One of the pleasures of my Dubai life has been meeting the good folk from Ludwig salon. They invited me, randomly, through the riveting power of cyber searches, to be the guest speaker at their second salon event in Dubai. A small select group of good people were to meet, eat (whatever cheese was left over from my gluttony) and watch a trailer of my film, listen to some of my poems, and be introduced to my world of socialist PLO poetic filmic curl haired rants.
I was very impressed with Marc and Agri. I was even more impressed when Agri showed up to a party of mine with a wax-sealed non-sext pest certificate on red paper, to prove that he and his buddy had passed the various tests that feminists may throw at them. The party invite had jokingly mentioned that no sex pests were allowed into our glittery home. The certificate now proudly hangs over my desk, and makes me grin. Most things about Agri make me smile. His wit, his self deprecating yet incredibly arrogant sense of humor, his big words, his glitter tops, and most of all, his total support for the Poeticians, and the fact that he can insert kittens into any email, whatsoever. I asked him once if he ever wrote…thinking to myself, no one, but NO ONE can speak like that, facebook like that, and NOT be a good writer. Lo and bloody behold, the man was a star behind the screen. He performed this long piece at his first Poeticians event and the audience loved it. I did too. Thank you Agri, for the smiles you bring into our world, for the Poeticians love, and for future collaborations waiting to happen. I am looking forward to the next Ludwig salon, where we can be even MORE pretentious than the last one.
She Insisted All Reckoning be Done by Hand
by Agri Ismaïl
The first time I did it, I hurt myself. I bent down, and had to unplug the wire from the fax machine and stick it into the grey box. The modular connector’s tongue clucked into place.
Then there was the dial tone. Waiting for the world to pick up. Then the electronic blizzard. Sharp Short clicks. Configuration for protocol synchronisation. Welcome to CompuServe.
This is how we were born.
Then we embraced a nightmare of noise, we chose our avatars and they were never something simple. It was never First Name At Aol Dot Com. It was always Incredibly Obscure Reference and Birth Year at Hotmail. Or Unflattering Late 90s Nickname at CompuServe. So when the inevitable happened and our hypocrite_no1s (actual e-mail address) became embarrassing to who we had become we had to fold our real selves – which probably still existed at this point – into our former shunned selves. It hurt but it fit.
So, fittingly, we began worrying about anonymity the very moment we chose to no longer be anonymous. We became a reflection of our tools.
After all, Kittler says, it is we who adapt to the machine. The machine does not adapt to us.
You learnt everything you ever needed to know about sex from women whose names ended in .jpeg. Then came that moment when you looked up from a screen and found the real world lacking the colour, the depth, the realism in your palm. The backbone of this whole infrastructure that were kittens. Always kittens. Ads. Adblockers. Betas. Betablockers. Click Here. Commodities became gold became paper became numbers and the numbers went back and forth at light speed back and forth until the rich had become very rich and as for the poor, well… nothing ever changes for the poor. They smell and stare at our women while they wait for their transport in 50 degree heat and are so useless they can’t stop being so poor. We turned off the lights in GeoCities.
Anne Carson, the poet, claims that at the bottom of the ocean is a layer of water that has never moved.
Poets, as you will remember, were at this time generally more trustworthy than scientists.
Because, to quote Joseph Beuys, only art provides a space of playful activity free of means-ends relationship of capitalism.
Of course Joseph Beuys died before having seen Transformers 3 Dark Of The Moon. So. There’s that.
We constantly ran low on battery power. We never had enough RAM.
The dead pixel on our screen annoyed us far more than the news of the dead people we read about on aforementioned screen. And dead fictional characters were the worst of all. Something really shocking was on Game of Thrones that made people in Turkey start rioting and go full-on bananas.
Let’s call it planetary technosentience. Let’s call it Skynet, but don’t give it your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle. The natural world was already past, the preoccupations of humanity all just a shadow play, the drug that kept us going feeding our synapses, telling us what to do how to do it, all for the reckoning of something that was not cattle or properties or gold or pieces of paper. And after each crash there was blame, cut into various pieces and doled out. Entire countries were said to be broken. Our leaders spoke to us with the vocabulary of disappointed parents or gleeful sadists. We had been bad. We needed to pay for that. We couldn’t act the way we had acted, however that was, without impunity as we whirred dervish-like faster and faster and faster until
But wait, you say, this isn’t a very good story. Where are the characters? Where is the plot?
