The Word for Dawn

By Siham Karami

Fajr: the j a mere mirage, light on the tongue
just melting into r, no vowel between,
bluing into nothing but a turning of the lips.
I hear it like a distant motorcycle,
its street lost in a cricket’s heartbeat,
and I find it leaking tiny drumbeats from
my son’s earbuds fallen from his ear,
buzzing in his sleep. Newborn wasps,
tinny, revving j’s straight through the r’s
that rise and thread their little lights
where teeth touch lips and feel the furry f’s
a darkness, void, a space of hairy night.
A single hair edge turning from the deep.

Three poems by Susan Rich

What We Were Taught / What We Have Lost

One of us will never suffer, you promised
as if words were as simple as offering a car ride
for pistachio ice cream on Sunday afternoon.
As easy as turning on the evening news
to hear the fractured screams of a father—
his child killed by mortar fire.
You promised I would be loved in the way
only a father can say, like a spell uttered three times
in the garden with trellises of jasmine flower.
Dad, today I need miracle ice cream
for the boys on the beach in Gaza,
a soccer ball between them.
Their lifeless bodies haunt me
and more, the young faces of their friends.
You promised I would never suffer, father,
but imagine the families checking websites
for their loved ones, for the innocent dead, targeted
by the country we were taught to believe in.
Sometimes I still look for my friends Amjad and Samir,
boys who drove me to Gaza’s shoreline decades ago,
dreaming of five star hotels, an airport.
Father, the day you were diagnosed in Boston, I dressed slowly
and then climbed back into bed, a green blanket
over my head as the bus exhaust rose up,
as the restaurant workers next door
picked stones from grains of rice,
speaking in a language as foreign to me as the future.
Now death arrives each night over Twitter—
the bluebird of death you might say.
And I think of your promise. Your face.

~for Ahed Atef Bakr, Ishmail Mohamed Bakr, Mohamed Ramez Bakr, Zakaria Ahed Bakr and Abraham Rich

In Other Words Bookstore, I Imagine

the lives of the Women of the Word
and What We Leave Behind.

Secondhand volumes lined-up together

debate late into night’s Mourning Hour.
On a side table, My Hope for Peace,

signed by Jehan Sadat and the Middle East

enters this quickly fading bookshop
accompanied by a phantom Lemon Tree.

Out-of-print mothers and daughters join in

as I turn the aisle, learn Drops of the Story
glimpse Naomi’s, Words Under the Words.

Some texts are made for each other—

Travelling Rooms and After the Last Sky.
There’s a developing interest in Water Logic

and the bestseller, What We Have Lost.

If I were to walk again through my life,
Down Roads That Do Not Depart

keep Half of a Yellow Sun in my shirtsleeves,

would My Happiness Bear No Relation to Happiness?
I lift Tomorrow’s Tomorrow from the upper shelf:

Dear Memory Board, Dear Everyone’s Pretty

and Nine Parts Desire, dear Musical Elaborations—
Open the Cloud Box. Taste the Olives,

Lemons and Zaa’tar; The Space Between Footsteps.

Redress The Butterfly’s Burden, the Unreal and the Real—
The Question of Palestine.


Checkpoint

Gaza City, Gaza

I arrive via optimism, in the aftermath of Oslo,
into a roomful of bright teachers,

Welcome to my class on human rights theater,

for Palestinians who have known only its absence.
There are concerns, and then, much excitement,

over the abolishment of classroom rows.

No more first or last students; an equal footing.
On our last day together, a few students ask for my passport—

the men look terribly serious with long rifles
slung over their shoulders. In reality—

these are water guns borrowed from a teacher’s son.

Our play is called, Checkpoint, they tell me.
Each day we live this way.

Five poems by Donia Harhoor

the ides of august 2013

mood matching miles
when he sketches
spain, i pass
baba’s office en route

to supply closet’s
fresh paper. arabic
pulls my ear.
it is ahmed –

u.s. citizenship granted
just 30 minutes
ago as helicopters
rain fire on

ramses square. sky:
storming grey blues.
earth: davis/evans
album cover red.

masr moon

Kareema
always sits
on the stool
in the far corner
of my aunt’s big kitchen
while waiting to know what she
is expected to do next. rayon kerchief
covered head, sweat beads decorating full qamar face.
looks at her hands while smiling wide innocent to herself,
hugs me tight tight, smells like older womens’ worked dampness.
ten-year-old Kareema. eighteen-year-old me asks
about her whenever we call our cairo family.
surprise always clear on the hissing line.
she runs away at twelve – escapes
to home. aunt and uncle
shake heads, suck their
teeth. she chose
village over
villa.

our dear cousins never realize she was just a kid.

one version

story
of immigrant’s
daughter: baba got no
fucks to give bout her diggin’ roots.

transplant.

