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Good Arabs, The

Nancy Ajram made me gay

Could be a woman. Could be a man. Could be someone floating
in between, or somewhere else, someone in a different country
on a different plain, different part of earth's tectonic plates
a space right in between two of them, two men sharing a bed
but no one knows, a shattering
earthquakes so normal we all know the drill
know to keep the good plates strapped in
know that sometimes you wake up to shaking
you wake up to floating
those minutes in between sleep and the shake, endless
until they're not. You're up
and out of the apartment
your pants still hang between your legs. Pull them up
running down the stairs, hoping
no one sees
but someone always does

Could be a woman, could be a man, you never know
with this language, never know
when Arabic holds an inherent femininity between Her lips
between the short Is and the breathy As
men's mouths filled with feminized verbs
thrown around like hot pita
the air between, the bread swelling, held at the end
of fingertips, hot, crisp, and swollen. Cousins, aunts, uncles yelling
one end of this long table
to the other, voices mingling in one loud white noise
passing plates back and forth, throwing balls of hot pita
bottles of birra

Pre-gender still sunk deep into Her language
into hugs, kisses between men
the woman's hand resting on another woman's cheek
leaning deeply, looking gently
the moon's wink haunts vast desert nights
the glimmer of the sand sparkling in the light cast
nomadic peoples moving, moving, moving
tectonic plates jerking

I release my femininity in Arabic
move with a body unseen in English
like every time Nancy Ajram comes on, I get up
wriggle my hips and summon my pre-teen body
writhing to the sounds of the oud
my eyes closing as Nancy's voice guides me
into the crowd of my family
pulling my cousins in to dance
raising my arms, twisting my hips
and emulating Nancy belly dancing in her music video
a shake of the hip for every Akhasmak Ah
hand twist Ah
hip shake Ah
hip shake Asibak Lah

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Green Parrots in my Garden

Green Parrots in my Garden

Poems from the Arab Middle East
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knot body

Dear friends, lovers, and in-betweens,

I anticipate showing up today, fresh and clean, the energy of yesterday and tomorrow running through my pores, and yet­—dismissed before the first step out of bed, so who knows how this will go. She tells me to take a bath to soothe my stomach but I hate baths, the hot water burning my skin, the heat making me dissociate. Where did I go? Away, far and out of the bathroom, and maybe down the hall, in your room, or perhaps theirs, or perhaps at the foot of the fridge peaking in, and leaving the light on too long. Hey, he yells, you’re wasting energy. Close the damn door! Or was that yesterday? The days fog and blur, but you tell me it must be Friday if the light is looking this faded. Today, I walked out the door in my biggest coat and sweat all the way down the street, wet between my toes, my socks dewy. At the end of the street, the man walking towards me wouldn’t move and as I approached, he said hey, wait a second, don’t I know you? But I will not be tricked this time by eyes so fakely tender. Lo and behold: a yell, bitch, behind my back, and what of this nonsense when it starts snowing and I’m still sweaty. They say just in a day’s work, as though we all know the drill and somehow that’s it. In the future, we might not need to stop making eye contact with men. In the past, we might not have entered spaces with men. Who are we? I’m not sure, but somehow we are not men. I mean, what of the pain in my legs as I shuffle quickly to the bus, a tension in the backs of my calves that only stops when I slow to a glacial pace. None of this will do, the bus is coming in 3 minutes. Well here we are, hoping January ends soon, because we all know what’s coming next.

The days get brighter but somehow I don’t. A dilemma, right? I thought I was swayed by the light, moods lifting as the clouds lift, yet this pain is fingers deep. My plants grow white bugs and my fingers grow internal bugs and we all just try our best. Why do I feel so lazy as I waste away in bed? The exercise it takes to jump through this is enough. I roll around a Lindt dark chocolate in my mouth and feel luxurious.

