Today's book of poetry: Thank You for the Window Office. Maged Zaher. Ugly Duckling Presse. Brooklyn, New York. 2012.
Leonard Swartz suggested that Maged Zaher might be an Arabic Coptic Christian Frank O'Hara living in modern Seattle. If I had to play that game, and it's one I enjoy, I'd say Zaher is like a much gentler and better educated Arabic Charles Bukowski with a tincture of Ron Koertge on the side. That's not to suggest any similarity in style or content between Bukowski and Zaher - it's more about character and tone, like Buk, Zaher is writing Outsider poetry.
I am hiding my vulnerability at the shawarma shop
Some people need to die for civilization's sake
Let me tell you about my exotic country then
Let me also tell you about the danger of not having a poetic project
Your dress invokes my longing for reality
I have a standard response for good looks
And the feeling that I will be punished for it
And that I will have to head back home to jerk off under pressure
The hit man is hungry
He needs encouraging text messages
Let us hear Hamlet moan because of his sore nipples
I have to stay here and ask for a better menu next war
There are people in the pub slowly eating their way into life
Thank You for the Window Office is a long poem, or a suite of connected and untitled poems, that explore the inside from the out, they are poems about navigating American popular culture, both believing in it and mocking it. As much as Maged Zaher is a participant he is always, even while participating in it, the outsider to the dominant culture.
Gravity arrived in a cab
Meanwhile three different treasure hunts were going on downtown
Please forgive our group their racial composition, Your Honor
The translator is thinking of the bodies of strangers
In my memory I located the texture of the theatre seat
You were sitting next to me
In my memory there is also a short order cook taking a nap,
A Marxist scholar studying utopia,
And a hostess who is tired
Outside of my memory there is a mortgage broker
And three environmental activists having breakfast
You look at your phone as if it matters
And scream three times before you inform them of your loneliness
You tell me: "Five more minutes to reach intimacy"
My mind is full of sexual images
Of many young academics arriving at the conference
With their hostile lovers
I ate my leftovers yesterday
Today I am planning
To start a new poem
And what a gaze. Although these short poems are not strict narratives they are compelling stories with dramatic insight and a hilariously hostile sense of humour. There are frequent moments of startling clarity where Zaher says that exact thing, that precise observation that reveals truth.
A comfortable chair for the poem
I am not worried—but then, I need more wisdom
Can you instead get me a heated croissant?
Revolutions need people with good hair
Lenin, Subcommandante Marcos, Chavez...
Ok—so reality is a little confusing
Justice will remain a simple data point
Language is always good to express the middle class
Money and roses for everyone else
These very spiffy poems articulately open a window onto a view of America that will be new for many, but Zaher is not only an Outsider — he is on the inside looking out at the same time. Thank You for the Window Office will open a few windows for readers who are new to the very talented Maged Zaher.
Maged Zaher's previously published books include Portrait of the Poet as an Engineer, and The Revolution Happened and You Didn't Call Me.
Maged Zaher reading poetry for the Subtext Annivery Reading 6.6.2007: