5 poems by Noor Ibn Najam

black girl freest girl on earth

she throw arms to sky
grow wings. her ascension

stronger than chains.
stronger than rage & this magic

carry her to god. & god shine
through her as she rise. & the spirit

consume everything else,
& cleanse as sage do.
it is always you, sista, who raises me

from the dead. praise your music, your poultice and ointment. this. this is black girl magic. that a sista’s song could bring back what i mistook for crucified. that a sista’s touch could resurrect hope from the grave it made of my body. your voice a harmony with every scream i swallowed last night, humming in my throat until my voice box loses what was stiff & dances.

i’m at a gathering of sisters – they look like me. frankincense and lavender curling out our ears. the glory of heaven through our teeth. our scalps dripping with sweat, rosemary; eyes full of tears. & this the only place

i deem holy today. black girls sing out the ancestors’ names like a prayer for rain. libations crash down to earth from a bottle. we let the first tears fall in these months of blood. we drench ourselves, we let ourselves be glory. we become the heaven we pray to. we become a mercy, a split in the sky & the earth

does not drink our blood today. only our fresh water. only joy that is deeper than us. only gospel like a small river cutting itself into the ground after a storm. i let myself feel everything that we are today. & i feel no fear when i look into my eyes & see

rain.

scar // story

my scars are an invisibility cloak. no one will look

at a ghost’s flesh // no one wants to see flesh’s ghost
my scars are skin-memories // textured melodies
passed down // child to woman
hide the child inside the woman // hide the story inside the scar

and no one will ask about them

 

ode to mouth

the plump cupid’s bow pink and brown
black hair above
bathing in the light of a glowing lotus
ring hanging from my septum.
the sloping upper lip uneven, its asymmetrical
spread as i smile. the big beige teeth,
peekaboo-shy. the smile, mouth
closed when it wants to be pretty.
the pursed lips that come natural
when it’s kissing or impatient or tense.
the lips easily parted. the involuntary
pout. the lines of the skin, how they bathe
themselves in rouge for a night out.

 

iftar when she kisses you

rise as a crescent moon. bite her lip
as you would a date. break your fast
on her brown honey

The Women in my Family Cook

            don’t cook while you’re upset. you’ll poison the food with your anger
– my mother

A woman dark as silence cooks her well-earned rage
down like collards. An off-white woman, pumice-skinned, simmers
resentment in a pressure cooker – tender lambflesh, made ready to eat
by bitter steam, water of cloves, of allspice,
of salt agitated into the air. When the nightmares slunk
between my sheets, I roughened
as my hair, silk scarf torn
from my head by the thrashing, pillows of cotton
scratching at my follicles. I tossed and turned
like water, agitated. I told my mother
that my sleep was haunted. She said, perhaps not.
A ghost is just another mirror
pointed into your mouth. What had you eaten for dinner?

 

 

Four poems by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

Dhayaa

In my language
the word for loss is a wide open cry,
a gaping endless possibility.
In English loss sounds to me like one shuddering blow to the heart,
all sorrow and absence hemmed in,
falling into a neatly rounded hole,
such tidy finality.

In my language
the word for loss is a long vowel stretched
taut and anchored between behemoth consonants, reverberating—
a dervish word
whirling on itself
in infinite emptiness
the widening gyre,
the eternal motion of grief.

Eating the Earth

And to the flour
add water, only
a thin stream whispering gathered
rains of a reticent winter.

And to the flour add oil, only
a glistening thread snaking through
ridges and ravines of what
sifts through your fingers,
what sinks, moist and burdened
between your palms.

And in the kneading
hinge forward, let the weight
of what you carry on your shoulders,
the luster of your language, shade
of your story press into the dough.

And to the dough bring
the signature of your fingertips, stretch
the canvas before you, summer linen
of wheat and autumn velvet of olive oil,
smooth like a map
of silence and fragrance,
of invisible terrains of memory.

And on the dough let the green leaves
fall, drenched
sumac stars flickering among them
shards of onion in their midst.

Scatter them as the wind would
or gather them in the center of this earth
and fold them into the tender embrace
of the dough, cool and soft beneath their bodies.

And make a parcel of the dough,
filled with foraged souvenirs,
fold them in, and then again,
let their silhouettes gaze back at you.
Recall found treasures of hillside
wandering; flint, thorn
blossom and a hoopoe
feather carried home in your skirt.

And to the flames surrender
the bread, gift of your hands.
Grasp its tender edges and turn it
as the heat strafes and chars
this landscape you have caressed.
Some grandmothers sing as they bake,
others speak prayers.

And let the edges bristle to the color
of earth, let the skin of the bread scar.
The song of zaatar simmering
in its native oil rises up
and time evaporates. You are young
again, it is spring
in the greening valley.

*zaatar – wild thyme native to the Levant

Intifada Portrait
for Ramzi

I have a Palestinian friend
who drinks coffee with me once in a while
and tells me stories of the Intifada.

“Who can erase those days from the memory of time?
The land will never forget our footsteps
pounding against bullets and tear gas.
My skin remembers it.”

I grew up watching it on the news,
the nightly accounting of young broken bones,
the women in sensible skirts
and the boys in kuffiyehs
who all woke up one morning and had enough.

I have a Palestinian friend
who lived that rainy winter
stone to stone
who swayed over the hairpin edge of death
who shouldn’t even be here today
to talk about it.

I have a Palestinian friend
whose eyes are like two pools of olive
oil about to ignite.
They swarm with stars as he tells me
about his Intifada portrait.

“The Israeli soldiers showed it to me in jail.
They have cameras that can get a close up
of every pore in your skin!
Shit! Is that really me?
I was flying
above the black smoke
from the burning tires…”

He leans over his coffee cup,
“…a stone in my clenched fist,
ready to strike!”

His eyes narrow now,
his voice drops to a low rumble.
“Who is going to erase that
from their memory?”

Gone to Feed the Roses

“More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.” – Edna St. Vincent Millay

Unseasonably warm today, and green
pierces through January earth saturated,
earth that shifts like a lover, wrestling silent
nightmares deep into darkness.

Four years ago we embraced, sleep-
walking through the moonlit square,
four years ago our slogans were winter
coats and our throats were bonfires.
How our words dissolve in tear gas,
how the thorn of who our neighbors are
pierces without warning. What
happens next is only human.

Unseasonably light today, no clouds to obscure
glass eye of the sun staring at us
docile winter-worn wanting
for anything that tastes of spring —
we’ll sip poison if it’s served in pretty teacups.

What is that poem? Something about roses,
I can’t recall but I know a woman wrote it.
I know it as a mother
knows in her bone marrow
that a child who has gone missing from the street
hasn’t just turned the corner to chase after a stray ball
but has been taken,
knows in her bone marrow,
with the dirty fingernails grip of certainty,
that the child will
not return breathing.

I can’t remember the poem
about roses and witness,
the delirium of all that perfume
ornamental blades of thorns
petals like mouths writhing muted
for the fallen as they scatter,
trampled underfoot.

I know she was a woman,
that poet who wrote of roses,
just as a woman marched to the edge
of memory, four years after
a dream soured into nightmare
with a wreath of roses,
her words trickling out of her head
a rose-red poem spilling on the streets of her city.

in memory of poet Shaymaa Sabbagh, poet of Alexandria, killed on the 4th anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.