Gaza Stripped
for Bilal Samir Eweda

Today
soldiers silenced
Bilal. Shot him while he
protested. The Prophet loved his
blessed voice.

Damascus Troilet

Rubble wedged between my toes when we stepped outside.
The night had been much too busy.
Next door, Mrs. Addem’s garden wall crushes two varieties of jasmine and herself alongside –
rubble wedged between her toes. When she stepped outside
to breathe fresher air sweet with night-blooming perfume, her pride
had swelled, such lushness had taken long care-filled hours. Her death, though fragrant, had not come quickly.
She felt the rubble wedge between her toes and everywhere. When we stepped outside
we could see – the night had been much too busy.

Suffer the Little Children

By Marguerite Bouvard

It took me too many days to muster the courage
to pick up the newspaper with the front-page photo
of Abu Anas Ishara’s three-year-old daughter
half naked, her sweet face held in a scream
of extreme pain and confusion
from yet another chemical shell
that landed on her house
enveloping her parents and her newly born
sister in dust and foul smelling
smoke. Her scream remains
without answer, with no arms
to hold her, no medical care in Marea. Her skin
carries the map of a country that pundits
discuss from afar and disagree
among themselves according to their
own needs. But her scream will not
go away. Her pain will travel
like the clouds sweeping across
the sky and when it finds the open
chambers of a heart, it will be bathed
in tears, it will be answered by
a mother’s loving voice.

Marea is an agricultural village in Syria

Renga for Ahmed

By Marwa Helal and Kim Jensen

“Cool Clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.” –President Obama

New twist on an old
crime: cops have now stolen time
from this child, maker

of clocks, the wizard of clocks
was handcuffed at school. Tick, tick

tock. Invisible
hands move across a white face
blind side, slow minds. They

made the phone call in the time
it would take to stop watch. Why

this race to caste blame?
Why the rush to post, hash, and
tag? So who’s it? But

#coolclock, Ahmed. It takes a
licking and keeps on ticking

while war-torn families
land—dead, pulseless in the sand.
It keeps on ticking

in bunkers beneath black sites
in island prisons. Below

the rubble of homes
beneath drones dropping high-tech
loads, a new fangled

weather for a new kind of
war, sold from the White House

to us. And for what?
The circuit’s closed. And if there’s
a hoax—it’s on us.

In the painting on the wall

By Chaun Ballard

Handala,
the young refugee boy, stands
at the broken wall
and concentrates his gaze
in the direction of Jerusalem,
and he knows he will pass through
this stone that has opened—
and when he does,
he will venture to the other side
alone.
Though he knows
when he departs this land
he might never return,
he does not turn around. He never waves
farewell to the people gathered.
He knows his pause is enough.

Handala,
the young refugee boy, stands
gazing from the broken wall—
fathers, mothers, children,
and liberators have come
to wave flags, some wave hands,
and they know
he must cross into this freedom
alone. For they know his will—
they have all seen his face.

For more poems by Chaun Ballard, check the full issue: Vol. 4, Issue 1

Four poems by Momtaza Mehri

Barcodes

اقرأ – the First Word. In His Name. The last book shut on us.
The lesson?
Angels speak in imperatives, could teach us a thing or two
about saying what we really mean.

subtext: a naar hung from the highest shelf/ of our ribcage/mark where a wetness dots space/between thumb and mouth/journey to & from/isra & mi’raaj/you left a teeth mark on the butter/of my wrist/

Four by four makes sixteen. ضرب to multiply is to beat. In my old tongue.
We are striking numerals together, hoping for a spark to feed one
of our mouths. Turn each uvula into a burning chandelier.

subtext: a dress of skin lost from an ankle/licked dry into a plate/watch me outwit this dunya/ with each finger snap

Five or twenty five. Both days spent on the big bed.
So BIG I wanna drown in it.
A bed is a country and your nape’s salt weight on a freshly changed pillow
a contradiction. I have named each checkpoint a ‘birthmark’ or something else permanent.

subtext: waiting for my father’s phlegmy cough/meaning yes/she is no longer a walking hazard sign known as daughter/ take her from me/ take my blessing and run with it

Seven. The seventh son died of treatable causes. An uncle still sees his face in the youngest.
Meanwhile, I am still auditioning for this country’s approval.

subtext: i am tired of counting/in a script that folds my lungs/draws a an exhale from the centre of ٥ mouth/ but mostly/i am just tired

عشرة remains the same in all languages. Imagine that kinda consistency
in a man/border of your choosing?

