“Damascus” and other poems by Rebecca Ruth Gould

Yerevan in Winter

As we hewed words from the stone tower,
the planets completed their orbit.
Ice cracked & froze.

Our glass walls gazed on the circus below.
Cars sailed through smog.
Buses creaked their way to work.

As we sat secluded in our icy fortress,
the firmaments lit the horizons
that translated our union into words.

I watched you stare into the abyss.
I watched the passage of
the lives we could have lived.

I watched our fates diverge,
& our shadows merge.
I watched the images

from our quarry twist & turn,
then melt like snowflakes
in the crisp morning snow.



When we recited poetry in Isfahan,
the Bridge of Thirty-Three Arcs
stretched to embrace the firmament.

The songs you brought to life
were meteorites, detonating
in the sockets of our eyes.

If time had been reversed,
the poet’s tomb would have
been our pilgrimage.

Water would have flowed
from the Ziyandeh’s shores,
& every point on the bridge

would have echoed
the sky’s demand
for release from the earth.

But time had no time—
& eternity no purpose—
for our meandering.

So I took the book
you left for me,
without saying goodbye.



There is no straight man in the world
said starry eyed Rima, as we returned
from the Damascus book fair where,
for the hundredth time, I fell in love.

No straight man in the world—
only cheaters, pimps, addicts, & bores.
Rima passed her days on the rooftop
watching the world unfurl,

watching her rivals fall in love.
She once had a man more beautiful
than herself, she said.
She didn’t want children.

She wanted just a touch, a hand,
to grant release from
her celestial observatory,
to aim arrows at her stars.

Damascus in the month of Ramadan
is an affliction that multiplies hourly
the hunger inside, the longing to be touched,
until prayer brings roof banging at dawn.

I thought I had bested Rima’s forecasts.
Until the plane landed. I tried
to remember the name of the book fair man
whose smile had stolen my heart.

His syllables merged with others’ words.
His nomadic soul hitched onto Rima’s stars.



The neon eyes of black
Moroccan cats light
the dusky souk where
two strangers chat.

The strangers pass
in heated conversation
using this land as a map
for exploring their futures

& their pasts. Marrakesh:
a frame that questions why
one would live
with a body more fragile

than the sultan’s ruined tombs,
with memories that oppress
more than patterned arabesques,
with questions God cannot address.

Cats travel alone.
They do not feel the pull
that turns our coffees
into hours, or the hunger

that keeps us walking forward,
feasting on our wounds.
They do not know why
we interrupt each other.

Least of all do they understand
why we stare at the neon signs
in their eyes & then
at each other. Bemused, intent,

friends headed in opposite directions,
shaking each others’ hands,
moving at different paces,
steadily, to the same end.


A Pagan in Islamic Egypt

Like two woman’s breasts, Giza’s pyramids rise
above these scorching sands. I tighten my belt
& bow to the unknown god, remembering my
companions in the south, where the sun does not set.

Though they call me pagan, I’m just hedging
my bets, playing like Pascal,
looking out for the long term, bidding
for immortality before the wager is called.

Dear river god, please stop swelling
the Nile as if there were no tomorrow.
Stop demanding the sacred cow.
The revelation has come. Sacrifices are done.

God has won. The Crusades are over.
Allah rules Jerusalem.
Universities churn out doctorates on every subject
known since the Prophet’s Hijra.

Time moves slower than the caravans.
My skin is roughened by the sand
that sheltered me as I awaited revelation,
& forgot to prostrate before the pyramids.

The pilgrim who, on his way to Mecca,
heeds not the wonders he passes
on his journey across the desert,
finds no paradise at the end of his road.


Damascus and other poems are © Rebecca Ruth Gould

Author’s Note

Damascus, Isfahan and Yerevan were originally published in Empty Mirror. Also Helen: A Literary Magazine originally published A Pagan in Islamic Egypt, and Milestones published Marrakesh.

Rebecca Ruth Gould’s poems and translations have appeared in Nimrod, Kenyon Review, Tin House, The Hudson Review, Salt Hill, and The Atlantic Review. She translates from Persian, Russian, and Georgian, and has translated books such as After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Ghazals and Other Poems of Hasan Sijzi of Delhi (Northwestern University Press, 2016) and The Death of Bagrat Zakharych and other Stories by Vazha-Pshavela (Paper & Ink, 2019). Her poem Grocery Shopping was a finalist for the Luminaire Award for Best Poetry in 2017, and she is a Pushcart Prize nominee.