Richard Newman

Call to Prayer

It’s 4 am, still dark. Now I’m awake.
A muezzin chants from a raspy speaker.
Another joins, more strident, across campus.
A third warbles from the village, his notes
more tentative, half-steps from harmony,
all of them weaving knots of dissonance,


a mesh of pleas and prayers, praise, grim warnings
that swirls under the cloudless, starless night.
Allah akbar! Prayer is better than sleep!
The downstairs neighbors attack the air with coughing.
The whole family is sick with COVID,
the old lady next door already praying,


perhaps to help her climb three flights of stairs,
and everyone in town imagines god
differently—angry, jealous, ripe with mercy.
I picture prayers caroming off cold skies
and listen to the minaret imploring
There is no god but Allah while our own


small god in footed jammies kicks my head.
I’ve nibbled only a few crumbs of sleep,
and when I hear the morning call to prayer
I know I’ve stayed up too late grading papers,
frittered away sleep credits writing poems
or watching my St. Louis Cardinals lose.


My day starts soon. I smother it with pillows,
returning to my little nest of dreams—
futile, naughty, drab—rolling over,
coaxed back to sleep by predawn calls to prayer
and those who rise each day in faith, face east,
and welcome each workaday dawn. Bless them.


Looking Out my Office Window While Grading Essays

The mountain fog has smuggled in fatigue.
I nod off marking cause and effect papers.

Here people can be jailed

for unmarried sex or speaking against the king.
Masking the mosque with dampness and intrigue,
the mountain fog has smuggled in fatigue.
Outside, no color except the orange-tiled rooves
muted with mist. No sounds. Nothing moves.
One student hints at a second Arab Spring
but won’t write “government” or “Arab League.”

So many so far have failed.

My students whisper they, them, words like vapors.
The mountain fog has smuggled in fatigue.
Vague causes. No effects. The strata of papers.



“They’re never as pretty at home
as they are on the beach,”

my wife says of the rocks

and shells as we waltz in

and out of waves, dark sands

darkening as tide

returns. Our two-year-old

takes all the shiny treasures

we hand him and throws

them back to the sea without

looking at them. Perhaps
she is thinking of herself,
captured from clear mountain

rivers of her village,

Takachiho. Or maybe
she means us when we

first met by our lagoon

on Majuro. No doubt
we’ve lost our sea-wet luster,

worn down by a defiant toddler,

dulled by daily gratings
of each other’s stubbornness.


Sayaka usually means

more than I’ve considered,

but here she shows me her bounty

in a mothered hand before

Genji tosses them back

to tides where waves roll them—

I’ve counted—six waves a minute,


waves a year, rolling,
rolling, rubbing, smoothing,

wearing them smaller and smaller

to sand and then to silt,
the captured sands with which

we measure time, but here

dispersed as minerals
and particles back into

the sea, particles

connecting everything
in the world, filmy solution

giving sheen to others

before they also dissolve,

giving sheen to us

as we step out of the sea,

our little one’s small limbs

shivering in the wind,

so we smother him with us,
the sea giving sheen to
our tired, goose-pimpled bodies,

also dissolving and giving

momentary sheen

to all that we hold dear.

Richard Newman is the author of three books of poetry, most recently All the Wasted Beauty of the World (Able Muse Press, 2014), and the novel Graveyard of the Gods. His work has recently appeared in American Journal of Poetry, Book of Matches, Literary Matters, I-70 Review, Poetry East, Tar River Poetry, Valparaiso Review, and many other magazines and anthologies. He currently teaches creative writing and world literature at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco, where he lives with his wife and son. Before moving to the Maghreb, he and his family lived in Vietnam, Japan, and the Marshall Islands.

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