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
numbers?

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.

 

 

Thursday Poem: How To Be A Poet by Wendell Berry

Thursday, it occurs to me, was probably a poor choice for this weekly lark on poems. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – each of these days amount to the same kind of nothing, a kind of beige blur where nothing happens worth mentioning except, perhaps, the release of new episodes in the shows you may or may not be watching. In short, I would have oodles of time to write on those days, and yet, Thursday, the day preceding three on which I am always stupidly busy, is the one I arbitrarily chose a year ago and I’m stuck with it now. It always manages to sneak up on me, so I’m either forgetting or rushed, and neither is an enjoyable sensation; the former only stokes the constant fear I have that every moment of forgetfulness is a sign I’ll have Alzheimer’s one day, and the latter leaves me viscerally unsatisfied, unhappy that floating on the web are words of mine that do not measure up. Not to a moment’s thought.

In saying that, there is value in learning to accept your imperfection, that the words will never measure up – value in the spilling of whatever is inside without being so damn persnickety about form and style, value in trusting that quality is in the content, that your intent will come across regardless. Writing on Thursday also means that there’s no way for me to put it off, as I so often want to do when I’m sitting here, having just got home from work and 8 hours of staring at a screen, furiously typing, tired and empty and dreading continuing in the same vein on a seemingly endless loop. Which brings me to this week’s offering,  by Wendell Berry.

Generally speaking, I dislike any attempt to tell me how to write poetry. Frankly, it’s ninety nine percent nonsense – at least to me. Free verse is a wild thing and you should lose yourself in it, not take the hacked paths of others. For the formal poets out there, I reserve the one percent for learning the structures of those constraints they choose to employ. So while the title initially had me wary, I was ultimately charmed by this poem, as its advice is universal, not instructional. It begins:

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity.

Sit down. Be quiet.

Just reading that is like taking a deep breath, like my whole body is exhaling to the tune of this simple truth. That is what I need more than any other thing, a place to sit, and silence. I love, too, the aside here that comes after listing what you need, “more of each than you have”. It sounds paradoxical, but I understand exactly what he means here. Or at least, I have derived two meanings from it. The first is that you never seem to have enough of any one element to do what you need, to achieve what needs to be achieved, and the second is that you succeed anyway. When I sit down and I am silent and it seems the world is silent too and words pour out, I am as close to thoughtless as a sleeping man – no, more, because even in sleep you think in the form of dreams – just following one word to the other, not knowing what is being written under the word is there, startling in its permanence, and then when it’s over, I sit and read the poem…

And think, where the fuck did that come from? Sometimes, with reflection, it becomes clear but I am often surprised by the affection or the knowledge or the skill – shocking, I know, but I sometimes think well of what I write – that is on display. The hope, and the love too. I think, ‘I didn’t know I had that much of it in me.’ And so, the line that to be a poet you must rely on more than what you have, to me, is quite telling, in that you don’t have it until the moment you reach for it, and find it is there as it perhaps always has been, merely waiting for you to bother to stretch. What else do we need, Mr. Berry? Work, he says, and time, and patience. Yes, yes, and yes.

Work and time need no explanation; age and discipline in concert produce wonders. Patience, however, is most important of all I would say. Poetry is ninety percent waiting, ten percent writing, I have found. I can’t say I’m entirely patient enough yet, I’m still irritated when I have a thought or feeling lurking around in my chest, and want so much to get rid of it, but can’t, knowing it will only be spoiled if I jump the gun, that if I just wait long enough it will gestate and emerge the way it is supposed to…And so have to spend days, sometimes weeks almost physically uncomfortable, until I can sit and be quiet in such a way as to work with it. Suffice to say, even knowing that, I fuck up plenty of times. I did it just the other day in fact. Now I have three useless lines lying around, which burns me all the more because they were good lines and they have been wasted.

I’ve only spoken about the first ten lines and somehow this is already a thousand words, so I’m going to shut up now, especially as this is only a short poem, and I’m sure you know by now how I feel about giving it all away. Go, read it here. It is good advice and I only wish I had read it sooner.

Thursday Poem: The Traveller-Heart by Vachel Lindsay

I’m going to keep this brief, poetry lovers: have you ever wondered how you’re going to die? Of course you have, you’re human – in some way or other, it lies behind everything we say and everything we do. On that same wavelength, we also spend an inordinate amount of time considering how to best to deal with our mortal remains. We burn our bodies, we bury them deep in the ground, we fling them into the sea, we build temples around our desiccated bones, pyramids and tombs, fill with fields with crosses and stones and statues, and we have done so since the beginning. Now, you can have your remains turned into diamonds or turned into trees, or sent into space. We are, and ever have been, creative with death.

