Leila Chatti writes intensely physical poems about faith, illness, and sex

The poetic vision of Deluge reconciles Muslim and Christian themes.

Leila Chatti, a Tunisian-American poet whose father was Muslim and mother Catholic, has written an astounding book of poems. Bold and provocative, Deluge presents intensely physical poems about faith, illness, and sex.

The title refers to the relentless deluge of blood Chatti experienced over two years from uterine tumors. This bleeding connects her intimately with the woman who touched Christ’s robe and was healed of her hemorrhage. But that comparison appears only once in the book. Instead, Mary, the only woman mentioned in the Qur’an, is the brooding presence behind all of the poems. She is the touchstone and God the ever present listener.

“Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.” These words attributed to Mary in the Qur’an form the epigraph for the first poem, which roots Chatti’s experience of pain and suffering in “this fiercer Mary who’d disappear / if it saved her, who’d howl to Hell / with salvation if it meant this pain . . . .” The poet is comforted by Mary’s humanity: