“Elegy: #LeilaAlaoui” by Maureen Doallas

Maureen Doallas


You ask one favor
of them all: only that

they stand and face you.



Shapeless in her mass
of wrinkled robes, her head

wrapped to betray no more
than where expanding oval

and high cheeks meet,
she rests right hand

atop left, silver-ringed,
visible enough.

We cannot make out
the last time she stood

as if about to speak, wanting
to warn you but holding

back. In the little village
amid the biggest desert dunes,

your soul, too, dances once
to Gnawa’s music.



The bride, hearts spotting
her gown white as blinding light,

knows the one direction
to look. Her face dressed in red

silk banded in gold, her necklace
a ring of orbs the size of tangerines,

she shakes her silver bangles,
silencing the camels from Merzouga.

Later is time for home-made bread
and cous-cous, when left hand stills

the right’s fear of ever being
the woman you are, going first.



In Essaouira, she wears a scrap
of black, a scrim to shield

the face she makes a fortress
against the swell of manhood,

seagulls screaming as smells
of fish guts mix, go strange

with spices. Her haik, voluminous
as the wind that blows too hard,

breaking sand from sea, deflects
sun-seekers’ attention south.

You focus on kohled eyes, lakes
of a depth we cannot fathom.

Her gaze held, you shoot
the single moment lips part,

she smiles.



You trek the Atlas mountains,
the Rifs, buy water at the souk

in Boumia, collect the colors
from a square in Marrakech.

The snake-charmer, turbaned
drummer, dreds-headed

sintir player plucking goat
strings in Khamlia: they lull

you while another, older man
claps his iron castanets, two

to a hand. There, in Morocco,
they stand; each one stands

to face you.



You next cross borders
on assignment. Ougadougou,

too, has stories you want
to tell—about the bodies behind

the veils, about the lives outside
our widest margins. The voices

within and outside the Splendid
are not what we’ll hear

in your final video.
You get no chance to ask

a favor your last night

in landlocked Burkina Faso.
All stand; they aim and fire.

How could you know?

Poets Respond
January 24, 2016


Maureen Doallas: “This elegy is inspired by a selection of images from ‘The Moroccans’ that appeared in The Guardian in honor of the French-Moroccan photographer Leila Alaoui, murdered this past week in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, while sitting with her driver in their car outside the Splendid hotel. Alaoui, an extraordinary photographer, was 33 years old. Twenty-eight others also lost their lives to the terrorists. I look at Alaoui’s images, trying to imagine what she saw. I have no hint of the voices of her subjects, few of whom offer even the slightest smile. The eyes carry the stories. Those Alaoui photographed gave her what she asked, which was always to face her.” (website)

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