A Grammar for Fleeing
You know, when an emigrant needs something to hold on to, a spider web looks like
a wooden beam. –Rafik Schami, Damascus Nights
Hudood, the word for border,
looms in her mind’s vocabulary
like a passive voice, a noun for longing.
Maybe the undulating line runs in water
or in sand, splays on the imagined cover
of a passport, map for a new home.
She has vowed to cross it, daughter on her hip,
two legs doggedly moving apace,
two legs suspended, bare.
She plans to learn the other side
like a foreign language:
first the stones as single utterances,
then the houses and hills, sentences.
The scenes will warm in the light of the sun.
Now it’s dark and the little girl
is ensconced in her arms, eyes closed,
but a lulling breeze could spell betrayal
if they aren’t careful. She reaches
between her breasts for the pendant
inscribed with amal, hope, rubs it
like a magic lamp. The din of conversation
starts to rise as light gathers at the horizon,
where the singular message of true East
has grounded her since childhood.
Lay low, look west, wait for the boat.
She understands the grammar for fleeing,
unspoken rules that decide how
the journey will end, when words
like harb, war, and joo`, hunger,
might ebb and not flow.
Her toddler wakes asking for water
while the sea responds with crashing waves.
A Language for Colors
Asfar she would say
pointing at a yellow tulip.
And the color of grass?
My young daughter had mastered
not only the colors
but also the throaty KH,
two letters in English
that equal one in Arabic.
I would tell her it’s the same sound
as in khamseh, khubez, sabanekh—
five, bread, spinach
and my favorite name
I once confessed to a friend wistfully
that I would not name my son Khaled
because Americans couldn’t pronounce it.
Now I wonder about such wisdom:
even my eight-year-old
could constrict her throat muscles the right way
to say Khaled—
immortal like an ancient olive tree,
a flame that never abates,
a mother’s love.
This spring, I saw a patch
of double hybrid tulips,
asfar tinged with akhdar,
and thought of my daughter’s
satisfied grin at learning those words
thousands of miles away
from her grandparents’ home
Here we are, hybrid Americans
living between two languages
and speaking in colors,
splendid flowers in a distant field.