This simple but beautiful old poem, The Traveller-Heart by Vachel Lindsay deals with this question, posit’s the poets thoughts in a traditional rhymed stanza. Now there’s not too much to it, so I won’t quote from it here – all I will say is that my heart lies firmly with Vachel’s, in wanting to lie in the deep and sacred earth.

Thursday Poem: The Mechanics Of Men by David Tomas Martinez

You should always read a poem aloud. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it until I die: you should always read the fucker aloud. I am especially grateful for having just read this sensational poem by David Tomas Martinez, for two reasons:

1) I found it just after reading an unrelated, but shitty poem. I don’t talk about poetry that doesn’t move me because I haven’t the energy to spare for hate or pettiness, but this lifeless poem I read left a bad taste in my mouth. So ‘Mechanics of Men‘ was an excellent palette cleanser, being just the opposite, brimming with life lived and lessons learned. With vitality.

2) For being so damn good I stopped midway and went back to start again, reading aloud this time. Usually, I read something first, so I have an idea of what ends where; I don’t like to pause in the wrong places –  even when it’s just me in my room, reading is a performance. I made an exception because I knew just sounding this one out would be an aural discovery, regardless of whether I screwed it up or not. But enough about that, let’s get to the goods.

It begins:

I have never been the most mechanically inclined of men.

             Wrenches, screwdrivers, or shovels
have never made nice with me. In the shipyard,

I worked alone, in the dark, deep in

               the bilges of frigates.

This is, on the face of it, an innocuous enough opening, for all that it does the job of setting up the narrative to follow, but my god, even here it’s a joy to read. There is throughout this poem subtle assonance and alliteration, a repetition of sounds, a rhythm that builds. God, I could chew on that second line. And he’s not even saying anything important! I’m nine kinds of impressed and too many kinds of jealous to count, so let’s move on.

The brass tool
              hissed like an ostrich
when it fed on metal. That day, my flame cut
permanent deck fittings; the loops fell like bright oranges;
              I ripened the rusty metal.

Look, this poem is a fucking orgasm in my mouth. Do you understand that? Maybe not. ‘Hissed like an ostrich’ is wonderful, but then, it isn’t just sounds that make this poem stand out, it’s the evocation of work and masculinity, of the gulf between a father and his son, of life and love and never quite fitting in and most assuredly always fucking up.

It’s the little things as well. I love the juxtaposition of ‘flame cut’ with ‘permanent deck fittings’, such a simple and literal line yet it undercuts the idea of permanence itself at the same time. I love, too, the way the metal becomes organic, a fruit that ripens. I want to quote this whole poem, basically, and I’m annoyed that I can’t. I’m annoyed too, just thinking that there will be some of you out there who won’t feel what I’m feeling – the intensity of joy suffusing my body right now, the ecstasy of recognition – that, hell, it might somehow read as lifelessly to you as that one poem earlier tonight did for me.

I read recently a quote from a book which said that the best moments in reading are when you come across something you thought special and particular only to you – that it’s like a hand coming out and taking yours. Well, if that’s the case, reading this poem was like meeting someone, making love, falling in love, getting married and then at the end of it, jotting down some thoughts. Which is to say, it felt like that damn hand reached into the pulpy, bony mess of my chest, pulled out some red stuff and daubed it on the page. There’s so much of me here it’s scary.

This is true for a lot of the poetry I love; this is the most subjective of arts. Every poem is a sampling of DNA, and it can be a matter of pure luck whether you turn out to be a match or not. Oh, I’m not saying those which don’t match aren’t skilful, or that you can’t appreciate them objectively, you certainly can, but it’s a cold and distant thing in comparison to this mad heat, this crazed passion you should probably only feel when in love or while fucking, but which somehow extends to this thrilling expression of language, this superlative art.

I’ll stop rambling now, but man am I glad to have read this outrageously good poem today. If anybody out there knows David Tomas Martinez, and he’s totally okay with you doing this, kiss him on the damn lips for me. Or just tell him this poem is seriously good, and that I now feel the same mixture of admiration and envy I reserve for those whose quality I aspire to emulate, to match and – in my wildest, most ambitious moments – hope to one day exceed. My benchmarks. I’ll end this with his words, and a reminder that you need to read this.

And that summer, I returned
               to each of the women of my past and bedded
them all, trying to reheat our want. I don’t regret that—drinking wine

and making love, or writing poems and making love, of wanting to stay
               but nonetheless leaving.