Dieuetmondroit

He, the cart-carrier, Kalahandar boy.
wrapped in sweat’s fine sheen, shalwaar rising and falling
like a raised flag (white)
or a collapsed lung (right?)
A Khaleeji sun to glue a man’s eyelids together.
Dubai hasn’t met an afternoon she couldn’t choke. Not yet.
Watch him weave though a human maze,
a mule load weight on his shoulders.

Take of me what you will,
but pay me. She understands this language. A life in fine print and remittances.

She, in a black abaaya trailing, a spray of folded jasmine,

and three shades darker still,
a sugar-free Coke lulling the back of her throat.
Watch breath frost a window’s glass. From the inside,
an aunt barters gold across a counter’s gloss.
Outside, a man glistens in all the worst ways.
Between them there is so much,
and so little, but mostly,
Her Majesty’s cardboard pulse, blushing
from the inside of her travel pouch.

In the back of a yellow cab marked ‘occupied’,
twin windscreen wipers part their thighs,
and she tastes

the accident of her birth.


The Night We All Watched Talal Maddah Die On Television

The stage of keys became a footnote. An underline
to a dashboard heavy with cassette tape wonder.
We go backwards to go forwards, a shared madness.

His last words a dream of palm trees and a grazing breeze.
The Scholar. The Throat.
Makkah’s Golden Boy turned into a knot of eyebrows, clawing at collar,
a fit of nerves. A crowd yelps,
checks his pulse, hears the whole of the Hijaz held
from a thread, and your sigh, softer still frosting the glass of a TV screen.

Later, the confirmation. They always come too late. A heart attack.
Newscaster slips out of the standardised into yarhamu hu’ llah
into may he rest in the highest gardens.

Your mother, too, conducts her own ritual
from the mourning bed of the plastic-wrapped settee,
all too familiar with the sight of a man’s body
crumpling into itself.

The new millennium takes another innocence from us.


The Second Time I watched Talal Maddah Die Onscreen (Replay)

enter: الاصيل سويعات

enter: suwaycaat alasiil

enter:suwa3at alaseel

You find the video on a web corner, nostalgia-pungent and dislocated.
One comment thumbed into a dozen likes tells its own story.
Gives a context you didn’t ask for. Hit replay and ignore. Try to.

التياع جمر على ضمأى همسة الوداع غير لي ليس واخيرا

This strum, this song, it can’t be true. You’ve read it twice now, lingering
under the description box. He wrote this one, your favourite, after his youngest son fell
from a window. Apparently.

الوداع قتو من اعنف لوعة البقاع كل في حلو يا اجد لم

Was it a high-rise? Before or after crude oil bubbled into living rooms?
Before this heart-split we named modernity?
You are never sure, will never be. Know better than to trust what lies beyond a screen.
Trust only in what you’ve caught sight of.

On glossed-out, Beirut-set talent shows, they sometimes sing that final song.
There is always something damp and bottomless to each verse.
The contestant always looks nervous. This you are sure of.

Time’s Childhood

By Kim Peter Kovac

Winter sunset splashes cardinal colors
over the ancient city carved from red
sandstone in the desert midway
between the Dead and Red seas:
Petra, now a tourist magnet, once
a vibrant capital and caravan hub.

The poet who wrote “rose-red city,
half as old as time” had spent no time
there; the carved walls would say
that ‘rose-red’ is a dull description,
and the rocks have no remembrance
of him, though they whisper tales

and secret stories of so many others
when you touch them, close your eyes
and say “there was, there was not.”
The rock-ness of Petra belies the life
of a spirited city, with theater, homes,
treasury, the place of high sacrifice,

as well as a home to revolutionaries
fighting with white-robed Lawrence.
After climbing the steep, winding route
to the highest, most inaccessible carving,
the Monastery, the whispering rocks
chant other legends in the form of prayers.