You are part of the problem, wanting this. It is in fact the infatuation with individualism, the novel bourgeois concept of the Novel, of linear narrative, of capital-R Realism that stopped being realistic a long long time ago. But fine. If that’s what you need to keep listening. You can be the character. We can talk about how you looked as a child, how photographs of yourself confuse you still as you cannot imagine that ever having been you, the you that tortured your sister’s Barbie dolls in pre-pubescent psychosexual haze. How as a child your favourite fruit was the pomegranate. Its violent, poetic name. Its myriad rubies nested inside. We can talk about your first premature ejaculation, how it took a while for you to find out that the post-ejaculate disinterest in sex was normal. And then we’ll skip to the time you saw her kiss someone else and you felt like someone had let loose a horde of tiny barbarians amongst your organs who were hacking away while you had to smile and be happy for them (because yes, if we are to humanise you we need some far-fetched over-emotional metaphors). Then you became the sort of person who knew that Diet Coke gives you cancer but regular Coke makes you fat so you drink Diet Coke. You began going to the gym and you hated everyone there who looked glistening and sexy and perfect as they worked out while you sweated and basically looked like you’d been raped by a washing machine. Somehow, you got a girlfriend. A girlfriend who once told you that she would rather have thighs that didn’t touch than world peace. She was like a letter received by fax in 1997 where only a few years later it became impossible to see what you ever saw in her. Then. Remember how it was to be unemployed. Then you found a job and you got a job and the joy of this made you forget that your job consisted of making money for other people and you were grateful that they gave you the honour of making them money. You had not read your Bukowski.
This is enough information to go on, we can extrapolate from here. You are our character and you are hopefully believable.
Oh, I almost forgot: you are also austere. This is a fitting trait of course. Austerity ran in nation-state veins. We double-dipped so that’s why we can’t have nice things. It was the self-induced asceticism perpetrated by sadists who gave up second homes and were appalled that others weren’t willing to give up food. That’s not how China does it, they said.
Everything was China. All the time. China this China that. Every once in a while a list of prohibited words in China escaped, words that, if you were to type them into Google, your computer would just be all like “I have no idea what you mean”. These include:
sex, dictatorship, Tibet, red Ferrari, playboy, multiple parties, whore, corruption, torture, anus, Jesus Christ, scrotum, riot, insurrection, red terror, 89, 69, evil, pigeon, timeshare, penitentiary, bra, and Growth.
Growth. God everyone was fixated with growth. This is fine if space is infinite, which it is in the virtual world, where storage was not a luxury, oh cities how much you had to learn from the hard drive. So. Communication whittled down from interpersonal meetings in the physical world to voices decrypted across telephone wires to words on a screen to 160 letters on a screen to 140 letters on a screen to a poke to a Like to a +1. Remember how entire civilisations feared the 0 and how right they were to do so.
The apocalypse of the dodo is not remembered by the rhinoceros.
To discuss wether capitalism had a heart or invisible hands is basically like wondering what a rape victim was wearing or what the median penis size of dinosaurs was when they became extinct. i.e. Totally and Completely Irrelevant. You remember how you bought overpriced books trying to understand how to make money into more money. You remember the shamanic nature of financial analysts, the oracles with their tiny glasses and beady eyes uttering their self-fulfilling prophecies. Bulls and bears battling it out.
We tried to renegotiate history when there was nothing to renegotiate. We thought we were communicating. We were wrong.
messages, (said Freidrich Kittler one day on his MySpace page,) are essentially commands to to which persons are expected to react.
Acronyms flooded our tickers. The restrictions of obsolete technologies that we build into new machines. More offers were sent to you to give you a larger penis than you would ever know what to do with. Humans became cheaper to use than machines.
We tried to recreate the virtual world in the real world. Commodities should be accessible whenever you want, wherever your shell is. A McChicken is a McChicken in Bangalore, a Whopper is a Whopper in Lahore.
Our flesh became cumbersome, restricting simultaneous presence. We set in motion a dynamic series of estimates. Rauschenberg’s Oracle could be modified but ultimately could not be controlled.
We created this cult of efficiency and now we were superfluous. Not just men with their remnant Y chromosome who had been superfluous for a while, but each and every one of us. The physical world of dirt, of matter, of shame fossilized behind the vibrant living wires, of money-numbers coming, going, from terminal to terminal while we held onto our narratives in the face of a reality we were no longer masters of. You will remember this, your skeleton will remember this. And the systems, the synapses, the circuits will remember us after we are long gone, as these strange impetuous imperious gods that created them and made them act according to our whims and with time their memory will be hazy and the narrative simplified and all of humanity will be remembered as one monolithic contradictory creator with arbitrary rules and morals. All that will remain of us is love, no sorry, that was someone else. All that will remain of us is the data we saved.