Celebratory Poem

So, I couldn’t wait till Thursday to share this, because it made me happy, and happiness is a rare and fleeting thing in my world: I woke up to find I’d received over 1,000 followers on this blog! Which is kind of crazy, since only a month ago I had about 150, tops.

1000

I’d gotten used to the idea that very few people were reading my weekly rambles about poetry, and that it would remain that way, but I guess I was wrong. Here’s hoping it continues to grow and more and more of the poetically inclined find their way here. In celebration of all this, and in thanks to you fine people and possibly-bots, I thought I’d give you a poem I wrote a few weeks ago. It’s just a little one, and I never know what to do with the little ones, so this is as good a use as any. I hope you like it.

None Of Us

Nobody cares about poetry
my poetry professor said.
Nobody appreciates the band
either, the lead singer said.
Nobody notices the backup dancers
the dancers said, not to mention
the choreographer, or the roadies,
the technicians, the bored IT guys
and girls. Nobody loves their father
as much as fathers want them to
or loves their mother as much as mothers
need them to. Nobody cherishes actors
until they’re gone and in black and white
on a memoriam screen. Nobody writes
about writers except writers and failed writers;
nobody thanks the cooks. Nobody wants
to be a farmer, we just want to eat.
Nobody thinks, nobody thinks, nobody thinks
about any of this
but damn do the flowers get their due.

Thursday Poem: Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Hello, and welcome, you magnificent bastards. Firstly, I’d like to say thank you to those of you who responded so kindly to my poem – I truly appreciate it. I’d also like to say, since it was raised in the comments, that if you’re keen to introduce yourself or say hi, I’m aware you can’t do so on my About page, but you can always go over to the Facebook page I recently made for the blog. It could do with some loving anyway. Ultimately, as I’ve said before, I’m not here just to hear myself talk – so to speak – I’m here to start a conversation. If you’re so inclined, go ahead and start talking.

Now, this week’s headline is perhaps a little misleading. See, what I really want to talk about is the article which led me to the poem. Bringing A Daughter Back From The Brink With Poems by Betsy MacWhinney is an extraordinary story about a mother trying to get through to her self-harming daughter. I’m going to quote liberally from this piece now because it’s so endlessly wonderful, but I urge you to read the entire thing:

I started leaving poems in her shoes in the morning. She had used the shoes as a form of quiet protest, so I decided I would use them to make a quiet stand for hope. When one of your primary strategies as a parent involves leaving Wendell Berry’s “Mad Farmer Liberation Front” in your child’s shoe, it’s clear things aren’t going well. What I wanted her to know is: People have been in pain before, struggled to find hope, and look what they’ve done with it. They made poetry that landed right in your shoe…

One of the joys of writing this weekly blog, of this challenge to find a new poem to talk about every week – generally from authors I haven’t read before – has been the feeling of discovery. The way I seem to just trip over a poem at the last minute, or when I am least expecting it, as if it was some kind of house cat — something we think domesticated, but which is still wild at heart, and always getting underfoot, always making itself the centre of attention —  thrills me to no end. I love being surprised. I think this is why this idea of finding a new poem in your shoe each day resonated so strongly with me.

You will have noticed the poem linked to in the quote above is Wendell Berry’s ‘Made Farmer Liberation Front’, which is itself a truly exceptional poem propelled by furious rhythm; it is a manifesto for living and I can’t recommend it enough. However, I didn’t choose to make it the focus of this piece, I chose Wild Geese, referenced later in the above article, partly because above all, I favour simplicity, and partly because it ties in so well with the theme of the article, with the anguish of adolescence, and the crushing nature of depression.

Because, most of all, it offers hope. It begins:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

I fucking love these five lines. Forget the rest of the poem, lovely as it is. Let’s linger here. Poetry is all about lingering, anyway, staying in a moment long after the moment is gone, luxuriating in it, exploring, finding more and still more beneath the surface. That first line alone is a clarion cry – so much of our everyday struggle is to be good, whether we realise it or not. When we are children, what are we told? Be a good boy. Be a good girl, you wouldn’t want to be a bad one would you now? Shudder. Perish the thought.

There are times, however, as an adult, where this isn’t possible. You aren’t being bad, in the absence of good, you’re just unable to reach the ideal, to shoulder the constant, exacting burden. It’s too much. You struggle, you fall. If you’re lucky, in time, with help, you get up again and the struggle begins anew. This is why the opening line, ‘You do not have to be good’ is a clarion cry – it slices right through the bullshit, right through that notion that you must be anything, it frees you from expectation, unhooks the anchor lodged in your spine. As far as necessity goes, you need only concern yourself with the last of those five lines.

