Aria Aber, Poetry


Whiting Awards 2020

Aria Aber. Photo: Nadine Aber.

Aria Aber was raised in Germany. Her debut book Hard Damage (University of Nebraska, 2019) won the 2018 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Her poems are forthcoming or have appeared in The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, The Yale Review, The New Republic, and elsewhere. She was the 2018–2019 Ron Wallace Fellow at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.


“Afghan Funeral in Paris”

The aunts here clink Malbec glasses
and parade their grief with musky, expensive scents
that whisper in elevators and hallways.
Each natural passing articulates
the unnatural: every aunt has a son
who fell, or a daughter who hid in rubble
for two years, until that knock of officers
holding a bin bag filled with a dress
and bones. But what do I know?
I get pedicures and eat madeleines
while reading Swann’s Way. When I tell
one aunt I’d like to go back,
she screams It is not yours to want.
Have some cream cheese with that, says another.
Oh, what wonder to be alive and see
my father’s footprints in his sister’s garden.
He’s furiously scissoring the hyacinths,
saying All the time when the tele-researcher asks him
How often do you think your life
is a mistake? During the procession, the aunts’ wails
vibrate: wires full of crows in heavy wind.
I hate every plumed minute of it. God invented
everything out of nothing, but the nothing
shines through, said Paul Valéry. Paris never charmed me,
but when some stranger asks
if it stinks in Afghanistan, I am so shocked
that I hug him. And he lets me,
his ankles briefly brushing against mine.


“Operation Cyclone, Years Later”

For all I know, God could be,
after all, favoring a mountain
boy brown with dust, his brow
calloused from the memory of men
he’s stoned to death, pissed
on the corpse of. He is a student.
He has seen, so has been
ruined; each eyeball astonished
with what has shot through
its pupil: a body will morph, in fall,
into its surrounding—even dam. Even
stone. We are what we are taught,
yes, but also what we
hope for. I hope for more than a war
that whittles us to chameleons
or refrigerated paper tags
hanging from ankles. It is so certain,
where we’ll end, yet arbitrary
are the words determining the trajectory
of our journeys; a name, too, is a gene
and may flourish or impugn
the chromosome. Students hope
to be cradled by mothers—hope for lunch,
an hour to play ball. Students
rock back and forth, warmed by the water
of prophecy. A lie, if repeated
ad nauseam, eventually becomes
a prayer. And a cyclone is not a cyclops
although it too has an eye—
it can see. But would it testify?
If the myths are right, the student gathers,
then science is right, and the god particle
isn’t, in the end, meant to be
kind to us. Still, the student imagines God
as moving, colorful shapes. He hums
before pulling the firing pin,
singing I am a student,
I am a student, I am a student
of God, and he is right, for that
he is, and the rotten field we have scythed
of this country is his school.