Tuesday, February 25, 2014
for his return;
a Cardinal calls.
I walk to the window.
The corpse of my dead thoughts stirs...
All those mothers
awaiting long lost loved ones
there were no Cardinals, Blue Jays or even Mourning Doves.
All the waiting.
No end in sight.
Pippen didn't know where he was going (when he flew out).
Anymore did Ahmed (when he left the nest).
When they made him read his last rites on the blurred screen,
the cold white sheets of his bed where I'd once slept
envelope my chest
in a slow-forming noose
tugging out the last breath of hope in me...
I didn't have to wait;
his mother did.
And No, ...
There were no Cardinal calls;
only the DPMO,
they had found some bones...
Note: Ahmed Altai was an Iraqi-American MIA (abducted by the Mehdi Army in Iraq) whose remains were finally found in 2012. His mother was my mother's childhood friend. When we (my mother, some friends & I) had all gone to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to attend a Marcel Khalife concert, he had offered me his bedroom to spend the night and went to spend the night at a friend's home.
Pippen was my cockatiel who in one month had memorized 12 bird songs (per the bird clock in 'his' room). I lost him in 2014.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
vanishing into the blue
Hues of hope
dithering with the
One more hope
I hang on to the hull
of your shipwreck
To find that
I cannot bury
in your dying dreams
My life hangs
at half mast
as I attempt to pull
images of your disolving love
I drown deep down
And again, I drown.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
That your eyes ask in silence,
Before I can grasp
The tale of their quest.
Capture the rest of my letters,
From a gaping mouth
And stretch their meaning
To saturate all the ego
That is your mind.
You hold down
And insist that I express myself.
In my resistance,
You discover my religion…You.
As you sip my thoughts,
And relish the taste of your skin
In my dreams.
You are everywhere,
I breathe your name,
Savor your presence
As you grace
My eternal orbit of your realm.
Lost are the reasons
That bind me to reason.
You are my all
And all that remains of me
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
It's like February brought birth from another land...
Not where I was born.
Cold and white and despair-intriguing.
The dogs won't walk.
As do the chilled waters
surrounding dying flowers
who have forgotten how to be thirsty.
This February was the sign of my death.
Smiles from older photo-memories of people,
They were gone to a land warmer,
where God had more than one sun to give out
And left us,
in the land of Cold February.
Friday, January 11, 2013
the stuff that is hard to come by
Your smile would open God's sky
to let through his faith in humankind
But you never saw the sky...
And now you have left this world of skies.
And we lie,
injured spirits underneath,
drenched in self-inflicted miseries of rain
when God had intended your Angel Monsoons
to wash us clean of pain.
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Monday, July 02, 2012
Don't go just yet.
A few more words over these lines;
they could be
but, you don't know it...'
I may not know tomorrow.
I want to know
that yours will be good
when I'm gone.'
I have hope;
not anymore in enduring...
I have hope
that you will endure
when you call again,
and I'm not there to answer.'
I have saved
some of my last breath
for this conversation.
that I may hear you,
that I may love you,
for the last time.'
Monday, June 18, 2012
when in anguish
a moisturizer for my harsh thoughts
to take the edges off
my sharp emotions...
to cool me down
I like to sip tea.
And let the taste linger
over my tattered spirit
for a while
as it renders it whole
all the wandering thoughts
and makes them warm...
Thursday, February 10, 2011
He lived in a Samsonite hardside briefcase
cat & all...
In it were stacked,
notes from Stockholm,
lies from China,
and cigar smoke.
Tobacco dust, like his tears found the corners
when he couldn't wipe them off his spectacle rims.
Those were old too...but comfortable.
In that case,
arguments of what might have become of Cambodia,
in the sixties, but never transpired.
underneath layers of thoughts and words,
what he had proclaimed to primary figures
that had made the wars go around
In that case, the late letters to
heads of states,
pleas for peace
in a sinking world...
Then came the cat,
orange and staring,
the warm distraction
he'd craved all his life.
A deck of cards was the only game he controlled.
Everything else had collapsed into a soothing frangrance of tobacco dust.
It all ended in the briefcase,
the smaller, crystal bowl realm of guesses
he could see through bifocals.
And one day the lid fell shut...
And Ralph was gone...
took his life over a balcony rail.
No one could face how he died,
and then, it was Dad's turn.
He crawled into the other side briefly,
and decided he didn't want to return.
He left the Samsonite briefcase on the dining table...
On it, a picture of himself, hugging Ralph.
Note: Inspired by a photo of my father holding Ralph, our cat. His very familiar brief case on the dining table behind him. Dad died of a stroke in 1999. He went into a coma on February 18, 1999 and passed away on Sunday, February 28, 1999.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
these people that come from my land
they grow legs and horns for sanguine stories
that sit on chairs
then rot as they unravel and run...
They trace images in the air
that only God
they bite their native tongues
as they utter
these new words
like 'them' and 'us'
These people from my land
have released their grasp of their roots
The seas of enstrangement
have filled the hallows of their
they dream different dreams
dominions where nightmares
touch the grounds
as they enter
to stamp a smoother end out.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Sniped in the eye
before my vision
could savor the next ‘thirsty pixel’.
and then no more…
Clouds pushing hard
for a way out of my socket…
streams and rivers
and then this drought
carves its bed in my face.
Know they, that I can spell
more names for color
than they ever tasted in their
Know they, that Yahweh
designed different dawns
for minds like mine?
Know they, that I am the same blood
that pulled that trigger…
And saw they, with their eyes
that can still see,
the horizons of their expiring aspirations
If an eye was the cost,
my cause is not lost.
I did not fall.
Their humanity did.
My poem to Emily Henochowicz, a Jewish art student who lost her eye to an IDF sniper when protesting the Gaza flotilla incident.
Friday, February 19, 2010
in a faraway country.
It used to be your home...
But I don't have a country
I don't anymore, have a country.
They laid Aunt Nahida to rest,
with all the rest,
her burial in a faraway country.
