Poetry by Fady Joudah

"Untitled" by Emily Mueller / emilymuellerart.com

The Old Lady and the House

Forty years ago, Lucy bought the land, split the lot, 
built two houses, sold one, lived in the other.
Ten years ago, we moved in next door. For months

we only saw Paul, her husband, faithfully out for a smoke 
on the front lawn, with Sue their playful grey Shih Tzu in tow. 

“She loved the previous owners’ kids,” 
was his welcoming remark, her poop across our lot. 
Our son was one-year old, Paul 
was about to enter his seventies, and Lucy, 
a good few years older, was fitter, 
more vigorous, but neither walked their Sue. 

Paul watched the chronicles of the neighborhood, 
a paradisiac Bantustan, our little city of god.

A year earlier Fatima and I visited San Miguel de Allende 
to restore our minds in eco-friendly destinations. 
She was five months pregnant.
We were living in an apartment complex 

that a hurricane would also drench
after toppling its papier-mâché chimney.

In San Miguel, the Gringo-run B&B was a fairytale 
Structure, out of the palaces in Sentra. 
Half-owner, the local wife cooked us Christmas 
dinner, denounced the natives who “like being poor,” 
as her husband radiated his traumatized Californian youth 

through a book’s help
that scored all religions 
to a barometer of Zen. 
Islam scored lowest.

Paul was a veteran 
with an enlarged prostate.
His advice was that I should “watch out for them” 
who blow my live oak leaves, they’re bound 

by law to dispose of the waste 
“free of charge,” leave none 
of it in black plastic bags on my curb, an eyesore 
for other residents. A month later, I asked Jesus
(leader of the landscapers who’d come
to the US during the Zapatista Revolution)
to trim the live oak branches 

including those that straddled the corners of the two backyards, 
and Jesus remonstrated
that as dogs and fire hydrants are as good
as apple pie, he wouldn’t cut a single branch 
that covered a parallax 
of that man’s yard. “Your neighbor, he’s, 

how you say it,” as Jesus stuttered 
a rhyme with a cystic illness 
attributed to Ra, the ancient sun god.

I corrected Jesus’s pronunciation. 
Paul’s health began to change. Lumbago 
herniated his golf swing.
He quit smoking. The body 
that nicotine infused turned diffuse. 
His abdomen grew rotund. 
He contracted diabetes. 

Soon there was no more small talk, 
no navy stories. I’d find Paul outside,
his shoulders closed toward a street
I couldn’t call him back from. 

Dementia and hospitalization 
started their record of his life. 
Lucy struggled with the decision to put him away 
in a nursing home. “I remarried a younger man 
so that he’d take care of me when I’m older,” 

she said woefully to me, “and I hate fat people,” 
she added with a shiver as she bearhugged herself. 
Thin throughout her life, 

and always in proper robe on the grass, 
and if intercepted in greeting, she’d quickly apologize 
for her hair and the Texas sky, 
though I’d never seen her or Paul 
out to Church on Sunday. 
Paul was now well cushioned 

into his dying. When he stopped 
recognizing her, she stopped visiting him. 
I began to see her daily, watering
her yard and plants, mowing her grass, a sloth 

born a bee in a solo hive.
One day she knocked at my door,
her voice trembling, and I let her in. 

She said her landline was out of commission,
that she’d just been released
from the hospital for hypertension, a minor
stroke, a fibrillation.

I plugged her phone back into the wall. 
I thought her end was near. Our niceties atrophied. 
She was the tea-drop-stained
figure in a photo. She no longer heard my car 
come up the driveway, my doors slam 
open and shut, my half-hearted hellos.

That was five years ago. And yet
when she and I had hardly exchanged a word, 
whenever she’d run into my mom outside our front door,
Lucy, unprompted, would praise me. A testament 
to her classy decorum, thoughtful 
of another mother’s heart. 

Then rain fell biblical, anthropogenic.
And all the houses on our street flooded,
left us hydrophobic of a swollen sky.

When water receded, 
everyone on the street walked out to talk 
with each other, nouveaux ions in calamity’s bonds. 
Lucy’s son 

came to her rescue 
and cut to the chase: 
a woman of 90 can’t live 
in a house under repair

unassisted. The property 
would be sold. But his mother
wouldn’t sanction the sale,
and a few months later moved back in.

During remodeling, amid the rubble 
that lined her front lawn and engulfed the white crape 
myrtle that stood on the border zone between us, 
a burgundy leather shoe
bulged like a boat. 

It was Paul’s right edematous foot. 
For two months it stayed there waiting 
for the city’s waste management services. 
Twice I stood by the heap 

looking for the left shoe,
and what would I have done 
with it had I found it?

Lucy is still living
in her house 
and will die there.

Fady Joudah has published four collections of poems, The Earth in the Attic; Alight; Textu, a book-long sequence of short poems whose meter is based on cellphone character count; and, most recently, Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance. He has translated several collections of poetry from the Arabic. He was a winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 2007 and has received a PEN award, a Banipal/Times Literary Supplement prize from the UK, the Griffin Poetry Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He lives in Houston, with his wife and kids, where he practices internal medicine.