his travels in his suitcase for her.
I do not remember most of these things.
Even after I’ve touched them for the first time
in many years, things that were the color and character in the stories I’m sure she told at parties,
and her friends would laugh loudly through their drinks
and their happy tears.
I am not equipped to handle the heat of this pain, each thing I touch a hot poker
and my hands raw.
Not all of this belongs to me, but I am daughter. I am duty and honor and the keeper of things.
I will break this house down with my hands so it may breathe again.
So it may breathe from beneath all the things I have never seen before
how can I live without.
Yasmin Mariam Kloth writes creative nonfiction and poetry. Her work has aired on NPR and appeared on npr.org. She co-translated a book of poetry by the French-Canadian author Mona Latif Ghattas called ‘Sails For Exile,’ and her work has appeared in Gravel and the West Texas Literary Review. She has work forthcoming in The Tiny Journal, Willawaw Journal, and JuxtaProse. She attended the Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop in July 2019 with Natalie Shapero. Yasmin lives in Cincinnati, OH with her husband and their young daughter.