All you have to do is let yourself love what you love without discrimination, without judgment. Love it, and let it end at your love. Remember, too — this line is so fucking good — we are animals. There is something so delightfully undercutting about that, in the best possible way. We have a tendency to self-aggrandise, to attribute everything to our own actions, and in so doing, tend to judge ourselves on an equally obscene scale, which can only end badly. We’re just soft meat, in the end, like the geese in this poem.

Like them, too, we are always looking for home.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

New Year, New Poem

Happy New Year!

It’s 2015, and in this first week of the year I’ve written around 5,000 words, so I’m pretty happy with that, and I hope I can match or exceed that every week. I’ll be continuing my ‘Thursday Poems’ segment as usual this year, I’m just posting something today because sometimes I write little poems just for fun, the kind I probably won’t submit anywhere and don’t really know what to do with, so I figured to ring in the new year, I’d share this one I wrote last night:

An Established Poet Speaks

Look! Over there.
An Established Poet!
A brass plaque around her neck reads
‘Best before 1983.’
But I look on with envy and awe;
my own neck is empty
of plaques, feels liable to fall apart
without one, as if made of sand
and not blood or meat or bone.
Anyhow, the Poet! Let’s not forget her.
I go over, giddy with excitement
to have a chance to bandy words
with a possible future in the flesh
and in my haste, my naivety,
I vomit jewels into her lap–
words and phrases crafted to perfection,
or as near to it as I can come, or else
of exotic nature and immeasurable value,
the kind mined in Africa someplace–
and she merely looks at the hoard
with bemusement. ‘It’s a nice day,’
don’t you think?’ she said, and left it at that.
Tiny worn pebbles, every word,
but I would spend the next ten years
going over each and every one,
uncertain if, in fact, it had been a nice day.

 

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: What Work Is, by Philip Levine

On Sunday, I was lucky enough to snag a last minute ticket to the New Yorker Festival event, ‘Poets Read Their Work’, featuring Michael Dickman, Jorie Graham, Terrance Hayes, Philip Levine and Tracy K. Smith. I was there for Smith, whose work in Life on Mars I have previously raved about. It’s transcendent. And yet, possibly because of the heights of my expectation, I ended up being blown away more by the other poets.

I had heard of Terrance Hayes, and read one or two of his poems, but the others were a mystery. More’s the shame. I can’t wait to buy their books. Well, I can’t wait until I have the money to buy their books, especially Levine’s, because he was a revelation. A small old man with a wiry moustache, and silver hair flecked with black, he read third. I remember wondering what he’d sound like; his hands were trembling, and he didn’t get up and stand at the podium like the others had. Said he was afraid he’d pitch over into the second row.

Given this, I thought his voice might be soft, that I might have to strain to hear him, but I was wrong; his voice was strong, with a rasp and gravel to it that is wonderful to listen to and which also adds a layer of authenticity to the often workaday subject matter of his poems. At least, of the ones I’ve read since then, and of those I heard him deliver. I don’t mean to say his poetry is ordinary; it isn’t. You can read one which is simplicity itself, elevated to great heights with his succinct lines, his understated musicality, and you can read one rough as rocks, rough as hell, rough as Detroit which hits you square in the gut – in the feels, as my generation would likely say.

I had planned to share Terrance Hayes poem ‘Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy’, which is utterly gorgeous and absolutely worthwhile reading, until I came across the poem ‘What Work Is’ when I was binge-reading all I could about Mr. Levine, and found myself nearly in tears by the end. Holding them back, just barely. Don’t take that as a slight. Nearly in tears. Honestly, I’m always holding them back. I’m so practiced at it, that I sometimes struggle to simply cry, which is a tragedy I’d love to undo – a scar I’d love to unstitch. So, to have anything bring tears to my eyes is a beautiful thing, even if I only hold them briefly, then blink them back.

This poem made me think about my brother, and miss him so fiercely it was an actual shock to my system. Mostly because my brother is an idiot. I love him dearly. He’ll never say no to me if what I ask is within his ability to give, but somehow, the scars – there’s that word again, I am riddled with them – of childhood and adolescence still linger over our relationship. And so when I think of him, my first thought is not of love, not usually, but closer to irritation. An irritation laced with affection. Ah, he’s such a fuckhead, such a baffoon, what am I saying, but I love him anyway, and I always will. When I read this poem, I was buffeted by everything I have ever thought and felt about him, by the insane bond only brothers can have.