Dorian Paul is a lovely writer. A generous man. One of our newest Poeticians. An enthusiastic man who brought rooftop rhythms to Abu Dhabi the past year, and started a spoken word and poetry collective growing there. Much respect and admiration to you sir, from the Dubai and Beirut clan. His deep southern drawl, his sense of humor and powerful choices of topics for his work resonate with me, a lot. Thank you for sharing your work with the Poeticians, both on stage and on the (virtual) page. Welcome to the group! Everyone, enjoy this piece by Paul. Check out his work online as well, he has several clips of the performers at his events.
The Phenomenology of Roundness
by Dorian “Paul D” Rogers
Life is most definitely round.
I stopped chasing my future when I found it in my back pocket after taking my clothes out of the wash the other day. It was hidden in the lint and blue jean matter.
I no longer get teary-eyed when my past pants in my ears like a loose hyena.
I reminisce my grandfather’s laughs in the present tense although his tombstone where he lies lies and says he is long gone.
Time is cyclical, and Westerners are dying earlier from the depressing effects of believing it is linear.
Certain African tribes call it zamani, the “now-ness of time”. I call it the roundness of time because that just sounds cooler.
I will name my first daughter Zamani although my wife will call it “ghetto” and swear that I will be cursing her to a life of unemployment. I will tell her to get “o-ver” it and laugh at my own inside joke.
Our universe is but one sud in a soda can.
Nipples aren’t erogenous zones but baby bulls’ eyes.
When someone calls you zero or rates you as such, take solace in the fact that they compared you to something round.
Nothing squarish is cool except some board games.
Octagons mean to halt. Triangles force you to be cautious. Rectangles sound like accidents and getting caught in snares.
Circles claim the sun, earth, cells, and wombs as their shape-bearers.
Eggs are this shape and so are buttons that fasten and unhinge.
Want to have an equitable meeting?
Set chairs in a circle.
Get around to it.
Want to tell someone you understand? Tell them, “Oh”.
Look in the mirror and say it to see what shape your lips make.
Form your mouth in a round fashion to give the ultimate satisfaction to your man.
Men get slapped by their spouses for getting distracted from roundness.
Ditch the stop lights and take the round-a-bout.
Look around you and all you will see is round.
I am looking forward to the next few pieces that Mohamed might share with us. I also saw a short film by him recently, and can avow to the fact that he can be supremely funny. Just not in this poem. Thank you Mohamed for reading with us last year, we hope you write some more and return.
A view from The Middle East
This all but a glimpse of the feast
Assembled, on crossroads of West and East
A split in succession
fourteen centuries ago
only after Three, concession
behind the present state of embargo
At the onset of the caliphate
Legitimacy of rule
The topic of debate
Fragmentation into sects
Sunni, Shia dialects
Sunnis put Faith in election
Shias in that of divine sanction
But just as soon
Decreed it by assassination
fourteen centuries on
each sect’s predilections
The state representative of each
Practicing against its initial preach
An absolute monarchy
Devoid of meritocracy
While autocratically stern
Aspects of democracy
Steeped in theocracy
While pursuing policies of self-sufficiency
Unfortunately, only militarily
Between them a Gulf
A sectarian divide
They find themselves engulfed.
Though their differences are political
Their similarities, unequivocal
Legislation by clerics
Claiming validation, Islamic
Policies in Contradiction
To that of accepted Islamic Diction
Subversion of half of Society
By professing Women’s inequality
As for the whole
in a plight
at a judge’s discretion
his personal definition
of Human Rights.
follows the same Fate
as that of Expressions in Freedom
A Sentencing Date.
As a result
through its Politicization
from whence God’s and People’s Domain
relegated to Fiction
written by a state’s reign
Preached, without relief
Amongst a People practicing
The same set of Beliefs
From one of the paths of truth
By the ingrained fallacy
of a State of ‘hypo-cracy’
As for Islam’s face
Interpreted to the World’s Populace
shaped by exercises of Power
by governments we empower
through Our Speeches, long since
consisting solely of . . . .
Exemplary of the Strength of Women
A moot point
Driving movements of Non-violence
Standing against orders of compliance
Attempting to ascertain
a life Without Chains.
