By Olivia Ayes
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?