Saturday afternoon I was lucky to be the guest poet on a podcast of The Joe Milford Poetry Show. I am honored to be listed in the show archive with poets I admire: Forrest Gander, CD Wright, Tony Hoagland, Robert Pinsky, Mark Strand, Jo McDougall, Franz Wright and others.

Joe has an easy-going manner that makes it feel like the two of us were having a cup of something at a southern coffeehouse with comfortable chairs. Actually, I was in my office in California and he was in Georgia. The podcast is available to download, but since it is long –– an hour and a half –– I’ll share some highlights here.

I mentioned that I had spent the last year speaking about the wives of Prophet Muhammad and the misconceptions about Islam held by many Americans. Now I had a chance to read from the 70 poems in my book, Untold, and talk about poetry.

I spoke of the “prosimetrum,” a mysterious word very few people know. This word was a gift from Fred Chappell, when I needed a format for my book: a narrative with lyric poems dropped into the prose. Joe mentioned the Japanese version. I brought up author, Boethius.

I was glad to mention that the hadith (incidents and anecdotes of Arabic history about Prophet Muhammad and his companions) is full of what poets call “prompts,” vivid keys that open the container which holds back the flow of words in many of us. I started this part with a poem I’ve never read publicly. The prompt is: “I have no urge for husbands, but I want Allah to raise me up as your wife on the Day of Rising.” These are the words of Sawda. Here’s the poem:

up until the Day Of Rising

Sawda dreamed Muhammad

stepped on her neck; his instep

soft, the pressure firm

and it meant yes, this seal, this stamp

of God’s Prophet. They say

that his grief that year ran deep

his need, a woman who could

keep his house and school his girls —

the widow Sawda?

Oh Lord, she thought, am I to marry such as he!

Dawn does not come twice

to wake any woman

but once she woke, Sawda came

to rule his hearth,

the big, unmigratory wife

with the sloshy walk. She left a wake.

Her footprints pressed down

deep into the soil when she walked out.

She’d puff her cheeks with effort,

find a doorframe she could lean on.

Her nights-with-Muhammad

lessened, moved to storage,

and were abandoned to ‘A’isha

as she lagged behind.

The word divorce swam                                  

in her brain; she feared

a life apart from him.

As for her faith, she held it,

made ablution from a pail,

drew her wet hands over her hair,

but bowing down? Well then,

her knees might fail her

or a nosebleed start. She trembled,

sucked on dates and rolled her eyes:

I have no urge for husbands, but I want Allah

to raise me up as your wife on the Day of Rising.

Muhammad laughed. He saw

she was on her laborious way up,

and who would wish to stop her?        <>     <>     <>

I spoke of my good friend, poet Wendy Taylor Carlisle, who read every word of my book and offered many suggestions – which made the writing much better. I read a poem she is fond of – owner’s manual: the howdah: <>.

I think Joe and I did an good poetry show, especially under the circumstances. He admitted to a sore throat and a migraine, and I had just left my husband recovering from surgery, at a hospital in San Francisco. Thankfully he is home now and healing well. My thanks to Joe for making this happen.  Here’s the link : <;