A Man’s Chest

Still from the work "Picture of an Arab Man"  by Tamara Abdul Hadi

Still from the work “Picture of an Arab Man” by Tamara Abdul Hadi

A Man’s Chest

How come no one ever writes about a man’s chest,
that forested mountain and how we love
its bluffs and jagged edges
and the crags in it
where a woman can hide
and forget the city
and be safe
from every fanged and clawed creature?

How come no one ever writes about a man’s belly
that smooth river and how limpid
are its waters running low,
where a woman can wade
barefoot like a Gypsy?

How come no one ever writes about a man’s waist,
that belt looping
through a woman’s fingers
and catching her in its buckle?

How come no one ever writes about a man’s hips
and how the arms of a woman
can girdle and circle them
like a seamstress hemming
a gorgeous dress?

How come no one ever writes about a man’s thighs,
those immense cliffs and how we strain
and shudder every muscle to climb
their rocky sides, foothold after foothold,
up to the dizzying heights

between his collarbone promontories,
where, finally, the earth opens up its mist
and there is a fine place,
far from the city below
and every fanged creature

where a woman can hide
in a man’s chest



(Photo by Russell Cothran, courtesy of University of Arkansas Public Relations Office.)

(Photo by Russell Cothran, courtesy of University of Arkansas Public Relations Office.)

Mohja Kahf  is a Syrian-American poet and novelist.  Her first collection of poetry, E-mails from Scheherazad, evokes the mixture of pride and shame involved in being an “other,” with characters balancing on the line between assimilating and maintaining the habits of a good Muslim.  In addition to contemporary Muslim women, Mohja’s poetry also explores figures from Islamic history including Hagar, the wife of the prophet Abraham, Khadija and Aisha, wives of the Prophet Muhammad, and Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad.  According to The New York Times, her writing on contemporary subjects “draws sharp, funny, earthy portraits of the fault line separating Muslim women from their Western counterparts.” Of the intersection of Islam and art, Mohja says: “One of the primary messages of the Qur’an is that people should recognize the beautiful and do what is beautiful. This is not simply a moral beauty but a visual and auditory beauty as well. Conduct should be beautiful, writing should be beautiful and speaking should be beautiful.”

7 Comments on “A Man’s Chest”

  1. I have written about a man’s chest in my book ” Career Presentation” which is currently being published. I think a man’s chest is his center of power and masculine strength, it’s like a spider’s web.

    It’s better understood if I phrase a metaphor thus: A strong man should not be proud of his chest because the life of the present world is like spider’s web, power will soon go away like the blowing of the wind when the web is torn and and disappears in water as rainfall comes down from above. Lesson to learn: Remember that death will meet a strong man with a chest as the spider’s web in the life of the present world.

  2. Jennie Saia says:

    Gorgeous. I absolutely love this poem.

  3. Lutfi says:

    In the West’s recent efforts to break away from Patriarchy via the Feminist movement, most modern women for the most part have forgotten the comforts and joys the feminine experiences in being with the masculine. Feminists see absolutely nothing virtuous in masculinity except taking out the trash and heavy lifting. Kathleen Parker discusses this in her book Save the Males: Why Men Matter Why Women Should Care.
    So the modern male has been stripped of his masculinity and he doesn’t usually even realize it and the modern female has been stripped of her femininity too. That gracefulness of femininity is also almost lost.

    • shieldvulf says:

      With respect, Lufti, I don’t recognize the world you describe. I’m a man, a feminist man, happiest with a woman who celebrates her strengths and feels no need to defer to me or anyone else. Engaging with her strength makes me stronger and vice versa, or so she tells me.

      Either of us might take out the trash, though it’s true I do the heaviest lifting. I also do a lot of the cooking and gardening, while she does most of the auto and appliance repair – and pays the bills. Yet I am certainly the “masculine” energy in her life, as she is the feminine energy in mine. We may not represent these energies in some hidebound and ceremonial way, but they are vivid in us and between us.

      Feminism doesn’t forbid us anything the way patriarchy does. It only obliges us to talk, to address our disagreements in ways that enable us to go forward, to make ourselves and each other happy, and to engage with the world around us. Patriarchy would put a whip in my hand and a gag in her mouth, the denial of both the masculine and the feminine, if you ask me.

      Oh, and it’s a lovely poem, ds. Reminds me of the way Naruda painted passion and the body with metaphors of landscape – though yours is certainly no imitation.

  4. Love it!
    I do feel that masculine beauty is often overlooked, despite its own exquisite uniqueness. Men themselves are pretty much desensitized or forced to ignore their own breathtaking layered beauty, which is a mixture of raw physical power and a deep spiritual allure.

  5. Ghaddoo says:

    How beautiful and felicitous