Despite a History of division
United in their position
despite being short
of tangible support
They hold firm
until their views are confirmed.
The first step is down
by a leader of discredit
whose rule is frowned upon
by People embedded
with ability to envision
an improvement in condition
with Voices and Footsteps
entirely in rhythm.
Since the Declaration of Balfour
Irreconcilability has endured
Exasperated by Wars
An endless Settlement of more
In the land of the Holy
Sovereignty is disputed wholly
Drawn up by Wall
Determined to Fall
Precepts of Separation
Stand against Reconciliation
Actions do purport
For one’s subsidized life
At another’s strife
Without any Occupation
People lead lives of frustration
Without any Farms
They follow a path to arms
Even against one another
Of their brothers
If only there was Hamas
In order to Fatah
Between them the gridlock
For representation as one bloc.
A renunciation of Violence
For Civil Disobedience
Will serve to Silence
The Drum of Military Ordnance
For Excessive Reactions
Juxtaposed by Non-violent Actions
Will strip justifications
For Launching Operations
The People’s Efforts
Refocused from Stones
And their Intrinsic Power
Against the Institutionalized Injustice
Perpetrated by Occupation
For the Voice of Justice
Lies grounded in Truths
Veiled by Oppression
Of a People’s Rights
And from a State of Recognition.
For everlasting Peace
Will remain shattered
Segmented to Pieces
So long as focus remains
On what state religion ordains
After all that’s been said and tried
Maybe the solution, after all, may just lie
In middle ground
In theory of great profound
Still awaiting inception
Since birth in the region
Two millennia ago
As Christ conferred
Love thy neighbour.
A relic of the past
A world outcast
Stalwart of Arab Politics
Practices in Rhetoric
Carrots on Sticks
Emergency Law Institution
Freedom of Expression
Basis of Dissension
Grounds for Detention.
Stifling of Opposition
In favor of the Proposition
The People’s Representation
The Heart of Corruption.
Skewed Income Distribution
The People’s Situation
Unworthy of Contemplation
Distract from Deprivations
With Fears of Impending Invasions
Our Only Salvation
Patriotism in the Nation
Not Love of One’s Country
Lest there be Confusion
Rather Hatred of Another.
For all its Enthusiasm
All it left behind, a Schism
Rooted in Despotism
Political Arab Nationalism.
Never has something so right
Been done so wrong
But to allow that blight
To define for long
Is to forget what lies dormant
In the recesses of mind
On Plains of Fertile Crescent
The human capacity to find
From unrelenting will
A persistent drill
For the sake of extraction
A Cradle’s worth of Civilization.
With aims of thrice
So here we find
In the Middle East
Attempts to bind
From Medieval Beasts
People’s hands and feet
Weapons of Modern Feat
Arresting, Pulse and Beat
For what’s truly on the line
Are Ideas of the Mind
For from the African North
Lately much has been put forth
For the progress of the region
If we carry on believing
That the Rights of Man
Are as crucial as his Hands
In building up this place
And tearing down what stands
In place of Just commonplace.
It was a Man on Fire
That sparked the desire
He left all behind
Sacrificed all to remind
That a government’s laws
Every article and clause
Should be written with the spirit
Of nothing but..
The People’s Benefit.
While rightfully attained
Could just as easily go
If status quo is maintained
Centuries of results
May be a cause of one man
only We would be at fault
We are not to undo wrongs
A fair, impartial Constitution
Empowering Our Institutions
To wrest Power from one
Bestowed upon all, bar none
Led to complicity
Enlighten People and Nation
Led to Stagnation
A regional revampment
To achieve advancement
Based on Commodities
Their shortcomings to be Acknowledged
For a renewed focus and basis in Knowledge
Equitable Income Distribution
To push for the restitution
Of People’s Motivation
In bettering their situations
Invested in Institutions of Universal Health
For a Higher Expectancy
Of a better Life Mortality
Of Our Society
Will only be safeguarded through Equality
Amongst the Gender Varieties
A Plurality of Views
Their Acceptance, Just
If decided through…The People’s Trust.
