Your cousin Bruhim, he was a shepherd,
you remember he always had a ney in his pocket?
Okay, but I want to tell you something else about the ney—
on spring nights, on summer nights,
we could hear music float down from the hills.
They say the sound of the ney is very relaxing to the sheep.
For the happiness dance, sometimes there was the big drum,
the one shaped like a kettle and played with sticks.
You know something, it’s at the tip of my tongue,
and I actually forget what we used to call that drum.
Isn’t that strange?
I never forgot anything in my language before.
Well, in my time when the men gathered for a funeral,
together they would sing sad songs.
To lose a young man . . . that was the saddest funeral.
If anyone spoke the dead one’s name,
the men would shoot guns into the air.
Of course they did this outside the house.
There was always a bowl of olives, a bowl of za’atar and oil,
bitter greens, bitter coffee, things like that.
The women wore black, all black.
For forty days they wore those black dresses.
Sometimes they wore them forever.
Oh, I can’t even talk about it now.
[from Chestnut Ridge, a verse-history-in-progress of western Pennsylvania]