She too, no longer has a country.
You put the cobalt-blue china vases away Mother.
The Rahal paintings, you placed,
on the walls of a house of stone...not brick,
and you tried to call this house,
in a faraway country.
Please don't tell me, I have a house, Mother.
You too, ...you don't have a house!
You too Mother,
you no longer...
have a country.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
of the world
She brings sun
in Turkish coffee cups
She brings news of freshly-brewed war
on the TV channel that
doesn't play here
the story of the
that no one could identify
at the neighbor's garden gate
She brings smiles
from better times
She brings hope
that people over there
can continue to live
and carry on
to the next war...
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
and frivolous cats used to
run their long tails
in the slits
between the hinges
of the doors
Now the creepers
run the windows
where bullet cracks capture
the smeared drops of last breath
And cold gardens of pain linger
where some wished they could have blended
with the weeping soil
Now it is...
Then it had laughed
when the sun tickled
its belly to beautiful mornings
Those days the palms will tell you
that could warm sniffling infants to sleep
for hours if their mothers wished…
Those days the street lamps glistened
to the hum of love-making coming
from the rooms
Nights, under leaves
where toes grasped grass
sharing thoughts of
Then the walls stood strong
gathered us in
and guarded our thoughts
less they turn into sin...
Now they hide the hate
We no longer belong…
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
watched the bread break off my brother’s bleeding teeth
He had never tasted blood-flavored bread...
I, the terrorist held my breath,
as the bricks from my kitchen ceiling
hit my forehead…
Yet, I could still stand…
I, the terrorist,
took the rut-filled road to get water
for my suckling infant.
I lost a few fingers
on the way,
to a precision sniper…
I, the terrorist,
dug-up some dirt water
with what was left of my stubs,
to nurse my wailing one,
as he lay in the arms
of the still-warm
body of his departed mother…
I, the terrorist, hated
that my newborn had to taste
I hated that
he now had no milk
the scarlet stuff slowly bubbling on his lips…
Then, I the terrorist,
like his mother,
like my brother,
and every other terrorist
who had sat for a meal
at that fractured kitchen table
stopped feeding too…
Note: Inspired by a survivor of the Gaza massacre, sitting in what remained of his home with what looked like a fingerless bleeding hand...
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Ahmed went to get them
from ‘Kasra wa Aattash’
and the Egyptian laborer
mispronounced his Islamic name…
Pink, you thought or maybe sand-colored,
as you decided where you wanted to place them
and plant a home in the hearts
of your growing children.
Strong, you thought
so they would not break
as times tried them
and the wars did…
Under the sun
you would touch up the hues
with teachings of tolerance
of everything different...
The letters you engraved
and the notes you played,
the 45s scratched with
silent as they screeched…
and the yellowed pages
of alien words
baked with the ancient knowledge
But the wars outdid the bricks
they splintered the love
and everything in between
and created these chinks
that you eventually crawled into…
The spectrum of confusion
dimming the light
of your bright bright eyes
and yet your faith
in our homecoming
had picked them up
at 'Kasra wa Attash',
he never asked
if the stuff
But you knew,
it would survive the shrapnel,
live through the blackouts...
as we craved light…
And we never really left, Father.
We built these outposts of transition
as we tried to stay sane...
In our hearts and in our minds
we’ve always lived
under the warmest shades
of your pale pink dreams
and always will…
Note: For my siblings, Ahmed and Zinnah.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
brown and black ...
They crawl at the end of their time
that we will never know...
They respect each others private
before the final accession.
They turn their heads
the other way
when loved ones die.
Then turn them again
to bestow all the love of the skies
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
as immense as my eyes can sense
and as infinite as my first fetal memory.
You are my God
too big to be confined
to the books of ancient
or endless times...
You are my God
not bound by
the hollows of sickly principles
stringent or lenient
not shackled to letters
of meaningless thinking
that changes and changes
and changes again...
Those who knew you
spoke of you
and those who dreamt
put words in your mouth...
You are beyond the words,
and those that wrote them
and those that dictated
you had a face
and you had a word
for every rule...
You are the thing
that moves this world
and all it encompasses
and all it surrounds.
You are compassion
that knows no bounds...
You are constant, eternal...
You are my God.
Monday, July 07, 2008
they build a 'Kingdom of Walls'
first to separate us from our roots
to separate the roots.
In our diaspora
the concrete of a living memory is cracked.
They plant weeds of amnesia in the cold cracks
to suffocate our roots...
And our roots cry
And our roots rot in the dampness of their tears
And then our roots
are no more...
Our nostalgia climbs
these concrete walls
and the journey
knows no end...
And they butcher
at the walls' frostbitten edges...
In our diaspora
we are fingerless.
We cannot count
why we are here,
we cannot count
of walls that have spawned
since our arrival.
Our roots have ghosts
that visit this 'Kingdom of Walls'.
each with a story
looming as large
Note: On the walls of separation created by occupation here and at home...
Monday, June 09, 2008
in a corporate commercial building on the third floor
next to a set of white iron rails and carpet
where the stains
of last winter
I had called her from this staircase
and she described what it meant living the way
while trying to keep her children sane.
I had not heard her voice in two winters
and in spring when I did
it brought all the sunshine that Iraq could endure
and Ohio could dream of…
as I press my shoes in the carpet
my toes jut out in impatience
but for someone I love like next of kin
someone I knew all my life…almost
I have been very patient.
I have waited 13 months…
At times the silence spat staggering truths about the end of waiting.
At times the lines spawned noises that clawed at my brain and my breath.
She is no longer in that local Baghdad directory...
and I am left to this silence.
The occupation had raped and killed an ‘Abeer’
and set on fire all that was left of her and her kin
and hence followed nightmares that this is an omen…
I wake up in sweat and all around there is this silence.
I wonder and anger that this world can remain this silent...
Abeer returns in dreams every May,
a smile of compassion from warm brown eyes
and a nonchalant nod at the life she knew or knows…
I don’t know...
