Two poems by Layla Ghoushey

Refuge

Soon after my uncle’s family knocked on the
door of America, he stood on his new home’s
porch with a television in his arms. They were
migrating from the transitory flat to the house,
where Siti would enter paradise years later.
But that time had not yet arrived and, when
he knocked,

no one came.

Perhaps the women were swabbing the floor of the
kitchen, or rinsing the bathtub with bleach. Maybe his
children were disrespecting him. They knew that he
would never find a steady business in this country.

He would get a job at a grocery, but
throw down his apron when asked
to bag at the checkout line like a
half grown kid, not like a man with a
wife, three kids, and a mother
at home.

Perhaps he already knew my
aunt would be the breadwinner
and that he would lose himself
in Palestinian tragedies
broadcast to his living room as
he sipped his mother’s tea.

He threw the idiot box onto the porch, and
the screen shattered into a million pieces.
My aunt opened the door and found him,
lost in America: broken, scattered,
sheltered-in- place.

Public Bath

Bright, white light on Independence Day.
Hot July 4th at the pool. Solitude in a
crowd. Water drips. Fountains burst and
bubble from a hole in the ground, and I
remember Aya Baradiya, a Palestinian
woman, buried by her uncle to cover her
shame.

I dodge the selfie-sticks of adolescent Roman
conquerors. Their DNA bequeathed from
middle-aged Dads via Paul’s journey to Rome.
Their little chromosomes once voyaged
between Rome and Jerusalem along the Way
of the Soul.

In the drowning Mediterranean,
little refugee boats are baby-filled
with desperation, while in Saint Louis,
a woman in a burqini floats
with her kids at the pool.

Brown bodies, white bodies
meander on the lazy river. Pudgy
curves and love handles spill out
of bikinis.

Sun-starved skin and varicose veins are revealed.
Hats: white, green, blue, with wide brims, conceal
a child’s urine in the pool.

I emerge from the depths, and a breeze
evaporates water from my skin.

A cooling liberty repels the sun’s tyrannical heat.
I am cleansed with the Enlightenment, with
individualism, with secularism, with female
brazen dignity.

I glide on supple little waves.
It is my independence day.

I wash the shame from my skin,
but the filth of privilege remains.