These poems were originally published at The Rumpus on September 19, 2019.
That summer, Amman was a broken
railing I tried to lean on
& the Athan was like a song
I tried & tried to love. I was
little & terrified
of God, my lust hanging
from the roots of my hair —
what did I know of hunger
which moved at the speed
of fingers exploring a body
I wanted to be mine. I remember
tapping her feet during iftar,
say al-Hamdillah, say I am thankful
for this sunlight, this sorrow,
this summer which is endless
& tastes like a heat. After iftar,
I would hold her hand, let her guide
me to the women’s mosque
where dirt lined
the soles of their feet,
their hands clutching prayer beads,
eyes with us & not. I longed
for that softness & surrender
which I mistook for faith.
Oh Allah, I never found you
in those spaces. Oh Allah,
it’s true: I became selfish, years later.
It’s true I wanted to fuck
her — drank to drink
& get drunk until I was brave
& no longer a girl
wiping my teeth
with pages of the Quran.
When morning came, one of us
spent hours washing
her hands in an ocean of bleach,
the other stumbled into a mosque
for the first time in years
& howled at Allah for creating
appetites & tongues, for lungs
that inhale so much of this world.
I ONCE LOOKED IN A MIRROR BUT COULDN’T SEE MY BODY
(Ekphrastic poem, after ‘The Persistence of Memory’ by Salvador Dali)
after Mahmoud Darwish
It didn’t feel much different
through this country, citizen
less & carrying
a history. Somewhere
is my body
alone & watching
in the middle of the night
drawing & redrawing
a map of Palestine, green
& it hurts
& it hurts
& it hurts
& it hurts
What is Palestine if not the olive tree growing on my father’s tongue
What is Palestine if not the olive tree growing
What is Palestine if not the olive
What is Palestine
Somewhere is a clock.
I’m not sorry for telling everyone you weren’t real
in kindergarten after you didn’t choose me
for a gift. Yes, the class cried. Yes, I am often spiteful,
but my parents taught me not to believe
your lies. Dear Santa, I was six years old and confused.
Why couldn’t we celebrate Eid al-Fitr in public
school? I wanted to believe you, but I never saw you
crawl down our chimney, and I was skeptical
of your love for Muslims — of this country’s love
for Muslims. And what about the sound
of my grandmother’s voice chanting Allahu Akbar
seconds before kneeling into a prayer rug,
or the sounds of those men shouting Allahu Akbar
minutes before those planes
hit the twin towers with such rage? Remember the gun
my uncle placed in my father’s hand months later
for protection, his index finger cradling
a trigger because they don’t want us here.
Dear Santa, who are they?
Years later, during Ramadan, my parents would send me
to school without breakfast, hunger a home
in my stomach — except, I never fasted, the only Muslim
in school, how could I explain to my teachers
and classmates when shame followed me to lunchtime
like a hungry puppy wanting to be fed?
Dear Santa, I was exceptionally good at lying
so I ate their square pizza and wiped chocolate milk
off my lips before coming home. Dear Santa,
why doesn’t this country love the way my mother wraps
her favorite scarf around her head before parent-teacher
conferences, or the way my father mispronounces the letters
p and b? My siblings learning English
by watching Full House, my brothers saying
don’t be so Americanized, my grandmother memorizing
all 100 questions of her civic test, becoming American.
Santa, what does it mean to be American? To like
eggnog, to put up a Christmas tree, string lights
around my body and dance to a national anthem
that’s never seen me.
All My Plants Are Dead
I stopped trying
to feed anything but myself.
I woke up yesterday and couldn’t see
a road, then I woke up the next day
and someone gave me a book
about male entitlement
that I drowned in orange juice
before setting fire to my desk.
I am trying to be more even tempered.
I am trying to eat my Craisins in peace.
Sometimes I think I would like
to have the memory of a dog,
it would make me more forgiving.
Someone tells me to imagine
my troubles as leaves floating
away in a river, so I ask them why
men have giant mouths
and there I go again fucking
things up with my politics.
Yesterday a white guy tried
telling me what it’s like to be a woman
of color so I placed my hands
in his mouth and ripped out his vocal cords.
I am not a political person.
Let’s talk about the moon.
It’s so pretty tonight.
No. Fuck that. I am the moon.
Photograph of Noor Hindi by Noor Hindi.