I wonder if she even breathes anymore…
or if her body lies somewhere…
Note: I grew up with Abeer, in Baghdad Iraq. She is (was?) an architect, and single mother who was abandoned by the rest of her family in Hai Al-Jamiaa. There was a raid on her area which was considered a 'hot-spot' in the summer of last year. I have not heard from her since. I reference her here.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
are my father’s last smile
and the torn pages of his unfinished book…
All I want from my country which was gang-raped back in a Baghdad alley
are the remnants of my mother’s shredded scarf…
are my sister’s last words before her tongue was strangled
All I want from my country which was dragged by her hair down a bloodied Tigris bank
are the stolen cradle of my Mesopotamian heritage
and the swaddle of a mutilated infancy that crawled into oblivion...
But I am not allowed to want…
So I cannot want…
I cannot want.
Friday, May 09, 2008
and look for those who listened...
It rained like he wanted the world to end
but it didn't.
was where the war was.
was where we all stripped ourselves of memory.
Windows gasping at the endless clouds of nights,
witnessing sparks like sunbeams stifled,
like the sun was reluctant to sleep eternally,
after the last star had spat in her face...
Eyes to torrents of tears,
of endings as swift as lightening
fear that after this
it would never rain again.
After this, God would never talk to us again.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
and it uttered your eternal name
there on the wet road home
it sat in the rain,
immersed in wait.
Cringing at the sight of my tires
never tiring the burden of words
you spelt in a rainbow
on its back
picking its feathers clean of the confused mud
clearing its sanity away
you’ll arrive here too
in your tatters of a spirit
and tattoos of long-lived longing
with the plume of a brown pegion
roosting in the rain
dragging drizzling letters to your doorstep…
Yes, it’s I, your father…again…
Thursday, February 07, 2008
they do not want to hear the truth of what you saw
because they didn’t invent it…
Don’t use those words
they pulled them out of the local dictionary
three massacres ago…they will not make sense anymore.
Darling, be quiet.
Think your thoughts…in silence…
This telephone has ears…
The books of history
will tell the son
that his father killed for ‘liberty.’
They will not tell
of the other son
who watched through the window
his fathers spurting life
stain the concrete patio of their home
for reasons he will never see
because he couldn’t invent them…
He will have his own words for his local dictionary.
These books of science
will tell you
that its necessary
some must go
so others stay on…
That’s another truth for you,
and you didn’t invent it…
There... close to the sun-filled window
where the old old trees bare their arms
for the weary traveller
of winding questions
as he tries to discover a bosom of rest,
lies a stone-filled grave.
In it, their shades of centuries-old green visions
under the very feet of those who land there,
soaked in crimson truth,
like no one invented…
truth, that even you
Monday, December 31, 2007
came with peach;
orange-like soap suds
under a low-ceiling
of showering promises.
A small iron-framed window
in the tile wall
into the dark unknown
its handle too wet
for fresh minds to grip.
Faces awashed with the assumed known
flicking mental floaters of
It all came to blossom
many seas later;
The specimens of by-products
of time's tests
lined up at my
Some blowing dreams of
into the remaining sunlight,
gripping moments like
dripping chocolate on ice.
And most blew bad mouth breath
into contaminated fish bowls
and observed the fish sink....
scratched on paper …
at odd moments when the corner
of an available room was free
and the light sufficient.
Dreams for a home
while on the run
Thoughts of reunion
under a roof
when blood mattered
and distance had drawn too long…
Her scratches as emblematic as
sunshine on sunflowers;
groping for a reality
loudly passing away.
Silently scratched on thin scrap paper
supported by thick books of thought
that were very different
filled with skeleton letters that danced to
a homesick tune…
Hiding from the moonlight
under eroding bus stop signs
escaping the end
though it loomed
as close as the following second…
Silently stopping within a sunflower second
seize the scratches
shooting the last 'different' thoughts
back into the skulls of snoozing sunflowers
before the sun could
even dream of a horizon…
-Um Ali was an Iraqi communist who was hunted down, detained, tortured and eventually murdered by Saddam’s regime, in the early Eighties. In her run from one hideout to another, escaping Saddams 'gestapo', she dreamed of building a family home.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
the brown birds sing
One tried to build a nest of stone
and broke a wing
The windows of my eyes are shattered
a dead house I stand
and all of God’s sun will not bring in
Too long the ghosts of tomorrow have wandered
through these aging walls
they have made this arid structure
They walk this soul in silence
for them the brown birds sing
they already know
there will never be spring…
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
and palms were raised
where dust drops dripped
and voices booed.
And it was up to Sami
who just turned ten
to venture into the world of Baghdad trash
to recapture the trophy
for a part-time glory
So he stepped towards the pile of thrills and woes
the smell of the rot remotely touching his toes
an indefinite heap of suffocated shocks,
end-snipped stories, strangled facts, and stifled sorrows…
Tales of beings coming to life from inside the rust
of deformed oil drums,
rumors of things lashing out to cut all those who touch
the twisted trash,
these tugged at his hair and spat into his buzzing ears,
but it couldn’t happen to Sami!
Not with the football team jeering, swearing
and repeating his name…
His eyes peering, heart, almost disappearing, he crouched on the dirt
and extended a tired, somewhat-scratched arm
into the maze of unknown hate…
And he found the round thing, and gripped it!
With all the pride a ten-year old Baghdadi could gather
all the relief that his mother could no longer offer
all the passion that wining a game would promise…a small but such meaningful game!
