My Tata* is from Yafa, a city she outlived.
A Jesus of a city, killed and resurrected.
She and my Sido** were ageless;
their ages left on papers left in places
impossible to revisit except in nightmares.
For years and years, they sought refuge
in Saudi where there was no welcome,
then, like birds, they flew after their young
to the land of black and blue,
and in that no-man’s land
their bodies found a home.
On a freezing day with no rain
I searched for them among the graves.
I found them boxed in unnaturally,
unable to give themselves back to earth.
Tata’s life bracketed in approximate dates,
her name in a tongue she did not speak,
her husband not beside her. And he.
Sido’s grave bore no name, no time,
no language. In death as in life,
made to feel invisible.
My eyes were wet, for the cold that day stung.
To the white man on the radio
who said violence does not win causes
who said guns do not win wars
I open the annals of history.
The stems of arrows fed the wars
of the roses, and peace has only blossomed
in the mouth of a victor’s gun. Power
is not charity in a benevolent’s hand;
it is gold in a miser’s, wrested away, won
only by the push of force, the pull of reason.
I do not charge men to take arms now
but those in charge have them and abuse them
and let’s not pretend otherwise.
To the Arab man on the radio
who said (through an accent unmitigated
by years of cohabitation) that he has not
experienced racism (or, rather, perceived it)
and that therefore racism does not exist
I say: please, sit down. You have arrived
mid-conversation, and on this occasion
you have the right to remain silent.
To the black man on the radio
who said: Do not speak for us.
Do not tell us how we feel.
and who was asked then:
Why don’t you speak? How do you feel?
but whose words failed him,
I say: You’re right. There are no words,
and there are thunderous words
that strike with a flash of fury.
Like children they ask why the sky
is silent, why now it rips and tears.
Tell them: it has been carrying a load too long,
too big for even the sky to bear.
Fast food healthcare is coming;
I work at a joint, flipping
patients like patties
while the manager points:
Glasses for glaucoma!
Glasses for the blind!
Glasses for perfect vision!
What, doc, you mind?
They come for a bargain,
leave with a steal;
it’s their money stolen
but – damn what a deal!
You may pilot a plane, rappel down rocks,
map out the brain and still the town talks
of how – and if you cook. You crack
for them the books, prove you can read. Feed
their curiosity, give them something to chew.
Their brows rise at the texture, the taste, the scent,
and you smile, offended by the compliment.
There is nothing on the table unseasoned
with distaste, for where they see potential
you see it gone to waste. Before you are women
who feed off of feeding, who with ladles lead,
while in simmering sauces you see your time bleed.
You may rise to the heavens
and crash back to earth
and still, in teaspoons,
they measure your worth.
A modern king, he wears no crown but
true to tradition runs men ‘to the ground.
Men with ideas that fly high, he cages. There
the birds grow, and if after ages they escape
they are carried aloft by all they know. Still, it is
from prison to prison that they are released;
wings clipped, beaks broken, no power of speech.
Some flee, some are flayed, some heaven-bound
while others, afraid, live and die without sound.
The king outlives many. The king wants to thrive.
He’ll kill every man if it’ll keep him alive.
In my nightmares, I am on stage,
Trump on his own pedestal, beside me,
reporters before us inquiring:
Why do you think Trump’s trumpet out of tune?
Why do you cringe when he toots his horn?
What has he done to earn your scorn?
In my nightmares, I choke,
my words stampeding each other
in their rush to escape.
In my nightmares, the timer counts down
the seconds when I know I need days;
I haven’t the time to count the ways.