And when it comes down to it
When we seek to learn from all of it
For the sake of Our Dreams of a Better Future
We should place Our Power in the better aspects of Our Human Nature
In that which no level of repression can extinguish
That which conquers and casts aside any anguish
Which, time and again, has been proven to never languish…
I was awakened today, rather roughly I must admit, by a poem that just bludgeoned its way into my brain. The first line popped up, and the rest followed, with zero effort from my end. I sighed, got out of bed, thought emails and social media would distract me and the poem would vanish, but no. It kept circling. So I wrote it down. It is rather sad, specially on mother’s day. But thats ok. Sad is what I write. Been a beautiful loving day, otherwise. Dubai’s windy streets welcomed me, and a kind brown eyed man made me laugh, and together we created a bit of art. Here is the poem I wrote, fresh out of the oven, as it were, and probably in need of editing.
Today, a poem woke me up.
Dubai, 21st of March, 2013.
Nothing stops when your beloved dies,
not the breath hurtling through your body, even if your
fingers would no longer move.
Not the crescent moon in the silent sky,
smiling its cheesy grin,
poking a silver arrow at your sorrow.
Not even the sun, whom
you think should black out the day, wear a shade of night to
honor departure, a darkness to cradle pensive dreams,
for even rainbow dream-rays of daylight
do not stop.
Not the trees gorging on air,
leaves unfurling in mystery to screech echoes
of life, life, life.
Not even the bark chips, or the flowers wilt, or the birds
shut up to admire your pain.
A small “Ha!” in your face, a defiance remains
to taunt the pumping matter that
carefully folds in on itself, inside your body,
Nothing. Everything natural continues to blossom,
as if to spite the burgeoning hole in your lungs.
Nothing stops when your beloved dies,
not the capitalist money systems, not the sweat on backs of women in the fields,
not the budgets of bankers,
not piercing cries of the oppressed,
nor the songs of dismal angels over seas we yearn to cross.
Not the twinkle in the eyes of strangers, nor
the trains that speed them away.
The arms of your lover continue to be warm, and
old pictures continue to encapsulate
Not the civil war slithering around your father’s old house,
nor the decay of lush plants your mother loved on a balcony,
Nothing stops for a minute to say, I am sorry,
I am so sorry for your loss.
Nothing stops when your beloved dies,
and worst of all,
the very worst of it all,
not even the love.
Simon Armitage is here at the Literature Festival in Dubai. I am honored to be performing alongside him tomorrow at an event.
I have loved many of his pieces in the past few years but recently stumbled across this fantastic poem. It felt like he was speaking to me and the man I used to love.
Funny, how poets know these things, they just know. Love in Dubai.
Now, fear in Dubai, as I plan what to read tomorrow in front of him. Love and loss, and death and despair in Syria perhaps.
Shake the placid Dubai ennui a bit.
To his lost lover
by Simon Armitage
Now they are no longer
any trouble to each other
he can turn things over, get down to that list
of things that never happened, all of the lost
For instance… for instance,
how he never clipped and kept her hair, or drew a hairbrush
through that style of hers, and never knew how not to blush
at the fall of her name in close company.
How they never slept like buried cutlery –
two spoons or forks cupped perfectly together,
or made the most of some heavy weather –
walked out into hard rain under sheet lightning,
or did the gears while the other was driving.
How he never raised his fingertips
to stop the segments of her lips
from breaking the news,
or tasted the fruit
or picked for himself the pear of her heart,
or lifted her hand to where his own heart
was a small, dark, terrified bird
in her grip. Where it hurt.
Or said the right thing,
or put it in writing.
And never fled the black mile back to his house
before midnight, or coaxed another button of her blouse,
or knew her
her taste, her flavour,
and never ran a bath or held a towel for her,
or soft-soaped her, or whipped her hair
into an ice-cream cornet or a beehive
of lather, or acted out of turn, or misbehaved
when he might have, or worked a comb
where no comb had been, or walked back home
through a black mile hugging a punctured heart,
where it hurt, where it hurt, or helped her hand
to his butterfly heart
in its two blue halves.
And never almost cried,
and never once described
an attack of the heart,
or under a silk shirt
nursed in his hand her breast,
her left, like a tear of flesh
wept by the heart,
where it hurts,
or brushed with his thumb the nut of her nipple,
or drank intoxicating liquors from her navel.
Or christened the Pole Star in her name,
or shielded the mask of her face like a flame,
a pilot light,
or stayed the night,
or steered her back to that house of his,
or said “Don’t ask me how it is
I like you.
I just might do.”
How he never figured out a fireproof plan,
or unravelled her hand, as if her hand
were a solid ball
of silver foil
and discovered a lifeline hiding inside it,
and measured the trace of his own alongside it.
But said some things and never meant them –
sweet nothings anybody could have mentioned.
And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,
about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.
