‘Get up girl and learn the names of trees:
Look how clever the mouse is!
It is hiding from the fire in the Douglas fir cone.
The western red cedar’s scales are intertwined.
The Lebanese cedar is taller and finer.
Minor differences, same tribe.
Whenever you are homesick
Run your fingers on the silky leaves of the vine maple then look up
Shreds of Andalusian sky flickers between the see-through leaves.
Out write the sword fern!
Don’t be brittle like a willow tree!
Girl, the red alder seeds float to survival.
Hagar must find water!
When your soul is under siege
Go to Cedar Deep! Hum and hum
Until the currant flowers
The robins, finches, singing sparrows, and even whales return,
Until the dark winter wrens fly away!
And, yes, whatever you do do not write about daffodils and clouds!
When missing grips your heart
Stick a white dogwood flower in your hair
And look towards the curvaceous harbour and the native mountain!
Her stolen spirit will tingle her way back to you.
When all is said and done girl
Lay your head on the dry leaves and scales and let go!
Fill your heart with the scent of nearness!
Turn your head not!
Women you have never seen or heard will deliver you.
In *Hedgebrook it is easy to die.
*Hedgebrook is a retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, Seattle, USA
Back to School
He dressed me in orange,
Sat me down,
Pointed at the board
With a red laser beam
And said, ‘Repeat after me!’
I could not say it.
So he prodded me with his pointing stick.
The word looked unfamiliar,
A glimpse of a distant past.
I cleared my throat,
Forced my jaws open,
Twisted my tongue
And repeated after the American GI,
The Peace Wheel
My father used to read verses from the Qur’an,
The ‘I seek refuge’ then blow on my face
To ward off the evil eye ‘mine and theirs’.
I filled my ribs with the wind of love
And blew and blew,
Like wounds wars healed,
Borders turned into tourist attractions,
Poverty became just a memory.
Displaced, Arab I stood in *Langley Park
And blew and blew until
The peace drum started spinning,
A confetti of prayers swirled to the sea,
Hearts and sand dunes shifted,
Until the baby girl stopped crying.
* The Peace Wheel is a drum full of prayers located in the centre of Langley Park, a town in Whidbey Island, Seattle, USA
Arab Coffee in Indianapolis
(For my brother Salah)
My Circassian mother crosses seas on your high cheek bones
Then you tell a sassy joke and Eman like a jinnee appears
When you say ‘no really?’ Wafa’ smiles
You savour your coffee just like Ekhlas
I search for traces of home in your face
For the familiar to prop up my heart
With the coffee I drink your face
Like my Bedouin ancestors dry yoghurt
I store your voice, almond-shaped eyes, your aging hands
In glass jars made of blue Hebron glass
I am the one who loves first
Sees least and regrets most
A demi tass lined with mouldy coffee grains
Roof and sky close in
Lightening the only cracks in Indi darkness
Suddenly like fireflies the jars glow
*Wafa’, Ekhlas and Eman are the names of my sisters.
Indianapolis 15 May, 2005,
The Pump House,Hedgebrook, Whidbey Island, Seattle, USA
May 12-20, 2005
Alia Mamdouh, Raja’ Alem, Shadia Alem, Suhair Hammad, Ibtihal Salim and Chomin Hardi.
Justine Barda, Jacinda Denison, Beth Bradley, Kim Berto, Jess Dowdell, Barton and Gretchen Cole, and Billy Pape
The Arab American Community Coalition and the members of the Women Writers of the Arab World Steering Committee