He turned to the crowd
a tower of pride
the thrill dancing out of his once weary eyes…
And the silence that followed was smiting
the unsaid words in faces around him biting
the children’s tears already streaming
And Sami eyes went down
to the round
creature in his hands…
her eyes were closed in pain
her lips firmly shut in refrain
and her rotting cheeks almost gone…
so he dropped the head…
Note: This story took place when a number of children were playing football in a Baghdad suburb next to a neglected dumpster that had not been attended to in years.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
mother had dragged me out to shop
the wait for lulls in incessant crossfire
had not come to a stop
and the children were hungry
for more than just candy
check points where faces
had traces of
dying answers in stillborn questions
struggling to extract
the last breath of a meaning
for the wait
it was then that the shots hailed
into the skull of a walking doll
and life stopped
right there in the remaining footprints
of the once skipping child
it was right there
that her hair came down
with a thud
on the dirt
And I walked home…
Without my mother
Who was still shopping, not stopping
and I sheared my head
and shred the tresses
into the waiting mirror…
Thikra who was once Iraq's # 1 ballerina still lives in Iraq with her mother. This is what happened when they shot a child at a checkpoint 'by accident' in front of her...
Friday, November 24, 2006
this torn map and bleeding
nostalgia drips at my severed valves
Lashes yearning for the blind white to cover
all the crimson
It grips the pit of pain where my stomach is
And nausea now has no name
It comes in flashes of red around Baghdad
in flames at the crying Shrine of Mousa Al-Khadim
while Abu Hanifa descends into flakes of
They both want out…
"These are not our people.
They have murdered us in our graves. "
Pinned to my brain
the image of love
that will never be again
Baghdad nights now have gouged eyes.
the tunnels are endless
and the sunlight of infinity
that once shone through its lenses
has been crushed with
explosions of unanswered questions...
Pinned to this spirit
the dawn of doom
and the weight of eternity that comes with the point of no return.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
they look upwards
and he who tried to pick the word
and she who tried to dissect it
She who appreciated with tears
her bed sores still carved in her back
even under the earth
He who enjoyed iced-coffee
as he savored every character
and flipped the torched memories
of places touched
into flurries of ruminations
that rested on lowered metal rimmed
She who would fume with passion
her red-rimmed eyes
pale forehead and rosy cheeks
scratching the meaning of every word
She who appreciated gardens of love
where words were flamboyant
and smiles full of letters
Now all under the earth
not at the life missed
But the earth that is no more sweet
it tenses up on their dead senses
The blood and salty sweat it is fed
has turned the soil into endless death
After the last death…
There should be no more deaths…
But not with war…where the dead awake to relive death…
Friday, September 08, 2006
like it never would on any other.
I would have called it 'Sun Day',
but we rested on on that day,
while the sun kissed our skins.
On Fridays mosques' voices were more vibrant.
People left their flip-flops at the door.
Some said it was tradition.
Some said it was to cool their feet,
on the marble floor,
in a place of prayer.
On Fridays, cars honked greetings
and people smiled back.
They flocked at markets,
and hugged and kissed,
and compared prices.
On Fridays tea was always hot.
Under the sun, our Istikans oozed of brown,
warm to the touch,
sweet as freshly handpicked dates.
On Fridays we watched the evening news
War after war,
On Fridays today, under the sun,
they slaughter women,
and rape children.
On Fridays today, mosques turn into infernos,
and the rubber of the flip-flops burn the nostrils
of the bodies on the charred marble floors...
On Fridays now, the streets are quiet.
The silence bites at the ears of travelers,
who move in the shadows unseen,
praying to reach home whole...
On Fridays now, people drink dark coffee.
From one memorial to its neighbor,
the bitter taste becomes the custom.
On Fridays now, people fear the evening news.
War after war…,
they wonder if they have seen the worst…
Friday, July 07, 2006
a voice called my name;
maybe it was God…incognito.
The skies of Kirkuk
smiled back in Turkish…
And the dome of the tomb of the sacrificed soldier
shone in the rain
where doves danced to the drumming drops
as if to make light of the grave questions
It also rained where Jonah
had laid his head to rest.
That was in Mousl,
and the dirt road around his shrine was as ancient
as the twisted finger that pointed towards it.
The windows gathered all of us close.
We whispered words of warm nourishment
and it was copious!
Father closed his eyes in the shade,
and we crouched at his feet to steal the love
he so generously generated…
We finally stood for the family photo
of a lifetime…
The beams of teeth and stretched eyelids was genuine
despite the camera’s clicking attempts
at discrediting love…
It persisted…That was love in Northern Iraq…
Sunday, June 18, 2006
reminded me of my roots
the color of Iraq…
the blood inside cried,
yet I couldn’t touch it
my contamination phobia forbade me…
But my eyes could reach out
and try to touch the fluttering souls
that emerged from them…
For days we pronounced the names of the fallen
some just starting,
most not even
and some towards the end of their journey.
The ghosts bellowed back…
Some of us heard them and closed their ears
some of us shut our eyes with tears…
On the field they towered, shoulders hanging.
The shoes of the children around stared back.
They now spoke the same universal language of loss
and together they struggled to get the message across…
The mothers’ voices rose high.
Above the crowds,
their sorrows soared
and yet select indifferent eyes
just shrugged it off
I spoke to someone who believed he could wave a flag in my face
and render me smaller…
What good is a flag if the bearer can’t honor its color?
His weak words of might in military power
only made me stand taller…
A father was more resilient –that’s what makes the matter of 'tough' men…
“I don’t question the politics” he said
His son was dead...
I read the names of Iraqi civilian victims and fallen GIs at an 'Eyes Wide Open' event which portrayed the boots and shoes of the scores and scores of fallen humans.
Monday, May 29, 2006
floated down the road like a dusty dream.
The only one who witnessed it all,
was the thrush on the telephone wire.
The voice of the Muezzin
spoke of war.
He whispered secrets
in his clear shouts for prayer,
but nobody had the slightest doubt,
busy walking the streets of life,
they never bothered about,
an exhausted Iraq,
pining for the perfume
of hot khubuz,
shivering at the sight of
Hopscotch and chattering children.
A football in the air,
kicked the thrush's dream into pink pieces in the sunset...
The light steps under the abbaya
are fast asleep,
as I stare
at a rare tranquility...
I mean when the bombs fell?
I heard they fell in your area too.
Sorry, I couldn't provide
nail-bitten fingers as ear plugs.