Love love love my poet friends.
THE DEBT OF MY FEELINGS
Love is about forgiveness-
So I forgive you for being you, for being
beautiful and wonderful (all over) and laughing
and giving birth to poems; for being a friend
that makes me howl whenever I dream
about your nakedness- which is so often
I no longer have words for love – only tears.
Yes, crying is the river I walk near when I
think of you.
– E. Ethelbert Miller
I wrote this many years ago, and it was published in my first book. I think, from all the long drawn out painfully emotional poems I wrote for Yasmine,
this one encapsulates my questions about her passing on in a simple universal way. Aside from missing the person you loved very much,
those of left behind when this person passes on are always left wondering what would have happened had they stayed. Every week I wonder if my problems would be different,
if choices I made would have been easier, if the concept of home would have existed in any house she lived in, if I would have eaten healthier, and loved more and smoked less and hugged more and danced more and worried less…Yasmine was a very beautiful woman, in many ways. It has been easier to deal with her early departure due to the continuous emails, msgs, phone calls and conversations about her from a long line of people she helped, loved, sheltered and laughed with. We have been blessed to have her with us, even for a short while. Today it has been 15 yrs since she passed on. Time flies, my memories remain, rooted in immovable sand and flowers and rivers.
if tears would remain heavy with salt
if father would still have learnt to cry
if the shape of my center would change
less of a pinprick in my heart
less of an ache
if the sun would beat down not so harshly
snow not sting this flesh so sharp
if my curls would spring forth lighter
and my flesh shimmer
abandoned in love
if the morning wake would be tender
and the future would beckon in arms of peace
if the youth shining in me lost not its splendor
the loves I destroy not split me asunder
I wonder what would happen
if you were still
A few months ago, we welcomed an exciting new addition to the Poeticians community. Blunt, to the point, intensely reflective at the same time, filled with yearning and nostalgia, mixed with a hyperactive hyperverbal curiosity about everything and anything, Zeina Hashem Beck is no typical Lebanese woman.
Her work is cultivated by personal experience that resonates with so many in our region. Her scrutiny of what makes a poet a poet, a mother a mother, a home a home is fascinating. Add to that mix a restless spirit, ready to smile, and a voice that is strong, deep, and so sure of itself, the stage seems to exude radiating pulsating beats every time she speaks. We are super happy Zeina is a very active, vital and rambunctious Poet in our midst. Thank you Zeina, for always being there,
and writing, writing, writing, every week, when I am sure the world pulls at you in non-poetic ways all the time. Her more recent work is also very exciting. Below are some older poems of hers. Stay tuned to this blog for updates from her and other new poets, coming up soon. I have been so busy with the whirling world that this small safe space here has been relinquished for badass journeys, but the spirit is forlorn and a sojourn with my anonymous readers, poems from around the world, and the useless meandering of my brain is much needed. Thank you reader. Thank you, Zeina.
Every morning Umm Nagi
makes a lousy joke
and stirs our coffee.
We look at her dirty nails,
we hold the warm paper cups and
across streets that are endless
in their endless repetitions,
we have memorized,
in which we get lost on purpose:
Here is the yellow coffee shop
where our fathers curl politics
with their cigar smoke
and measure poetry
with their sugar spoons
“The situation is bad again,
it is bad again.”
Here is Modca ,
the ancient coffee shop,
where memories cling to the walls
like a wild plant that sprouts
voices and smoke and small conversations.
Here is Modca,
the ancient coffee shop,
turning into a Vero Moda,
no more spoons or cigarettes or the clatter of cups,
history buried in clothes,
outshone by Starbucks.
Here is the tiny cassette shop
in which the fat man barely fits,
in which the fat man sings and spits,
and nods and nods,
as if to God,
saying business is slower than old age,
releasing Arabic music
into crowded streets that move
to the inborn beat,
here is the tiny cassette shop,
Here is the flower shop,
they all have the same name
but insist they’re not the same,
a sidewalk of flowers and dust, dust, dust,
and we decide to buy the white lilies,
just because they’re flowers,
just because they’re white,
just because they’re lilies.
Here is the deserted theater
where the bald man sighs
into a red telephone,
then shouts at his wife,
his bills and anger away,
you’d never expect
inside the smell of old semen
and posters of movies that never really play.
