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Khaled Mattawa Born in Benghazi, Libya, Khaled Mattawa immigrated to the United States in 1979 at age fifteen. He lived in the South for many years, completing high school in Louisiana and earning degrees from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and from Indiana University. Of his first poetry book, Stanley Moss wrote that it would be “an oversimplification to say that Ismailia Eclipse . . . joins the literature of exiled poets.” His second book, Zodiac of Echoes, was described as “one of the most compelling portraits we have of a mind, a sensibility, a language emerging from the hybridization of cultures.” Mattawa, coeditor of Post Gibran: Anthology of New Arab American Writing and of Dinarzad’s Children: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Fiction, has also translated five volumes of Arabic poetry. A recipient of many honors , including a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Alfred Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, and a National Endowment for the Arts translation grant, he teaches at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Growing Up with a Sears Catalog in Benghazi, Libya Omar pointed to a pink man riding a red lawn mower, rose bushes, yellow tulips, orchids framing slick sod. Owners of villas in Jilyana, my brother’s friends desperately needed “the grass machines.” He planned to charge triple his cost, build a house by the sea. Eyes half-shut, cigarette clouds above him, 198 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 198 he snored leaving unfinished a recitation of truncated schemes. In my room I gazed at the pink man again, marveled at pictures of women in transparent bras. How I loved their black nipples and full gray breasts! I fancied camping with the blue-eyed one in the $42 Coleman tent, the two of us fishing at a lake without mosquitoes, sailing the boat on page 613. After watching soaps on our mahogany-cased (27 inch) color TV, we galloped in lime green scooters on “scabrous terrain,” returned to our 4-bedroom home, mud up to our knees, to make love on the mattress on page 1219. One morning, my brother and I landed in New Orleans, in the heat. The city’s stench nauseated us, mosquitoes slipping through our window screen. At the Lake Shore Sears he caressed lipstick red fenders, sank fingers Khaled Mattawa 199 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 199 in the comfort of seats. The smallest model was striped with silver, and he hugged it like a long lost niece. In a patois of his own, he bargained, told universal dirty jokes. We rode two on a nearby lawn, sunshine, cool morning breeze. We parked them outside Morrison’s where our waitress said she bought all her clothes from Sears. That night I undressed her gently, stroked her breasts with my cheeks. She sighed, and I heaved, the air in her room scented with my dreams. In the morning she said I talked in my sleep, raved at someone, kept asking “What kind of flower you want planted next to your grave?” 200 Khaled Mattawa 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 200 Watermelon Tales January. Snow. For days I have craved watermelons, wanted to freckle the ground with seeds, to perform a ritual: Noon time, an early summer Sunday, the village chief faces north, spits seven mouthfuls, fingers a circle around a galaxy of seeds. • • • Maimoon the Bedouin visited in summer, always with a gift: a pick-up truck load of watermelons. “Something for the children,” he explained. Neighbors brought wheelbarrows to fetch their share. Our chickens ate the rest. • • • His right ear pricked up close, my father taps on a watermelon, strokes as though it were a thigh. A light slap. “If it doesn’t sound like your hands clapping at a wedding, it’s not yours.” • • • Men shake the chief’s hand, children kiss it. Everyone files behind him when he walks back. No one Khaled Mattawa 201 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 201 talks until the tomb of the local saint. The rich place coin sacks at his feet, the poor leave cups of melon seeds. • • • Maimoon also brought us meat, gazelles he rammed with his truck. His daughter, Selima, said he once swerved off the road suddenly, drove for an hour until he spotted six. He hadn’t hit any when the truck ran out...


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