Leila Chatti’s poems are so full of brilliant honesty & slow turning light. In her lines I find myself held to the world, as the objects & those who have been lost somehow always return to give breath & to people the rooms of her work. Here, there is profound longing, something tightening in the chest, & that sudden realization in how the body settles down, as the speaker—Chatti’s grief-wrought memento—gives us a bright revealing glimpse of the interior. I’m so humbled to share her work with you here.
-Michael Wasson (read Michael on Fog Machine here)
I thought you were a ghost I had forgotten. I thought you a failed haunting. I racked my
brain for your face; came up with fistfuls of hair, a clutch of larkspur. I thought you loved
enough to stay, thought that possession. I thought you were a ghost but you were bodied,
angular and smooth. I held you once like smoke in a lung. I felt a touch like my own hand. I
thought you were a ghost but you were dying. I stayed up all night through the dark, not
knowing what to say, but calling.
DINNER WITH DEAD RELATIVES
I’ve forgotten what they like.
The pot on the stove hisses. I dice
onions and sniff and sniff. At the table
the places are set and waiting, each plate
a gleaming open mouth. I arrange carefully
the basket of bread, the pitted fruits.
By the door, I rehearse my questions,
practice my laugh. Have you been keeping busy?
Can you check on mom, when you get a chance?
The floors creak and I stir, but they always arrive
at someone else’s door.
The hem of my skirt has come unstitched.
I repeat their names like shimmying loose
a gate which has been kept closed too long.
On the table, dinner cools.
Eddies of steam rise up and vanish.
Leila Chatti is a Tunisian-American poet. The recipient of scholarships from the Tin House Writers’ Workshop and Dickinson House and prizes from Ploughshares' Emerging Writer's Contest, Narrative Magazine’s 30 Below Contest and 8th Annual Poetry Contest, and the Academy of American Poets, her poems appear in Best New Poets, Ploughshares, Tin House, Narrative, The Georgia Review, The Missouri Review, West Branch, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she is a writing fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center.