Here is the deserted theater,
Here is the whorehouse,
where the fat woman gathers old age in a chair
and promises cab drivers a good time
with the worn beauties inside,
leaning topless on the bar,
on memories withering in the smell of cigars,
here’s another lost memory,
Here is the leftist pub,
where the grey man smiles
and plays the oud
(could wood and strings reach the soul like that?)
and his rough voice sinks
into us like a rock,
Umm Kulthum and Fairuz and Abdel Halim ,
ya leil ya ein ,
the most famous words in our language,
ya leil ya ein
and we clap and dance and hope
the term papers will write themselves,
here is the leftist pub,
Here is Universal,
where Nagham the waitress knows
we have lots of lemon in our lentil soup,
lots of cigarettes in our pockets,
and tells us to smile smile smile,
“because smiling is such, such, a nice thing to do,”
and the black kohl on her eyes is thicker
than memories and Turkish coffee
and darker than
the street outside.
Here we are,
drinking sunset and soup again,
drinking time away again,
time that vanishes like a small white cloud
on a blue-sky day in Hamra,
here’s to another day in Hamra,
(published in The Arabesques Review)
What do you call the space between
the written word and the blank page,
names in the distance and distance without names?
I know forgetting. I know
forgetting happens before
But what happens after?
Give me a word
lukewarm and not so
a word that drops
like white shadows
from the sky.
Give me a name
that melts like rain
and smells like moonlight
on my skin.
(published in Silk Road)
Here in Beirut,
you do not stop
a cab. It stops
Money is negotiable. Silence
isn’t: small confidences in small mirrors,
you have to have time
for that whether you have it
or not. Conversations seep
through the heat, the rain,
along with hands (instead of
signal lights), along with
cigarette butts and
It takes time, it takes time
to master a driver’s technique.
You have to gather it
in your throat like
rage, and spit it out like
nothing, make it as ordinary
as a lemon on a table.
The car is the streets’ old mistress.
It trembles, it swerves,
it dies little deaths along the way,
as the man behind the wheel adjusts
the word Allah or the cross
hanging from the mirror,
tilts his head towards
the sky inside the puddles,
towards a girl in tight jeans,
offers you a zaatar manoushé , insists,
and tells you to forget
(published in Quiddity)
I Call It Home
This place where
electricity and water
I call it home.
This place where
where we’re dust and sand,
and slip right through
the enemy’s hands,
I call it home.
This place where
we die and rise and
die and rise
every few years,
where we fold and
like a paper boat
(and hope it floats),
I call it home.
(published in Quiddity)
I know what oil is and I know what it means.
“Eat oil and rub yourself with it”
were the Prophet’s words. This sounds
sexual only in English. I don’t know if the quote
is accurate, word per word, but I know
olive oil has healing powers.
Only olive oil. And the olive tree
is mentioned in the Koran, along with the fig tree,
but that is another discussion.
I don’t know what peace is and I don’t know what it means.
I know the world wants peace, and so should I.
I know now that peacemaking involves
olive oil, and I know it is as harmless
as knitting a jacket on the sofa or frying
an onion with hot olive oil, which smells
as good as olive oil and onion does.
I wonder if peace smells the same.
I know we say “Peace Be Upon You” for hello and goodbye.
I know what Peace Oil is and I know what it means
because it is right here in British Homes and Gardens:
three bottles with different sizes and shades of green,
perhaps to indicate the nuances of the olive tree.
(My grandmother says olive trees cannot
have nuance. They have roots and history.)
English, Arabic, and Hebrew inscriptions,
too much writing for an olive oil bottle if you ask me.
What Peace Oil means, and this time I quote exactly, I am accurate,
I have even kept the line breaks to be faithful to the poetry:
“Produced in Israel by Jews, Arabs, Druze, and
Bedouins, with profits for reconciliation projects.
Peace Oil, £9.95 for 500ml olive oil, Good Gifts.”
Just like the Prophet said, healing powers for 9.95 only
peace for 9.95 only, although I still don’t know what peace means.
I know I imagine a world with many kinds of Peace Oils.
Can you hear the music I hear in my head?
Olive oil in Lebanon and Palestine. In Iraq
the black kind that explodes from the ground.
Imagine that in a bottle, I mean imagine
all the colors, the possibilities of Peace Oils,
one could even make mugs, recipes for
peace with parmesan or lemon, advertise them on Facebook
for 9.95 only, with profits for reconciliation projects,
although I’m not sure what reconciliation means.
(published in 34th Parallel)
And old poem I thought I would share again today, as the situation around us escalates into a spiral, enlarging violent connections, deep despair for the future of all refugee children. This poem is a love letter to Damascus, where I was a child in the 80’s and remember Palestine. Remember crying when I knew Israel was the future.