It's not the worst of human pain...you know.
Sorry if the dust made your nostrils itch...
Sorry if it choked you...
you had left choking...
I remember you behind the window,
came to get me,
that close you were ,.
and that much I'd wanted to go.
I loved you;
Forgive me for not coming.
At times I wonder what a stroke must've felt like.
I practice holding my breath in the bathroom
as long as I can
I give up...
Forgive me but,
I'd rather wait for God.
Maybe he'll send me the handbook
the one you waited for...
and never got."
For my beloved Aunt Khadija who died shortly before the first Gulf War (US Agression against Iraq)
this young man I respect,
making 'cool contracts'!
And my brother was helping
My best friend, Nouha,
way out in Kerbala,
saw them fall...
Out of the rubble, she crawled
her nephew, her aunt
and her mother
This is the true story of my friend, Nouha who lost half of her family when the Iraqi army was ordered to turn against its own people during the first uprising after the first Gulf War in 1991.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
with pink tips
and smaller corners
It had leapt out of a crystal bowl
just set on the table…
Zinnahs’ eyes stared back
when the hedges barked
and the leaves clapped at the distant human laughter
she could not recognize
It lay by the sea
across the road
from where we crouched
where tree stumps had stood to protect our backs
against the approaching ocean winds
There the rocks were brown and hard
the waves splashed against the palms
of our slipping hands
in quest of an answer
Pink it was
The hibiscus dreamt it in the African night
and it landed on Zinnah’s lashes
on that sky-filled afternoon
It spoke a new language to us
as luscious as an unpeeled papaya
and green as an unopened gift
All the promises of endless books
on seas of shelves
and fragrances of all
it would let us have...
Monday, February 20, 2006
It was why I was there, face down…this dirt…my dirt…my land
The stench of red…was that blood from my nose?
I remembered Jasim’s ‘shaved-off’ nipples at Abu-Ghraib…
Far away, Fatima’s face was crying…
Mohamed, tugging at her nipple, will surely miss me…
This foreign sole of a ‘made-in the US/China-Manufactured’ now familiar boot
had kicked this dust into my eye…Was that my blood from my eye?
The circular edge of his crushing iron weapon reminded…
Rancid sweat…I could smell it again…and again…
The journey has been long…it may have now come to an end…
In the eighties, they told us that our enemies had arrived from the East…
I sat, well into the nights, at the gates,
translating ‘made-in-the US’ manuals on war…
We had to protect our next of kin, our Arab brethren,
those in 'Aagaals', from the Yellow Winds…
Some people said it was not about winds…
They said it was to protect this dirt…and all that lay underneath the dirt…
Then there was the big WAR, and the rubber from our torn boots trailed
in the sand to the South…
They pushed and pushed us further down…
towards the waters of the Gulf…but we never saw water…
For fourteen days, I broke pieces of the molded bread they had thrown weeks before,
and made my meal…
Tarik, who couldn’t…just wouldn’t…
Well, he made his last bed there in the trench…
Then the shells showered our tracks in the sunlight…
And I wondered…if Tarik had gone the easy way…
When my sweat prints wet the rusted gates of Baghdad…
my eyes had gone to my feet for the first time since we drifted North,
…my small toe was gone…
Fatima did not seem to mind
…this missing piece…;
Ahmed had not yet arrived …
He did when The Starvation began…
For 12 long years it ran...
His big eyes: all the interrogation an infant could muster…
I prayed that Fatima’s breasts would not betray him…
I prayed he would not bloat like the rest, his age…
And now this dirt…in my face…
and the iron depression on my neck…
The foreign boot digging into my back
the man above me, screaming with fright!
His words as alien as his eyes…
Where did they come from?
Why have they come?
For this dirt…or what lies underneath this dirt…
But we were supposed to protect it…
Jasim came home to die…
Will they bring what’s left of me, home to die?
Who will tell Fatima?
Who will tell Fatima…?
Who will tell Fatima?….
The Story of an Iraqi soldier/citizen...
Friday, February 03, 2006
She looked on, teeth charred…
at the descendents of her Assur in pieces
Not in her wildest ivory dreams
could this nightmare have proceeded
Long ago Hamurabi had set the rules
only to watch them
He had held fast
to all he hoped for
generations to last-
except for this one
This time the fall of Baghdad
came with an infinite bang…
Monday, January 02, 2006
incredulous of pajama powers
and ‘dishdasha’ hours
stuffed with Turkish nostalgia
dripping of toothpaste on the morning sink.
Then came the ‘kahi’ and we sat and ate,
the syrup dripping from our plates,
in our bedroom attire.
Ours was a smell of mint
and fresh water,
fried eggs and hot khubuz.
It all floated in Aunt Khadija’s kitchen
and finger played at
the next door neighbor’s windows
Ours were the roses red in the heat of a mild spring,
heads tilted, smiling back at our shining Istikans.
The tea was never enough!
Ours was the crisp morning air
touching our cheeks gently,
reminding, it would only be there for so long…
Smiles and teeth as bright as goodness
Bread as warm as the
golden hearts of those years
that never faltered…
Sometimes in the cold
when the snow comes to rest
Was it all a Turkish delight in a dream…
Friday, December 30, 2005
a purse for Mama;
Jeans for Ahmed and…
a flower for Dad;
kisses in the air, for the chair
he last sat on,
and words for the last bookshelf he reached for;
memories for the couch;
more kisses for that brown couch;
and tears for the breakfast table-
especially the spot where he last rested his palms;
DVDs for Hassooni-
maybe a stuffed ‘Pooh Bear’?
an embrace for Alyaa;
make-up for Alyaa –my first ever…last ever-hopefully- sister-in-law;
thoughts for Dad’s favorite card game on the very same old computer;
clasps for the mouse he fumbled with and caresses for the mouse pad;
more kisses for where his fingerprints were never eliminated…
hugs for his ghost;
cheek-rubs for his unshaven face;
and more blown kisses for his pipe fumes;
an agenda for Dad -the one Ahmed decided he couldn't use...;
time slots for the afterlife…
when we will finally meet…
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
the godly ant-steppers,
watching the life wriggle
out of an ant…
sucking the shock out of bewildered eyes
at something different…,
oblivious of screaming antennas…
In someone’s pockets,
from holes of boredom,
trickle the ants, tired and struggling.