Feel free to visit me as I try to feel better.

xoxox, Eli

Portrait Of A Body In Pause

It does not start the way you imagine. The last breath is the first breath, the lungs stretched to their capacity, and yet too little air makes its way through. The breath hitched, strangers looking back to see you walking towards their backs, quick enough for your shins to stiffen, to forget you have a body long enough to make that last sprint and catch the bus before it rushes off.

You sit up straight on the bus seat and avoid the white lady glares, but you’re sitting too straight and looking away with your neck in that crooked way, and you feel it shooting signals all the way down your back. Trading one avoidance for another.

The shame takes a backseat. When was the last time you had the luxury of forgetting about your body?

I am desperate for a larger vocabulary to talk about my pain. The difficulty with writing about pain is trying not to use the word pain too many times. I keep hitting command + F to make sure pain makes up less than 10% of my word count.

I start keeping tabs of all the words I use:

1. stinging 2. picky 3. burning 4. stabbing 5. aching 6. scalding 7. pounding 8. radiating 9. waves 10. bolts 11. stretching 12. flashing 13. pins and needles 14. splitting 15. nauseating 16. searing 17. tearing 18. cramping 19. gnawing 20. pulsing 21. sore 22. constant

When I ask my pain if it has any consideration for my poor nerves, it replies. “You mistake me, my dear. I have the utmost respect for your nerves. They’ve been my constant companion these twenty years.”

I read about illness as metaphor, writers in pain worrying about falling into clichés. We can either talk about illness bluntly, in plain words, or address the pain metaphorically, or even, surprisingly, in beautiful ways. Is it too hard to believe in this multiplicity while bent over the toilet, throwing up the ache in your stomach? We retch and retch and the pain doesn’t fade; it transforms.

Anne Boyer says: “It was in this brief period that I could hold a visceral memory of having been miserable firmly enough to appreciate almost being sick no more than I experienced something like happiness”.

What of the moments between pain and relief? I’m not trying to say we should feel lucky for pain so we can understand happiness through the experience of no pain. But what of feeling joy in these moments because we are enmeshed in the pain anyway? Is happiness always just the feeling of relief?

The pain hovers above an impossible memory. We excavate the impossible memory, a large dark spot neither of us can see clearly. The impossible memory is vague, obscured, not by disorder, but the dimness of the light in the room, our eyes having a hard time adapting. The examiners, me and you, are confused and inquisitive. We dash in close and peek at the impossible memory, peer over hedges and fences built to keep it safe. But it is impossible, and the root of the impossible is that it is not possible. Excuse my obviousness, but sometimes we cannot see the obvious until it is broken down into smaller pieces. The impossible memory has a rich and heavy interior, but we can’t see anything. We sense the richness and the heaviness. You look at me and my adrenal glands are activated. My heart is activated, my lungs are activated, my facial muscles twitch. My GI tract slows down and my executive functions disengage. I ask you how you can see inside of me. What are you? You say, never mind that silly, let’s keep looking.

We run back and forth until we’re dizzy with sweat and adrenaline, with fatigue and failure.

We pretend it doesn’t exist but the impossible memory keeps reminding us it does.

I scream, please tell me, please tell me, please tell me.

It ignores me. This is not how it works.

I worry that in writing this, I am revealing too much.

For some writers, the memoir is a space of control, a way to reveal the facts they want to reveal, to share their stories so others know they are not alone, to share their stories in the hope that they are not alone. I try to learn from other writers, and give small parts of me, dropped into a glaze of fiction, fired twice over until the reality of it all changes colour, a lilac purple into raw clay brown. Charles Baxter says poets don’t particularly care about the study of character so I guess he’s never met a poet. Tommy Pico would rip him to shreds. Mix around some random details and turn myself into a character, so far away from me that I can convince both you and I that nothing bad has ever happened to me.

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Lives Lost:

Lives Lost:

In Search of a New Tomorrow
by Saeed Yousef
foreword by Shahrzad Mojab
translated by Ahad Bahadori
illustrated by Ava Raha
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We, who have drowned in our own blood

Love life, far more than you do

We, who lost lives, in search of a new tomorrow

Were far-seeing, we knew no afterlife could be found

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