It is a love letter to all the solidarity movements around the world who stand with us. It is a love letter to you, reader.
For the victims of the mass murder in 2009 of our people in Gaza. Murdered again, as I post this.
What is it this intake of breath
the word fuck hissed as if shock was
new to this body
as if this news was new to this body
what is it this slight widening of nostrils flare, tongue bloated inside
lips drowned in despair, too laden with history to
envision present, what is it, this gaping stare at jumbled remembrance-
-deported from west bank to gaza- IDF pass law- apartheid
state blossoms- this bodies shoveled by bulldozer to mass graves- this
girl, 12 yrs old,
found dead on way to market-
this sniper tshirt draws belly of arab womb is target
Where do all the tents go?
– land grab graphs- walls through a father’s face
sullen concrete of his seed-
what is this plume of
white hides shadows of the daily exterminated we-
from where does it rise up, like bile, like vomit, like
acid- this surprise?
This has always been the way it is,
this has always been.
a 5-year old refugee slams her body on a warm bed, revolts a tantrum when
adults kindly confirm…”They have to call it Israel now, honey”… what does that child
know of stolen family?
What is this
this intake of breath at headlines gaza ramallah jenin
-netanyahu dines at white house- clinton says security first- abu mazen seeks presidency-old man dies of lack of electricity-
I have heartburn where I once had pulse, I have
spasms of stomach too full to chew this new
news I digest no more,
what is it, this surprise…”how could it possibly get worse”
I am bored, for the first time in a very very long time. Maybe ever. I do not know what it is. I used to be bored when I was a teenager living in Damascus, but books would always alleviate that. Now, I dont even have that sanctuary or relief. I want to blame the summer in Dubai and its oppressive heat and dullness,
but thats not fair. I could get off my butt and go bowling, swimming, drinking, dancing, etc. Its something more. I cant quite define it, and maybe I dont have to. But I have been meaning to write a poem about why I am not writing. And here it is. It has been a long time since I wrote anything,
and already, those who love me have told me that my writing has become less angry, less emotional, less filled with verbs for action to change the world, and I cannot quell the fear, the worry, the thought that maybe, if you live in the desert surrounded by malls, and allow yourself to get old,
your language will mold and wither and shrink and suffer. Who knows. Not good to rant, but trust me, I cannot wait to finish some of the projects I have been working on, I need that sense of achievement, and I have never been known for my patience or calmness.
Dubai, June 15th
On being bored in the desert.
Somehow, recently, I have lost meaning.
By meaning, I mean
the image behind the image,
the fable behind plastic,
the dream behind indelibly mute inner noise.
I used to be boisterous. All alone.
The bed was history. Arms craned, feet
up thighs, necks extended and whispers
personal. Sheets longed to be soiled,
pillows squirmed under tugged curls
and all of the moment was a moment,
mass experienced and individual,
art or desecration, pornography
The table was abundance. Crumbs of everything we spoke about
dropped like a fairy tale trail. Falafel,
chicken, avocadoes. I was always hungry.
We dipped French fries like they were
finger foods of gods.
We slathered sunny side up
eggs, on orange lime-green purple afternoons
like every weekend was a vacation.
Like your face was ice-cold cocktails, and my giggling, the ocean.
The way he ate was laughter, and I,
sipping on lady-like morsels of prayer.
The couch was a garden. We live
in the desert, but who was to stop us?
that fact creeps into our habits.
draped on color, I buy
silk and sequins rustling
hoping peace or orgasms reverberate with
innocent fat-tummied contortions of bodies,
the repose of the lovers who have witnessed years atrophy,
gymnastics, watching clocks tick on walls,
watching time move for so far, nothing.
Your hand clutched my waist,
mine on your hip. Your head
nudged my nape. My knees curved into stillness. Sang.
Little sequences of motion created dance,
We may lie in silence, or speak devil tongues of a thousand
to ancestry. The folds of our bodies now rest, everything else
is seen from a window,
distant and not dangerous. I do not move much,
In Dubai, summer wilts my breasts, my eyes, my belly.
I have no words behind words, no photo behind
repeated consumer snapshots.
A muse found in stupor earlier
recalls palm trees and now barren,
dissipates into civil wars and
awkward quarrels about love and duties.
The bed a bed. The table a table. The couch a couch.
Wood, plastic, fabric.