The Bedu families who live in caves
carved into the slopes of Jebel al-Madhbah,
the mountain of the altar, can trace
their ancestry farther back than history.
The rocks look like them, and they
like the rocks: stunning and hard,

and the poetry of their faces calls out
in a language before language,
in words before words, and you hear
deep inside you a lucid, luminal
song, swirling through the mountains
of this youthful city older than time.

Occlusions

By Eman Hassan

i- What we leave out.

I know something of that clank,
nickels and pennies in my mouth,
of times they rust at the back of my throat
making me think of rosebushes
along my back yard wall,
my urge to clip their unruly babel of leaves
down to their original stump
and I am lost
among the shrubbery of my own language,
held back by arbitrary branches.
At night I brush twigs from my bushy hair,
pull thorns from under the tip of my tongue.
Makes me think of my grandmother,
when she turned seven, seeing speech
as perception, announced
to her immigrant mother there will be no more Polish
spoken in the house again: only American.
She taught me how to swear in her maternal
tongue, often spoke of how Great Nana Julia
would scream
long strings of words
at her husband, in a language my grandmother
didn’t remember, those monosyllabic and compound
phrases, just recalled the cuss words
arbitrarily passed down.
My mother tells me this one night as she nods off, smiling
at an image of her grandfather Stanislaus, mumbling

as he stands up for dramatic pause, looks down
at his screechy wife, then flips his hearing aid off.

ii. Loose change

Sometimes people in the old Kuwaiti
market mistake me for American,
which I am, but also one of them,
unlike my British brother in-law,
who teaches Arabs to speak English
there at thirty-five dollars an hour,
his price half the cost
the institute he once worked at
charged for his cockney.
Even my brother in-law can hear
my own words as different, almost off-key,
like my sisters, softer on the gutturals
and heavier intonations. Yes,
I tell him, yes, I am lost between
the diphthongs of one language
and another, among three-pronged
Arabic, its roiling lyric, and Anglophone
Latin, who’s various roots twist
and branch plural versions,
British or American English, yes,
I am lost in my own lack
of singular linguistic socialization.

Who are we, peering out from a construct of sentences,
giving them jingle and form? Who can put a price our coins?

iii. What we take for granted

At the T-Mobile branch I single Elton out,
his unmistakable lilt: Elton is Chaldean,
from the land of Babel and Sumer.
Has never been, but once wanted to be
an interpreter in Iraq because the money,
he heard, was good. When his manager steps
back into the store Elton stops being
familiar, cuts the conversation, says loudly
he was born in Michigan,
explains how my new messaging service
will let me text Kuwait
at forty-five cents a pop.
Elton pronounces Kuwait
like the noun is made out of money:
his associated value with the word
reminds me how we both take for granted
the wealth of a multiple language.
Elton reminds me of my Kuwaiti father
who never took the name of the Lord in vain
but praised it, who often switched around
compound words in English, saying
towel paper or stew beef. He took for granted
I would be proficient in Arabic,
Often dismayed at my syntactic variations.
I took for granted our last conversation
mostly because of the shock,
as we watched the broadcast about Nick
a kidnapped US contractor on TV,
too stumped to speak.

What we leave out, or take for granted. What we take in vain.
The way they held a knife under Nick’s throat, ululating His Name.

Two poems by Nicole Olweean

For the Stranger Who Knew How to Pronounce My Name

Tell me how it came to be alla-win
for you. Understand: my father let me say it

wrong until I was fourteen and burying
my Jido. I loved the part where we each

said a Fatiha into a handful of dirt and dropped it
onto his newest silence. Do you also know

the Fatiha? It reminds me that we prefer
to feel beauty and fear close

to one another. I think this is how
it happened: Jido got into bed and didn’t

think of Mecca or of morning, and when I
found my father on a prayer rug

for the first time, I knelt beside him
and said, alla-win, alla-win, alla-win.

Peace Be Upon You, O People of the Graves

Assalam alaikum yaa ahlil kuboor. My ancestors,
I haven’t come to you for words.
My tongue and your tongues have known
different shapes for God, for amygdala.
My body has less grace than one who knows
her own soft history unabridged.
Can you give me this, a string to hold?
Can you hold this, this other end,
so that it hangs not limp in the dirt?