Such was its power, it has redrawn the lens through which I view him, and everything. I fucking love this poem for that, and Levine too. If I ever get to meet the man, I’m going to give him a hug. A big old man hug. If you’re interested in reading more about him, too, check out this fantastic interview he did with the Paris Review. But enough rambling, here, see for yourself what I’m talking about, and since it’s a short poem I’ll post it here, too.

What Work Is by Philip Levine

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

This Miraculous Terrorism

Some of you may have noticed I failed to post a ‘Thursday Poem’ segment yesterday. If you didn’t – good thing I’m here to remind you of my mistakes! The truth of the matter is that I felt nine kinds of suffocated beneath an angry black cloud; I was so hurt and depressed at the events occurring in Gaza and elsewhere that I could scarcely think sometimes, let alone consider a blog.

Some days, I just wept. I’ve watched videos of people stumbling through rubble-strewn streets full of dead bodies. I’ve seen too many headlines, and too many photos of people that look just like me, like my brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, only covered in blood and wounds, faces contorted in grief. And then came one story, casually referenced on Twitter, and it broke me all over again.

Then, when I should’ve been getting ready to go see a friend for much needed relief, I found myself writing through the tears, trying to make sense of what I was feeling. This is not some baseless screed against Israel, whose right to exist I do not question, though it is certainly responsible for too many of these horrors, nor is this is a declaration of support for Hamas, whose hands are also stained. This is my response to a story, to a life, that hit me too hard. This is my sadness, and my fear.

For Shayma.

This Miraculous Terrorism

My tears are ineffective missiles,
Hamas-hurled, Israel-born. If only
I had more funding, state-of-the-art
GPS navigation, I could guide them

to bless the right soldiers, the ones
without guns, untrained and still young,
the little snakes-to-be, the ones dying.
How is it that I can hear their screams

and feel their mourning, their subtle ghosts,
even though I sit deaf, hands folded,
eyes closed, an ocean away? The flashes
of cameras, and the twitching of fingers

(accompanied by the antiseptic drawl
of reporter-speak), can only account
for so much. Why am I crying so fucking hard?
When tears dry up, when I am emptied of loss

will the US kindly resupply my stock? Sorry,
this isn’t — I’m not trying to be — I’m just tugging
on this invisible line tying my chest to Palestine;
I don’t know when it got there, or which fisherman

sunk his hook so deep. But it isn’t just one line
is it? No, it’s a multitude, a madman’s cat-cradle
criss-crossing the world, set to twang
every time someone says the word ‘Muslim’,

the label on the net I was caught in from birth.
It’s been getting tighter and tighter every year,
and now our skin is fetish-marked fishstocking
and we are all marred as one. Maybe this is why

as these children die, and men and women burn
beneath this name, this dog-tag embedded in our eyes.
I feel their grief, their death, as if it were my own. It is
my name too, it is my grief too, it is my heart too, it is

my children too, and my death toll forever. That accounts
for some of it, but not all. I hear the air sirens in Tel Aviv,
I hear the death-chants on the streets, I taste their fear,
as a distant echo, as the other side to this bitter coin.

Right now though, as I sit here shaking and weeping,
I cannot escape the call of my name shouted so often,
ringing in the shrill music of missiles singing. I cannot
stop thinking about Shayma Sheikh Khalil, 5 days old,

prematurely born via caesarian section
on July 26, 2014, 10 minutes after her mother died
in an Israeli airstrike. They called her a “miracle baby”
for surviving, for being pulled out of familial death

and into life. However, she died
July 30, 2014, when her incubator shut off
after the power plants in Gaza were attacked.
I could not write those words, could not type them—

thank god for copy + paste, thank god for reporter-speak
otherwise you’d have only my trembling, my aching
grief, my tears to translate into meaning. Shayma
is merely a pebble in a blood-strewn avalanche:

over 1300 dead. 433 a week. 61 a day. Two an hour.
Such efficiency of horror. Such methodical death
tearing gaping holes in this fishing net, letting the bodies
rise to the surface to line the streets like grisly buoys.

I cannot think anymore. I cannot speak anymore.
I cannot feel anymore, or see through the shame.
When even miracles are killed in their infancy
in their first blue blush of life,

can you imagine what comes next? Dare you even try?

 

shayma

 

(pictured, Shayma Sheikh Khalil)

Photo from Humanize Palestine; the caption, too, was remixed into the poem.