Theirs is a life,
granted by God,
ignorant of pious killers
and ardent atheists…
Theirs is a faith,
no godly worshipper will ever know,
a non-believer dreams to attain…
Those precious ants…amongst us.
underneath these merciless skies,
Eyes, steadfast in their shock
and smiles of wonder at the unknown you carry
in your pale Western hands...
Eyes, fixated on a camera lens
staring at your expectations of my surrendering a story,
and yet nothing comes.
But the blood on the street tells it
and the bodies torn apart,
struggling to release their inner selves...
Their faces, expressionless...
Friends of enemies,
strangers with elongated machines
balanced on strong shoulders...
Maybe you will tell the world at large
my silent story.
My silent horror witnessed,
faster than the speed of light through your camera lens,
stripping me of all sense.
Senseless now I am.
That half erect house you see
had a kitchen.
The meat on the charred table... is my brother…
The hallows of my father’s car over there
had known fine days of sun on the way to school.
He’d puff a smile through the rearview mirror at my eager eyes
above dog-eared books…
The smoke you see now
through the remains of its structure
is only because…
those skies up there will only talk war.
That infant in the swaddle
could not talk either,
when your guns did the words for his small aspirations…
You tore my brothers limbs to shreds
his rarest fetal nightmares never told him…
But I...I can still struggle in the face of your camera
and try to tell you my story.
You see you had smiled,
and in my culture I must smile back...
Even if you intend to kill me with that long gun…
You...like to call a camera...
Minutes accumulate on my cell phone
That all are alive
And I am missed, by some
Before the sun sets on the other world,
The words reach out to grasp the warmth
Of the going rays
Only the East can spell
Minutes and time zones
Love disperses amongst the lines of
Fingers betray the anguish
As phone handles quiver in their grasp
One last word, Mama
I love you.
Did you know that, recently?
And who’s home and who has broken their fast and prayed for me?
And who missed the last car bomb and made it to the Iftar table?
Who smiled at God’s food and then shed a tear for all the empty tables?
Minutes are money…the corporations know and say that…
For them, the wars and the empty dishes…
For them, we work on working your future Iftars to ashes...
Was that my brother’s voice behind you?
Does he remember my name?
I have changed…but not my name…
Names are constant
Love is constant and so is sibling tension
Cell phone minutes are not.
Tell him I love him.
I have a minute to tell him I love him.
I have all the minutes the corporate world can steal
to hear him tell me
He loves me.
I am its blood and checkpoint tolerance
I am the refugee tents in tatters
I am the soiled headless doll
in that ditch
where your made-in-the-US missile fell
I am the cross of Nativity
I am the bell toller
shot to death
I am the muezzin
whose voice was sniped
I am the holes in
the prayer rug
your machine gun shattered
I am the cause
I am the broken rooms in your bulldozer
I am the eyes you want to blind
I am the history
that will rise again
I am the cause
I am the ship that floats in hope
I am the sails that blow you away
I am the harbor you’ll never know
in my homeland
I am the cause
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Alia stood grand;
the most beautiful Iraqi model we knew,
and met in San Francisco,
when the Iraqi Fashion House had a house…
She had more than one face, and a multitude of minds,
the psychiatrist, at Stanford, said…
but that did not make her less glamorous,
or her Babylonian clothes less glowing.
I really want those photos.
But the House fell down upon them.
It came down with a US missile,
that tore into Alia’s clothes,
and ripped the entity
of her Babylonian history!
They’re nowhere to be found.
I can’t ask for them,
for now with the changes of times,
in my homeland,
the ‘insurgents’ will call them ‘haram’.
I also want to visit Ms. Siba,
in that old house, in Adhamia.
The one in the corner,
by the noisy highway,
where sometimes, we just couldn’t sit on the patio,
because headlights reflected in our eyes…
But the house was rented to an ‘insurgent’.
Ms. Siba left this life, in Amman.
She visits the house at night,
and tells him about Palestine.
He tells her, ‘she keeps him going’ -but, does she?
‘Just spare the innocent lives’, she cries…
He doesn’t listen.
His sister was raped, at Abu Ghraib,
and she still screams in his dreams…
The ‘insurgent’ is now immune to noise,
even from the nearby highway.
I want those fabrics…in those photos.
I really do…
I want to touch them.
I want to touch them and feel that something,
just one thing of the city I knew has survived…
Note: Alia was Iraq's # 1 model. She was schizophrenic. We all met her in person in 1980, while on a visit to the US -the Iraqi Fashion House had a traveling show.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
You still stop by
And ask the same questions
Every time the answers are different
They change color
Every mental event adds a hue
And I struggle with this sphere of a multitude of lights
That I can’t travel
You blink and look on
Can’t I see it?
And I can’t stop by
Because the skies have put my name on their forbidden list
Mother’s heart can stop any day now
And Reem’s eyes may bleed by every sunset
It all depends on the news forecast
The faces of yesterday that flocked around your grave are gone
There are bullet holes in their smiles
That’s why they won’t visit
They left a message on the telephone wire above the gate
But when Aunt Fatima’s spirit tried to reach it, it screeched
And they mistook it for the ghost of an insurgent
They shot the life out of the wires
And for days it rained
And I couldn’t call Mother
Hussein thinks he remembers you
He smiles when your photo emerges in a kitchen conversation
They’ll never understand why he suddenly smiles
His little nose can smell your pipe
They finally put away your books
The gun powder has turned them black
I will clean them for you
And if my answers are colorless
And my feet have not flown towards your ‘qibla’
And your pages are still stained,
You will know…
It is you who will have to stop by…again
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
and so did Thamra's mother, next door.
