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Philip Metres Poet and translator Philip Metres was born in 1970 in San Diego. He graduated from Holy Cross College and earned both an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. from Indiana University. He writes “subtle, accomplished, shimmering poems that explore the nuances of being an outsider in a language.” He is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Instants and Primer for Non-Native Speakers, from which a selection was included in the Best American Poetry series, and a fulllength collection, To See the Earth. Metres has also translated two collections, Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein and A Kindred Orphanhood: Selected Poems of Sergey Gandlevsky, and Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the Armenian Homefront since 1945. A recipient of fellowships from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Ledig House, and the Ohio Arts Council, Metres teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. Were it not for Ellis Island, his last name would be Abourjaili. One more story he said In a restaurant in Amsterdam a young woman came in speaking Arabic I said you are Iraqi she said I haven’t eaten for three days I said what do you mean she said I need to turn turn myself in this was a strange language to me a different logic Come and sit I said food brought out she ate finally spoke her husband now in Istanbul they’d escaped Iraq he was taxi driver sold his car paid $5,000 to Turkish driver to send her Istanbul to Amsterdam a big truck crates of fruit and vegetables had a tiny space in the middle kept her 229 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 229 there gave her food and water supposed to last seven days lasted four strange language mouth of the truck she was stuck in one position for seven days could not move crates of figs pallets cracked blocked lodged then they just dropped her in the middle of Amsterdam right then she was hoping waiting turn myself in my husband not far behind strange language to me I did not understand turn myself in in the middle of Amsterdam do you speak speak Ashberries: Letters 1. Outside, in a country with no word for outside, they cluster on trees, red bunches. I looked up ryabina, found mountain ash. No mountains here, just these berries cradled in yellow leaves. When I rise, you fall asleep. We barely know each other, you said on the phone last night. Today, sun brushes the wall like an empty canvas, voices from outside drift into this room. I can’t translate—my words, frostbitten 230 Philip Metres 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 230 fingers. I tell no one, how your hands ghost over my back, letters I hold. 2. Reading children’s stories by Tolstoy, Alyosha traces his index over the alphabet his mouth so easily unlocks. Every happy word resembles every other, every unhappy word’s unhappy in its own way. Like apartments at dusk. Having taken a different street from the station, I was lost in minutes. How to say, where’s the street like this, not this? Keys I’d cut for years coaxed open no pursed lips. How to say, blind terror? Sprint, lungburn, useless tongue? How say thank you, muscular Soviet worker, fading on billboard, for pointing me the way? 3. Alyosha and I climbed trees to pick berries, leaves almost as red. On ladders, we scattered half on ground, playing who could get them down the other’s shirt without their knowing. Morning, the family gone, I ground the berries to skin, sugared sour juices twice. Philip Metres 231 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 231 Even in tea they burned. In the yard, leafpiles of fire. Cigarettes between teeth, the old dvorniks rake, scratch the earth, try to rid it of some persistent itch. I turn the dial, it drags my finger back. When the phone at last connects to you, I hear only my own voice, crackle of the line. The rakes scratch. Flames hiss and tower. 4. This morning, the trees bare. Ashberries on long black branches. Winter. My teacher says they sweeten with frost, each snow a sugar. Each day’s dark grows darker, and streets go still, widen, like ice over lakes, and words...


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