by Danusha Laméris
I don’t know when it slipped into my speech
that soft word meaning, “if God wills it.”
Insha’Allah I will see you next summer.
The baby will come in spring, insha’Allah.
Insha’Allah this year we will have enough rain.
So many plans I’ve laid have unraveled
easily as braids beneath my mother’s quick fingers.
Every language must have a word for this. A word
our grandmothers uttered under their breath
as they pinned the whites, soaked in lemon,
hung them to dry in the sun, or peeled potatoes,
dropping the discarded skins into a bowl.
Our sons will return next month, insha’Allah.
Insha’Allah this war will end, soon. Insha’Allah
the rice will be enough to last through winter.
How lightly we learn to hold hope,
as if it were an animal that could turn around
and bite your hand. And still we carry it
the way a mother would, carefully,
from one day to the next.
There are so many ways, often subtle, in which we stand before the threshold of the future both in awe and honor. Danusha Laméris describes this threshold from a Muslim perspective. I grew up hearing the Christian version: . . . Lord willing. See you next week, Lord willing. I think we’ll have a good crop this year, Lord willing. Our choir is really making progress on this cantata, Lord willing. Daddy’s doing better we think, Lord willing.
Our languages embed this awe and honor before the threshold of the future as well. Grammatically, it’s called the subjunctive mood, and most languages have such structures for such thresholds. If I were going to approach that subject, I would . . . How I wish I were . . . If you should do this, you would know that . . . In the Latin language, for centuries, there was no future tense at all because the Latins (later Romans) did not think of the future as something about which they could speak with certainty. They only spoke of it as possibilities that they wished . . . might . . . would . . . should . . . happen.
How lightly we learn to hold hope, as if it were an animal that might turn and bite us, and yet we hold it as tenderly as a mother would a new born baby. These last lines of the poem tell me that I can step over the threshold into the future knowing that it is uncertain, but that if I tend it carefully, with all the love and attention I can muster, it will be. My future will be, and I will be deeply, passionately, compassionately, and personally connected to it.