Fear: a sequence

By Olivia Ayes

  1. huru    حر free

Wet blossoms litter the sidewalk. Birds are pecking

at humus for a meal. The wind determined to move.

This city has not broken my heart. It never will.

This morning, I awoke from a dream about walking,

after I’d lost my shoes. There was the bluest ocean,

a window from which I could see but not touch.

Last night you cried on the train, about loss,

about potential for more loss, about how you spent

the day crying and sleeping. Even painful stories

are beautiful—a purple Harlem sunset.


  1. Ijumaa    الجمعة Friday

We take the dusty side streets to Giza Necropolis—

during Ramadan, the guard we bribed turned his head

as we rode our horses through—the money, tossed down.

Prayers reverberated along the angled slopes, the stone blocks.

There is only faith and waiting. Perhaps the calls are heard—

dusk at Tahrir Square, calmness six months after, vendor, flags—

Spongebob and The Scream masks, a KFC. We do not revolt

against this—the risen bread and dough dipped in honey

insufficient to feed our hunger. It is liberation we want—

empires taken and re-taken.


iii. tafadhali    تفضل    please

She cried for hours when she heard—forehead on the shoulder

of a friend. I do not want to leave—I’m happy. I want to keep learning.

The following week, three matrons in black abāyah and niqāb

floated through the school’s gravel driveway—she must

but she can stay until June. We will have the wedding in August.

Do not be afraid, child. He will take care of you. He will love you.

You will be ready.


  1. hatari    خطر danger

In 1962, John Wayne starred in a movie filmed in Tanganyika.

A rhino rams against the vehicle. A giraffe fails to escape.

The enemy we hunt for sport, not unlike the police officer

with his black baton, adding invisible bruises to a man’s ribs—

a drunk, perhaps, a thief—mwizi. The smell, a nauseating

mix of dirt, sweat, and blood. His face is open—a red flower

in bloom—reprehensible, the only purpose to withstand.


  1. mahali    محل place

“There are no slums in America like here,” he says.

Filipino movies opened his world—“How can this place

on the other side of the world have the same problems?”

Favelas, al sakan, gecekondu, ghetto, villas miseria, shanty—

all the forgotten, the mothers unbroken, unwilling to give

to death—no needles of heroin in their arms, no children

whose lives are now unguarded. On nights when you can hear

music and laughter out of her mouth—revising the melancholy

into song, you can almost believe forgiveness.


  1. asubuhi    صبح morning

Rage, dear. We understand. We lay our bodies against

the cold cement floor. We believe, as you do—the winds

punching the trees, the rain pummeling horizontally across

our faces, the shores rising to the height of hills. We cannot

prevent disaster—only wait. Tomorrow, the sun and sky

will return to touch us gently, apologizing with a poem.

We’ll thank the wet earth between our toes, the bodies

you’ve given back to us, absolved. We will remember

that we do not belong to ourselves—


vii. furahi    فرح    happy

Freedom is not the same as escape—I already knew

that night—her mouth on mine—you, somewhere

in another dream, the quiet of fir trees, her arms,

a mountain whose mist still welcomed sunshine. Far—

and soon an ocean, a desert between us. Remember

that you belong only to your wants—how else will you

build your walls? Is it safe there?


For more poems by Oliva Ayes check Sukoon‘s summer 2014 issue


By Lisa Suhair Majaj

I’m forgetting my name, and how it’s spelled,

that alphabet blurred by years of usage,

letters tilting like the time-warped script

in my mother’s worn-out phone book,

its cover encased in a layer of heat-warped plastic.

I’m forgetting the person I used to be

before I got lost in the dust-streaked pages

of brittle phone books with dead-end numbers.

I’ve forgotten how to dial phones that aren’t rotary,

that circular whirr and click

humming the cadences of people now dead.

I can retrieve the dead, their faces and stories,

but I’ve misplaced their voices. I can’t recall

the addresses inscribed in my mother’s cursive

page by page in the grimy volume

I threw in the trash when she died.

But I remember the spasm of regret that rippled through me

as I opened my hand and released that store of names,

noting how the body bears the current of memory

as if it were a phone line.

I recall my mother’s knuckled despair,

that legacy that haunted me with the lure

of forgetting, till I became so successful at amnesia

I could not recall the way back to myself.

I think of all the people who wrote me letters

of condolence after my mother’s death,

those tissue-thin pages that whispered

from a distant land. By now,

they won’t remember me. If I call,

they’ll rifle through their aging memories

as if through a card file, trying to place me,

We’ll stay on the line a long time,

breathing heavily into the slippage of silence,

unwilling to say goodbye.

For more poems by Lisa Suhair Majaj check full winter 2014 issue


In the Cairo Museum

By Claire Zoghb

So many towering things
in that dusty country:
pyramids, columns, obelisks
and three-story Pharaohs,
one granite leg extended
as if to crush us.

A relief, then
these seated scribes
lining the museum’s glass shelves —

small enough to fit the palm,
legs akimbo, a kind of love
in the hunched shoulders,
tiny hands poised mid-glyph,
each stylus lost to the ages.

Egyptian by birth,
monumental in his own way,
my father-in-law was silent
as any stone Ramses,
would not speak to me
for half a decade.
Yet, that May afternoon
in those airless halls,
the dynasties fell away
with the sound of his voice.
Clara, come see —
they mummified their cats.

Fouad has lived seven years
in his own tomb now.
I smooth fresh scrolls
of papyrus across
my alabaster knees,
head bowed, waiting,
my pen casting a shadow
the length of the Nile.

For more poems by Claire Zoghb check the full winter 2014 issue of Sukoon