This story is paired with “The Story of King Shahrayar and Shahrazad” from 1001 Arabian Nights.
It began before my brother was even born.
My mother’s collection, leather-bound
and heavy like a felled beast on the bookshelf,
books caged in their case, that which survived
the fire that took so many others, written
in Arabic, a script not even my father knows.
Arabian Nights. She tried to find its value
and failed — none of the appraisers
had ever seen a full set, only a single volume,
three, could not calculate the sum of so many
parts and so she kept it in her bedroom
like other incalculable things. When I was young,
I knew death, but only its parts. Hercules
the goldfish, Mikey the cat, Massoud my father’s
best friend who would wink at me
as I played while the adults prayed and whose heart
attack drew tears from my father,
the stone. I knew one day my mother would die
and I would be left with what she left behind.
I have always been, before all, my mother’s
daughter, and so I coveted what we both valued
most, which was books, has always been
books, heir to the word and what survived the fire.
And then my brother was born, that blue
and screaming thing who I would grow
to love even more than my mother or myself
or books. He grew, too, both in body and
in love, and he, too, loved books. Before all,
my mother’s son. I don’t know when he learned
death, only that one day he calculated my mother’s
and appraised its value as not a single volume,
three, but a full set of Arabian Nights.
No, I told him, and Yes, he replied. Not a fight,
not between us, but we are, after all,
my father’s children, and as we two stones
have grown, it has stayed unresolved.
There are fires that burn out, like those that consume
books, and mothers who die, and the n
there are those that do not — they smolder
beneath the ground for decades, for generations
and generations, under towns whose families
are forced to leave everything behind in order
to survive. We could split the set in two,
divide it into parts, but what are they without
their sum? Who would keep the case? Or we could
bury them with her, let them keep their value.
Jaz Sufi is a poet, a Bay Area native, and the slammaster of the Berkeley Slam, the longest running poetry slam in California. She was the 2015 Berkeley Grand Slam Champ and has competed for several teams at the National Poetry Slam, as well as representing San Francisco at the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam. She was also a featured poet at the 2011 USF Creative Justice Art Show, and has been published in the Cry of the Nightbird anthology.