Shoulder

This city is too big when I can’t place you on its map
you’re everywhere but here
how hard it is to cross paths with someone accidentally
how simple it is when it is planned
how true it is that we make our own way in this world
and I would make mine towards you, if only I knew how

I have my camera with me today
I normally tell you when I have my camera with me
but not this time
regardless, though, your chin will be resting gently on my shoulder
as always
and always.

A Small Reminder

I fear you are forgetting me
and so I write this small reminder
that I am still sat in that garden
which is no longer riddled with petals
but could still somehow be kinder.

I watch the sprouts we planted
they’re peeking through the soil
their small green heads are hesitant
they remember February’s toil

They know that once they come up
they will face the sun’s sustaining light
they will feel its warmth encompassing
its touch, its prospect, its bright

So, yes, the sprouts are wary
for they know of the sun’s rays
and how although they come out reaching
they always recede at the end of the day

And so they quiver in ground, a meadow of disheartened seedlings
for its painful to grow accustomed to something
that is so often prone to leaving.

The Awkwardness of Luxury in a Region of Tragedy

My family and I have just gotten back from a few days in a resort in the sea-side city of Aqaba in Jordan. We swam, we sat on the beach, we ate good food, we slept on clean, white sheets. It was lovely. it was luxury – and it was a little awkward.

To be able to travel even outside of one’s own city is a blessing, but being able to do so with peace of mind and security is just an added layer of fortune. Often, when I travel to these somewhat luxurious places, where staff tend to me while all I have to do is sit and enjoy myself, I feel a sense of underlying discomfort. I start to think…why is it I get to be here, on this beach, complaining about the speed of the hotel breakfast service, while others in Yemen eat paste made of grass just to survive? Why do I get to leave home and go back whenever I please, while Palestinians have been clutching their house keys for decades, waiting to return?

I won’t lie to you and say that these thoughts stop me from enjoying myself. I indulge in the luxury when I’m in it. Of course I do. But I try to keep in mind just how fortunate I really am. On this particular trip, I tried to maintain a healthy level of discomfort by watching a four-part documentary about the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. It was one of the first times I’d ever watched anything about the conflict happening in my region. This fact alone is pretty concerning. I’ve watched a bunch of documentaries before, but only ever about Western history. It made me realize how deeply I’ve internalized the idea that Western history is the only history, and how out of touch I really am.

As was intended, the documentary made me very uncomfortable – probably the most uncomfortable a documentary has ever made me feel, perhaps because I was learning about the tragedy endured in my own bloodline. Watching it only highlighted how strange and awkward it felt to see these establishments of luxury erected in the center of our war-torn region. I sat on the beach of the Red Sea and to my right could see Israel shimmering in the distance, beautiful and terrifying. It looked so real…like it had been there all along.

To sit and simply stare at it can make one feel pretty helpless, not to mention passive and useless. There is little the average person can do to change the circumstances of war, but we can at least educate ourselves, so that if we do indulge in these perhaps ill-timed luxuries, if we do lounge on a beach and happen to stare our ancestors’ oppressors in the face, we can at least see what stands before us with a little more insight.

See you soon.

Before Sleep

Here is your bed
which smells of you
you wouldn’t know it
but the people who love you do

Here is the curve your body made over time
here are two rows of lashes
meeting in a single dark line

Here is the quiet
the hush
the hum
here are all the thoughts you try to run from

Here passes the face of the person you miss
here comes the sudden phantom of that kiss

Here is the wondering what it means to be you
the answer changes nightly
but every answer is true

And here comes the stillness
may in it peace you find
look, there goes your soul – upwards
and your heart 
mingling with your mind.

A Brief Description of My Quarantine Body

(written on april 30th, 2020)

It’s the same as my normal body – it is my normal body – just thicker. When I lay down, I can reach my hand up my shirt and grab at the skin below my ribs, and it packs between my fingers soft and pillowy and thicker than I remember it  being in a long time. I’ve picked at the stars on my thighs; they’re red now, inflamed and bursting. There are jungles growing, with new species emerging, making sounds like obscenity in the most holy of hours. I’ve cut crescents off my finger tips; one got caught in the sky and now it’s Ramadan. My curls are slept on and silly, like little me in a rectangular picture, smiling carelessly with small, new teeth.

New Star

I miss the sounds of engines
tearing through the night;
do you remember when you went 100
on that dark road beside our secret
and I gripped the seat and laughed?

The silence isn’t so bad
sounds reach me from every corner of the hills
dogs barking and insects chirping and children screaming;
spring is still spring, even now

The sirens don’t disturb me much anymore;
I forget about them until they seep in through the screen windows
and I stop at the kitchen sink with a suddy plate in my hands and think,
“Oh,
that’s right.”

Mama found a new star in the sky
she sees it when she’s on the balcony smoking
at first, she thought it was a plane
and watched it and waited for it to move but it didn’t;
she tells me to take a photo of it
I say my camera doesn’t go that far

I don’t know when I’ll see you again
I think about it sometimes — often
the weight of my body hitting into yours
and the way you’ll stumble backwards when you catch me;
if that star is still in the sky when we meet, I’ll point it out to you
and maybe
if we both reach together
we’ll be able to grasp it.

Quarantine Stream of Consciousness (2)

It’s apparently day 5. It feels nice to know — I  had already lost count. There’s music playing right now so I may not be able to formulate proper sentences. I keep having bouts of feeling really low. It might be because I can’t leave the house and distract myself, and it might be because even when this ends I still won’t be able to go see him. I was reading some of Sylvia’s journals, and it broke me to see that she did not want to die. I don’t think anyone does, even if they do end up taking their own life. It feels like a necessity to them, nothing more. I’m trying to surround myself with the thoughts and writings of strong women, I don’t want this to break me, though when I think about it I feel as though I’m going to drop down and die. I am not talking about what you think I’m talking about. I would rewind. I would go through those days again. At least the outings. I wish I had done more in them. But I don’t think I would have been able to act any differently even if I was aware. I still don’t know what’s going to happen. I know what must happen, but I don’t know what will. Both outcomes are up to me. I think I may choose wrong again. I don’t think I would be able to forgive myself for choosing right.

