Matthew Shenoda

The Calendar We Live

As it was, it is
and so shall it be
from generation
to generation
& unto the age
of all ages. Amen.


It is 1717 A.M.


Time a question
only the Nile can answer
meandering through papyrus fields & baqara expanse
her sediment the testament of Coptic


Out in the eastern Sahara monks drink chocolate milk in the “cantina “
celebrating Epip’s big feast.
It is hot olive trees grow like tiny worlds of sweat magnified on
planted here by a memory sixteen centuries old


Incense lifts from sand in unison with chants


Gazelles roam cliffs at orange dusk, eating fish-bone trash & smirking
at the stars strung around their necks


We have two homes, two histories
out here in Sahara, right there on the Nile


One thousand seven hundred & seventeen years since Diocletian tried to
erase us


One thousand seven hundred & seventeen years of remembering what
civilization could be


years of a non-violent branded brown fist
bare knuckle to the concrete           prostrating


integrated memories and
tattooed wrists swirling in the solace of community


a tradition that rises from


Too many years After Martyrdom


through this struggle in the funk of oppression & constant fight
we give our children love
their faces inquisitive with rise-up brows
feet strong & planted
they walk the banks of
rippled erosions
burrowing through
Nile valley terrain
meandering like octopus
swinging tentacles through space


we take the walk beside them
with hopes they will not sail to the other side


        displaced in a place we call home-now
1969 was our exodus
fleeing the land of other
the diaspora of promise
wearing the sandals of broken english


& what do I become
in this world where rivers and deserts collide
the deep red sea of generational memories
swishing & spitting pacific images
in this forever-west


bridging the gap of tabla & hip-hop
citrus & hibiscus
I hit the streets of Cairo
kicking up dust
like air-brushed worlds of flat ghosts
eyes blinded by the butcher’s hanging carcass
suspended by metal like a condor wing
punctured by a gnarled branch
somewhere beyond this place


I imagine streets as a village
viable & crop-rich
flowing with silk humanity
eyes fill the alleys
black corneas float in an expanse of muslin
tabla rhythms & shisha smoke
creep from corners


I am somewhere between
home & home


trying to see ourselves
moving through rivers of translation
transported relics
mixed with spices & myrrh
preserved ancestor tongue
stiffer than bone
fluid like leaves when autumn’s song is audible
when skyscrapers make way to
desert breakers
& long bearded nomads
remain still in Sinai caves
while white tunic spirits roam the lands that surround them


the sphinx upon a rock
I am
son of civilization
daughter of flat bread
made fresh on the bellies of coal
speaking fire, pi-ekrom
fire branding memories
until pi-ekrom becomes
an-nar, becomes fire
fire on the tongues of memory
mo-ou our skin
water our shelter


and then the lexicon
covered in gold, in it
a truth, a single truth, whose only name is


and on the day that lexicon is opened to Coptic
it will read:


bury me in the skin of my mother
the mask of my father
understand that we are
one breath
living for that single moment
where voices congregate
pitching into the unknown


pitching a song the enemy cannot hear


so we sing to our children
in their moments of terror
carrying olive branches in their left hands
struck by batons and wicked words


you are the viable one
whose story has not been stolen
whose roots dig deep
in delta waters

– 1717 A.M.: One thousand seven hundred and seventeen years After Martyrdom on the Coptic Calendar.
– Epip: Coptic; a month that coincides with parts of June and July on the Western calendar.
Buhara: Arabic; water buffalo
Tubla: Arabic; traditional Egyptian drum
Shesha: Arabic; hookah, used to smoke flavored tobacco
Pi Ekrom: Coptic; the fire
Il Narr: Arabic; the fire
Mo-oo: Coptic; water
– The Olive branch in the left hand is a symbol from ancient Egyptian art. The olive branch representing peace, the left hand, the side of the heart.
Matthew Shenoda
“The Calendar We Live” appeared in Somewhere Else (Coffee House Press, 2005).