They were sleeping soundly and no one heard them go...
Ahmed and Abu Shaker tried desperately to revive them...
But no ambulance would come...
It was Mother's Day, and the shots could be heard overhead.
The dreams were motionless.
'The helicopter's close', Mother said.
It has come to sweep your dreams Mother.
Wake up! Thamra's all alone, and she has no mother...
on Mother's Day...
Your cell phone will not answer in the evening,
the paint on your walls is peeling,
and you have no reason to be there, Mother!
This war has not come to an end.
And I don't want you to end...
There will be no ambulance for you Mother.
There will only be choppers chasing your dreams as they try to grow...
There will only be rains to wash away your couches
and silence the phone!
How will I ever talk to you again?
Did you not hear the last scream...?
They're gone with the guns Mother!
These couchless dreams are damp and sore.
And you have no reason to sleep, Mother.
Wake up! Thamra's all alone, and on Mother's Day she has no mother...
She only has the rain.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
For the love of your tiny 'skinful' fingers and 'fleshful' cheeks
For the love of all that’s in me, that’s in you
All that you now cannot see
For the love of you, my little instance of my bigger brother
May God bless your tiny nose a thousand times
May he guide you as it grows with your curiosity
And may he carry you into all the worlds you will come to encounter…
with every footprint on the walks of life...
This is for my darling nephew, Hussein, named after my grandfather Hussein.
Friday, December 03, 2004
the military bugles sing in crimson,
and the peasants chant, their song of scorched earth...
The leftists left no leaf unraped;
the rightists, no faces, unravished,
an aura of blood floats over the wounds of your weeping earth
and yet your spirit stands erect…
Ah Fallujah! Mother of the ghost warriors
Still-born in a boot-mutilated masjid…kicking and screaming for another life…to come out untouched…
The skies spit back at your pale perpetrators…
The green has been stolen from your tear-rotting cheeks and flung high from your date palms…
into your fast-drying womb, but its too late…
Your virginity was fractured,
with the cry of the first bird that lost its wings to a false freedom…
Rise…now, and slowly God will seek your fingers…
The sun has risen; it’s his call for you to come back to life…
Monday, November 22, 2004
a long time ago,
cheap phone cards meant the world,
and the world was wrapped up in Schiphol;
Phone booths where Easterners' sweat left finger prints on the damaged glass and lingered...
His voice, a restless, sometimes nervous whisper,
questioning his short-term obstacles...small, but looming large, already...
so much like the fluctuations of his sensitive ego...
-'This guy snores, he sleeps on the airport seats...his feet stink!'
-'It's OK. You'll be OK. Just call me before you leave'
-'11 more minutes'...
Aches and time. This summed up his experience.
-'Where is your warm bosom. I cannot cry. They would think I'm not man enough to be alone here.'
No, I guess they won't. They won't know you carried the bloodied limbs of the stone-throwers into their make-shift graves...They won't know you discovered your brother's dried up carcass amidst cyanide fumes...That you escaped the gun shots of rutheless murders after your Palestinian blood...
But you will have my scarf to smell me, and when it's dark and no one can hear you...
You can cry your heart out...For I will be there.
For the first 'love of my life'...
Monday, August 30, 2004
her face, a mirror, hardly scratched...
Clouds of questions stream through her lashes and land on the pillow.
The days long gone unroll again in slow laps, around her brow...
Hints of answers spark through her half-closed look....
Age disperses its weariness in peace around her eyes.
The tentacles of intolerance
that once were her fingers,
groping for another lost answer...
She believes I have it.
But I do not.
And if I did, I would not give it...
for fear that the three stents in her strained arteries...burst...
I am the purity
that you bore and baptized mother,
as clean as your heavenly heels...
as spotless as God can render a human,
and as stained as the devil would try...
For I have been tried...
But the firmament has seen me through.
I lack your serenity,
The mirror of my heart is cracked.
It refracts a myriad shades of your love for me through those long gone days...
And I still love you...
Monday, August 02, 2004
of rooms and faces
-the so-called 'Bond of Nightmares' of planes leaving me behind,
and long lost visas.
On the other side, the World has set, the day is gone.
On this side, they burn the Quran,
and praise Jesus, while Jesus cries...
Things unnamed have rooted me here,
sentiments untouched, and thoughts over-protected.
The question looms -Do I really want to be on this side?
What is there to come home to?
My fathers smiles in another room where the ceilings are high and the ocean is nearby...
He holds these purple birds from Paradise, and sends them to flutter in my face...
My sister knees-crossed on the sofa, playing Backgammon with his shadow...
Later, laying rugs of crimson whims down my corridors of dreams...each with a different home-sick pattern...
She resents this side...She already knows...
There is nothing to come home to...
Monday, May 17, 2004
Washing her coffee-rimmed mug
her thank-you stared back at me
from a pool of stains in the basin.
her spectacles of tireless scrutiny
bribing with a pain
I felt satisfied existed.
it was a different story
from a book of life,
she never entirely revealed.
They were told with compassion,
with tactless affection
and strained nostalgia
for all the other unwashed coffee mugs...
They dripped of a truth
alien to our world.
Compulsary details would sap the senses out of endless words...
Abu Tariq would heat the water.
By then, I'd finished washing.
The college corridors, cold & damp,
I & the pegion's chicks
on the unattended window sill
sat still to listen...
They smoked out of corrugated lips,
where cigarette ends
set fire to memories...
Charred with despair,
image after image
too out of reach,
for her spectacles to grasp...
she'd sip her coffee
look at me
& love me.
I'd be in them,
tales with disappearing tails...
Like coffee tricklings on moist mugs,
and cigarette butts in tissue-choked ashtrays...
She never smiled,
hardly a twitch of the lips...
Closing the door,
I'd glance behind...
She'd be murmuring to the pegion's chicks
about other morning memories...
This poem was written for Ms. Siba, in 1987. A Palestinian activist, her despondency had overcome her, but she still had hope that someday, there would be a Palestinian State...She knew it would not be in her time...