Quarantine Thoughts (in an unedited, stream-of-consciousness, numerical list)

The world is being asked to stay indoors. It’s something I do often, but certainly not this much. Being at home when the world outside your door seems to be catching fire, you being to think, and become more aware of your thoughts. Here are some thoughts I had today.

  1. This virus is making me nervous without me realizing. It comes out in a temper I haven’t felt in a while.
  2. I miss him.
  3. The garden of my home is enchanting in the rain. Pure magic.
  4. I can’t keep eating.
  5. Getting paid for writing actually sometimes makes you want to write more. Sometimes it doesn’t.
  6. I’d write for free, I always have.
  7. There’s that longing again. I miss even his nose.
  8. I am very aware of my hands and the things they hold.
  9. Don’t stay on your bed for too long.
  10. My mother is everything.
  11. I hope my dad is okay.
  12. It should have been me.
  13. When will he do it, when will he do it?
  14. No, I can’t sleep this early anymore. Midnight is early for me now.
  15. Who knows when it’ll happen?
  16. I’ll keep praying, in the mean time.
  17. Germs on the carpet.
  18. Pray anyway. Pray.

A Wind that Won’t Stop Blowing

Since February 8th
I have felt as if I were sitting on my knees in a garden in which all the flowers have been ripped out;
there is nothing around me but overturned soil and leftover petals
and a sweet perfume
that every moment gets swept away more completely
by a wind that won’t stop blowing.

Desert (A Short Story)

In the biggest desert in the world, there was a candle; cream-colored, forever lit, and unmelting. It stood on a copper plate that was placed in between two, red sand dunes. Every night, Jawaad watched the flame through the flaps of their tent, that small bead of light reflecting in his bleary eyes. It was only by watching the steady burn of the candle that he could get to sleep. One night, he and Aminah – his little sister – had bickered before bed, and as punishment their mother had them turn away from each other on the narrow, embroidered mattress which they shared. Jawaad had no choice but to give his back to the candle, and as a result did not sleep soundly all night. In fact, he kept discreetly peering over his shoulder to make sure it had not been snuffed out, as if his constant watch was what had kept it burning all this time.

His grandfather, who always slept with his eyes open on a mattress at the mouth of the tent, noticed Jawaad’s unrest. “It won’t go out, ibni,” he said, voice strong like timber. “It does not go out.”

Jawaad, who was startled that his grandfather was awake (and slightly afraid that he would tell his mother he had been looking over his shoulder) asked for the very first time, “Why not?”

Jawaad waited a few moments for his grandfather to reply, but the old man simply stared off, unblinking, and began to snore.

Although his grandfather was right and the candle was still lit when Jawaad woke the next morning, he was struggling to believe that the flame could never be extinguished. All fire went out – it was what fire did – and so Jawaad’s fear never truly subsided. He gazed into the candle all through the night, and checked on it periodically throughout the day. Its presence gave him peace of mind; it allowed him to enjoy his meals, to focus on games, to laugh – it allowed him, essentially, to be a child, secure and unbothered.

That security shattered the day of the storm. Clouds accumulated above their tent all morning, dark and looming. Jawaad was so overcome with worry that he could not eat or play or even talk. He wrung his hands like laundry and hovered so close to his mother that he could smell the oud in her perfume. No one noticed his uneasiness. His mother cooked and washed. His grandfather sat confidently in his throne at the mouth of the tent, watching the landscape and feeding prayer beads through his calloused fingers. Aminah, having given up on trying to convince her brother to entertain her, played silently with her invisible friends. And all the while, a single, irrefutable fact repeated ceaselessly in Jawaad’s head: it will not survive the rain.

Thunder erupted throughout the swooping dunes, shaking the first raindrops from the clouds. They fell silently at first, leaving dark spots on the sand, but as the rain grew harder and louder, Jawaad’s panic climbed higher. It occurred to him suddenly that he would not be able to bear life without the candle, and was certain that the sight of the smoking wick would kill him. Feeling close to death, he began to sob and hugged his mother hard. She held him, both confused and concerned, and whispered God’s names into his hair.

“Jawaad,” it was his grandfather’s voice, “Jawaad, leave your mother.” Jawaad felt his grandfather’s seismic hands pry him away from the warmth of his mother’s breast and drag him outside the tent. “Ibni, open your eyes,” he said, firmly. Jawaad sobbed and pleaded, eyes shut tight. His grandfather shook him violently, “Open your eyes!”

The fear invoked by his grandfather’s voice forced Jawaad to obey. What he saw before him made his breath catch in his throat, for reflected in his big, wet eyes was the warm light of the still burning candle.

Tearful, Jawaad looked up at his grandfather, “But how?

His grandfather released him and crouched down to meet his gaze. With every syllable, he prodded the place on Jawaad’s chest where his heart lay, “It. Does. Not. Go. Out.” And then, pushing off his great knees, he stood and strode back through the flaps of the tent.

Jawaad sat there on the ground for a long while, massaging his chest. Thunder and lightning crashed above his head, rain soaked him through, the sand turned to mud beneath him, until at last, with a final glance over his shoulder, he stood and walked back to the tent, leaving the candle standing in its copper plate: cream-colored, forever lit, and unmelting.