Questions A Queer Muslim Boy Googles

when I hear half of this country
supports banning Muslim immigrants:
what about those already here?
must I send half my family away?
where will they go? it is reliably reported
the world is on fire & the smoke of it
is beginning to sting, to smother,
to make demons of us.

when I hear the government elected by just enough
wants to determine for everyone who can marry
legitimately: do I have to ask permission to love
myself or only others? who will answer?

when I hear the government elected by just enough
has not asked permission before jailing
refugees who look like me & have names
like mine: how long do I have before
they put me in a camp, too? how long god
will you be there with me
before your ninety nine names become

when I hear people measure trauma
by statistics, by corpses, & I am
scared this healthy flesh is dead
inside: when did we stop counting
the spirit? look inside these bodies,
the mathematics of despair is staggering like

I am staggering desire into acceptable
parts, manageable bites. My eyes
are not bigger than my stomach,
I can swallow even men.

when I learn wanting is not prohibited by
god, just fucking men, & only then
if there are four witnesses:
where are my four witnesses?
will they come to my house tonight,
watch me feed men & be fed?

there is enough for all of us.

when I learn god
has borders & my passport is unworthy:
how do I bless my passport? I tried
soaking it in the rain. I let a horse huff
its hot breath on it. I kissed its worn
pages. Ya Allah, it is coded with my finger
print, and will never be holy

no matter how much I wash my hands.
And I never stop washing my hands,
these torn flowers           someday
will bloom again       I tell myself
as I am too afraid     to ask the question.



An All-Admission Ride

I wrote an article recently about the tragedy which occurred a few days ago in Martin Place, and the heartwarming trend it inspired, I’ll Ride With You. While waiting for a response, and wondering whether it would be published, I realised I had still more to say, and that I wanted to share it on my own terms. Here is the resulting poem.

An All-Admission Ride

Come ride with me. Come into the dark.
Outside, men with guns write the headlines.

Take away the guns. Men with bruised fists write
the headlines; come ride with me.

Men with rape between their legs,
men with comet-bright careers and a trail of bodies

behind their lives. Not all men, some say. Enough men,
say the rest. Violence is its own gender

and it keeps breeding; on our buses, in our streets
our pubs our schools our homes our headlines.

Come ride with me, take my hand and hold it
when they spit Arab cunt at my face,

and go back to where ya came from
no matter where I came from, even hell, even here;

when they try to tear the hijab off my head,
to free me with force and hate, come ride with me

like the ghosts of Christmas past, watch
in whitened silence. Can you hear the impacts?

The bus stops. ‘The next station is Central.’
This is you: you vanish into the crowd.

The ride has ended, and my hand is empty,
grasping. My next step is shaky

with remembered loneliness, with familiar isolation.
I am the year 1950 every day, I am colour TV

breaking into the monochrome, I am Dorothy
in a land of wicked witches and wizards

and there are only so many buckets
of tweets to douse them with.

I wish there weren’t so many to begin with
but I am not disparaging your offer,

I am not rejecting your hand, or your tweet,
in fact, I am going one step further

and inviting you to ride within me:
step into my blood, come make a home of my skin.

Look out of these eyes and see with the face of terrorism,
a face you had no choice but to grow into,

a face molded by events outside your control.
One day a beardless boy, the next, a suspect –

this is a face others shy away from, a face
splashed beneath screaming headlines.

And still, still I would rather this face
than the face of any woman,

would rather this hate-inspiring face
than dealing with what every woman must.

The headlines. The violence. The despair
born of biology; the joy, too.

It is beyond me, and it isn’t. Despite their fates
I hear them say, come ride with me,

take my hand. Hold it. We will give you strength,
and I cannot comprehend their courage

just to go out in the day, except that they must know,
as I know, as we all know, that the ride is just the beginning

and that soon, soon we will no longer need it
and walk together unaided in the light of day.

Thursday Poem: Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Thursday rolls round again, and I am on hand once more to talk about poetry. This time, I don’t have a poem to share online – I read from an actual book of pages, if you can believe it, Derrick C. Brown’s Strange Light – but I started reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass again, and I have to talk about it. I started reading it some time ago, but stopped, as I am liable to do at any given moment and flick to any of the other half dozen books I’m currently in the middle of finishing. Sadly, however, I didn’t return to it.

Then, last night, in honour of Robin Williams, I watched Dead Poets Society again and Whitman is quoted liberally in the film. So this morning, I picked it up again. I’ve picked up a habit recently of writing out any quotes or passages from books I can enjoy – partly because I might write about it later, and so it’s of practical use to me, and partly because writing out great passages is both joyous and instructive. Ray Bradbury used to say that’s how he learned to write best, he’d write out whole chunks of his favourite novels, and thereby ingest some of the internal rhythm and structure of beautiful writing in an organic fashion.

So, as I began to read it, I started writing some of the things down. Very quickly, quotes became paragraphs, became whole sections of pages and now I think I’m hitting a point where I’ll have to stop, lest I transcribe it in its entirety. My goodness, this book is something else. I am not reading it; I am experiencing it – it’s like feeling someone light the stars in your universe, like a constellation map of my soul. He knew. He fucking knew, and wrote it down, and thank fuck for that, because in these pages – these universe spanning pages – he has written everything I hope to be, the delirious ideal to which I hold myself, to which I aspire. Of great poets, and expectation, he writes:

The land and sea, the animals fishes and birds, the sky of heaven and the orbs, the forests mountains and rivers, are not small themes…but folks expect of the poet to indicate more than the beauty and dignity which always attach to dumb real objects… they expect him to indicate the path between reality and their souls.

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As the Albatross Flies (poem)

A few months back, I wrote a poem about asylum seekers for a competition. It was ultimately unsuccessful and I forgot about it.

Until I saw a post on Crikey from poet John Kinsella talking about the same issue. As well as providing his own poem on the issue, he says, “I think we’ve reached a low with the ‘turn back boats’ stuff. The situation is deplorable, and poets should be speaking out on the issue.”

Now, I previously published a poetic take on the situation several months ago on the ABC’s The Drum website but I absolutely agree with John that we should be speaking about this issue and speaking often. So here is another, newly updated.

As the Albatross Flies (circa 1788 – 2013)

The ghosts of ships haunt the horizon
of our doors-shut window-locked home.
Frayed sails hang limp on their masts
like dead flags waiting for dirt graves.

The ghosts of ships haunt the headlines
of newspapers and broadcasters. They slip behind the eyes
of media pundits and peek out from their white smiles.
You can find these lost vessels listing in supermarket aisles

and the local convenience store, dashed
on the reefs of small talk. “Reckon they can stop
the boats?” Or tow them back, or buy them off,
or fling them into space?

The ghosts of ships haunt our hoods, the creak
of seasoned wood, the hollow boom of metal hulls
rusted into shape. Walk down the streets lined with debris,
and filled with the songs sung between a mother and child

grown apart. In Cabramatta, Burwood, Auburn, Villawood,
Leichardt. In Port Douglas, Liverpool, Manchester, Dublin,
London and Cape Cod, listen to their familiar watery cries
if you can hear them above the whipcrack of war

the desperate drumming of sweat-drenched fear
the harsh caws and demented glee of shock jocks
the sweet humming of the tides after a squall
or unresponsive static to radio calls. Their mistake

not ours, to come on the ghosts of ships
and not fly as the albatross once did.
Lodged between their third and fourth ribs
weathered feathers rustle, pin-prick edges

henna-tattooing skin with aged blood
in their eagerness to be freed –
by ocean or man. by friend or foe
it remains to be seen.