The smell of wheat-brown bread...
The smell of her,
into and out of her,
as I would kiss her furrowed forehead.
The Images Triggered :
A small kitchenette,
and vegetable patch in front,
a small gas stove,
and bare brown shelves,
a tiny corridor,
as ample as the life she lead,
and memories mingled,
with the dust of the books stacked,
then out of nowhere, a Gustave Dore',
hanging somewhere above the staircase,
in it, a wide-eyed monkey,
staring at the slow-moving world underneath,
staring at her charcoal head,
what should have been,
but never was...
Ms. Siba Al-Fahoum was a Palestinian professor who lived for the Palestinian cause, and died heart-broken with the way things have come to pass...She was brilliant, dedicated and passionate. At one time, a very close friend of the late Ghassan Kanafani -she was the last member of staff (at their small journal in Beirut) to bid him goodnight, before the morning after, when he was torn to bits in an Israeli-implanted car bomb in his garage. She was at one time, Abu-Amar's personal translator, but turned away, when her disappointment with his handling of the cause surmounted her frustration. She lived and died alone. She was as great as God could make a human.
Monday, May 10, 2004
He lies there waiting for my arrival
for me to bestow the farewell wishes on his tombstone before he ascends
And I can't
the bombs disturb his tired ears
and the dust clogs his tear ducts
And still he waits...in his grave
Up there in the sunshine,
there's a shadow that he craves...
his spirit blinks...
Was that my silhoutte? Am I finally here?
What has taken me so long?
A million times the trees play tricks
His blurred vision struggles with the leaves
Yet he cannot sense my smell or existance
because I am not there
Someday soon, when the bombs cease and the land is quiet
Someday soon I will come to say a prayer over his glorious head
and kiss the stone...
Farewell, now fly!
You don't have to wait for the last of your children to finally say Good-bye.
Since my father's passing away, I have not been able to return to Iraq, my home country to visit my father's grave.
Friday, April 02, 2004
The salt shaker in the illustration,
red and small,
Just the right pinches of shadows…
Who drew it?
Picked it up from a meal table and put it on the page?
Who redrew it?
Captured the salt as their own and digitalized it?
The salt shaker
a small symbol of taste
the embodiment of the love shared and passed around on the original artist’s table,
a mild moment caught and refracted
into a million flying fractions
landing on a white page...
For the normal eye,
For those who can savor
all the salt they will pass for the length of their lives…
The emotions a small icon on a diet planner inspired...
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Shanaz where are you?
And where has Africa gone?
Down the Indian ocean highway
On a runaway motorcycle
Singing songs of Jesus Christ, Super Star
Your spectacles were respectable
My father admired your mind
And you did well unto him
Where have the sail boats gone?
They no longer sing to the ocean liner at the pier
No more Kitanges fly in the wind
And no more African hair braids shine
Underneath the Dar-es-Salaam moon….
There was a forgotten Indian song, Shanaz
It had floated above the drive-in movie theater walls
And caught onto the trains of a suspended sari from one
Of the cars
Where are you?
'Shanaz' was the Administrative Assistant, at the Iraqi Embassy in an East African country, in the late 70s. She was of a member of a large Indian community that lived there, then.
Sunday, January 11, 2004
and at the fronts,
Asmaa's uncle was slaughtered.
And, P. O. W. s were dragged through the mud,
tied to trucks...
Asmaa cried on the backyard bench,
at Baghdad High.
Then, Namu died.
Dragged himself in
with a bubble for an eye,
and a skin flap for a hind leg.
And Tamraa tried hard,
to understand why I cried
so hard ...
I’d screamed at the front gate guard,
But mercy was not available,
during the war
- not even at the fronts,
It was easier with the P.O.Ws
(no one heard you at the fronts).
Ahmed had screamed and shut the bathroom door,
in the remains of Namu’s face.
And in the morning,
At the stove, her bitter coffee
turned to salt.
And Dad smiled in sadness…
But soon, the trucks on TV,
the POWs arms!
they all forgot about Namu....
In memory of Namu, my cat, who died during, the Iran-Iraq War.
when you scream,
a sun-drenched cry of dripping dates and palm-green nostalgia.
You, a thought in the womb before birth,
and all the lines of crimson of afterlife...
You, a bosom of Tigris-scented compassion,
thrown across a desert of aimless caravans.
You, a wan wanderer, in the pages of my history...
Did you know that your rains washed away my name,
minutes before baptism?
And tattooed tomorrow's memories for eternity...
But then, you turned your face east...
away from me...
Do you recognize me? ...
I am the homeless child that seeks your amputated arms for refuge,
a beggar of identity amidst your grains of blood-drenched sands.
Why have you lost me
when I had hung on to the trains of your abbai,
through all the wars,
all the sores...?
Left my minarets of war-torn memories to crumble into oblivion...
my faith in humankind disemboweled.
You are the truth
-if it ever existed,
belief, when it is all I know.
I know you now
like I know God.
For you are the entity they forbade,
the remnants of the game they played,
the devastated I...
For my beloved Iraq...
Saturday, January 10, 2004
His clasp tight on my leather shoulder
as he consoled me on the death of Jabra
Like him, he had smelt of sunlight
on wet pavements.
Later, he had smelt of cheddar cheese
as I’d stooped to kiss his cheek.
His clasp was now
Frail and yellow.
High and away
His constellation had expired
Yet, he was still craving lemon ice-cream
And, Leena was always going to ‘Frosty’s’ to get some.
cartoons, multi-media software,
But most of all
he craved life & her
Within his retrieved memory
he had tried to reinstall her smile when the sun
She had loved and cherished
till death did
Sometimes, when she savors Cheddar cheese
and lemon ice-cream, quietly...
some days, when she sips her bitter coffee,
and watches cartoon with the children,
She dies silently......
In memory of Dr. Bashir Al-Issa, a Palestinian scholar, who died of lung cancer.