FOOTNOTES IN THE ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE, BY FADY JOUDAH
Fady Joudah is a remarkable poet of great intellect and vision—qualities that are on prominent display in Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance, his fourth collection of poetry. These poems blur boundaries between speech and silence, science and myth. They cross borders, both in terms of geography (the poems take place in France, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Texas among other locations) and in terms of language (the poem “Body of Meaning,” for example, combines the language of medicine, physics, Star Wars, and Greek mythology).
Though they often seem quite public in their concerns, these poems also feel intensely personal and vulnerable, and their undercurrent is one of love and togetherness. A poem titled “An Algebra Come Home”—about an immigrant selling fruit in a Paris market—plays on the original Arabic meaning of the word algebra: a reunion of broken parts. When a customer finally buys four peaches, “one for each chamber” of the heart, the salesmen declares, “Gorgeous, you’re the one who’s mended my heart.”
Joudah’s thought-provoking and imaginative juxtapositions shine throughout, as when he professes, “I’m a terra rist a maqam of earth”—a line where the ambiguities of syntax suggest terra as in earth, rist as in to engrave, maqam as in both the Arabic musical mode and the tombs of Muslim saints.
These poems never balk at addressing war, peace, identity, gender, or love, but they always resist simplification and sentimentality. “If only / reality didn’t lay siege to my head / I’d celebrate existence,” Joudah writes in the book’s middle section (a collaboration with Syrian Kurdish poet Golan Haji). Later in the same poem the poet laments that “cruel people…curse beggars / who don’t speak their language and the beggars / go on singing for them.” These poems are pertinent and immediately alive. This collection is not only a deeply rewarding and enjoyable read; it’s also an important one.