Worst of all is the dread of the habibi’s indifference, particularly of her intonation when it lacks the right signals of acceptance and ardor. As when:
I picked up the little black portable
to call you
but my fingers froze above the buttons…
Sometimes I grow fearful, love…
to hear the distance in the voice…
to hear the unseasonable silence.
Then I am less than nothing…
I found most powerful in this vein “When the Screen Goes Dark,” an evocation of the sudden anomie of a computer crash:
when the power goes
and the message I haven’t sent
for fear of your reply
as if wiped from the slate
when the lesson is done,
when a world ends,
even a little simulated world,
with a quick electric click
and an echoing clap of silence,
I grow virtual and disappear…
This little book is, then, a rollercoaster ride of amorous joys and woes. It is also a feat of imagination, organically and seemingly effortlessly situating its fictive poet-protagonist at a rich intersection of contemporary life and Arab and Islamic lore.
Two of Maghrebi’s poems are, however, fraternal responses to similarly themed love poems by another Solway persona — an ostensible Israeli poet named Dov Ben-Zamir. As the introduction to Habibi notes, Maghrebi eschews the region’s turmoil and animosities for a “profound…immersion in the stream of personal emotion.” It is, I can add, personal emotion conveyed so compellingly as to give this book an exceptional charm and impact.