Saturday, 30 April 2011


end/poem for reaffirmation

it is not without wincing first
that i pull off the parts of
the scabs that have long
peeled off

it is periodical, freeing, and necessary
but not without qualms

that i forget
seventeen years worth
of things that you said and
just under fifty of things
that you didn't

turn my back on centuries
of wrinkled men crying over
things i am too young,
too naive, too female
to understand

not without doubts
that i braid such boisterous
choices onto the script
of my name

it is not like you owe me
acceptance, of all things

i just want you to know
it is not without dread
that i risk your rejection

Friday, 29 April 2011


after i laid my stepping stone down
like a welcoming mat, i took up
a new kind of prayer and i called it
the one in which i forget

i do not know whose hand it was
that pulled me along
but i remember a girl with dark tresses
and eyes like icicles saying let go and
a fiery woman with sprites in her fingers
and legs wide open

i remember the way it felt when
it all made sense, and the newborn
hopes taking shape in poems about
fingertips walking down backbones

if only i could say

i remember the smell of burning
the ani difranco songs drawing
spirals round my throat and
the indecision that tried to be
subtle on the armrest

if only i did not talk so loud
about things that don't really matter

i remember wishing i could pray,
stand in rows like the women
in coats and neat little shoes
and wanting more than anything
a home for my hands
and my questions

but my gods are busy playing
scrabble, and home?
that is where i left my heart
when i decided to jump

Thursday, 28 April 2011


Only two poems left. It makes me sad.

i am a silly tender girl
my bones and my mind
are made up of
promises and poetry

my eyes are too restless
my gods too playful
and my heart too young
for my own good

my words are too muffled
metaphors too lofty
and choices too absurd
for a lot of other people's

and yes
it is true

i have given myself many names
hidden in the folds of stage curtains
the shadows of piano keys
and sometimes the stomachs of
question marks

i call it art
although it feels
a little less blameless,
a little less mine

but it is easy to forget
when you are with me--
a friend although it feels
a little less outlined
a little more cautious

and a lot less likely.

thank you.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011


(alternatively: genetics are the most wonderful terrifying thing ever)

This man
with red socks to
match his shirt
sits on a counter-top
informs me

i am a maze of dominos
oil spills waiting to happen
too many tangles to count
of things that could go wrong

now you must remember, he says
the science of "random"
you must think exponentially
you must
mustn't be a poet about it

and who needs poetry--
i am a can of rhymes that
might just be rotten, a giftbox
rattling with riddles and risks
and ribbon-tied maybes

and how can i drop
such a boulder onto anyone
wince and peek through one eye
and call her my own


line by line collab with two fellow NaPoets =)

Leave all of your suitcases open
gaping mouths, then step out of the room
breath stolen by dragonflies, on the path to nowhere.
Twinkle with stillborn dreams and songs unsung.
Hear the ends of chords unplayed
then reach to infinity and complete the one
that sounds truest to you.

Be still. This is where
symphonies begin, in the space between
sleep and awake. Nightmares walk but so does beauty.

Leave your suitcases open, and your heart.

Monday, 25 April 2011


prompt: riddle poem
Disclaimer: I have no idea where I am going with this.

there are little boys in suits
and little girls in
frills and they ask me very
difficult things in
strange tongues, they speak
quickly but with
uncertain fingers and hasty

eyelids and on most days i
don't understand
but on some days there is a
floating gold box
of questions, hopes, dreams

some days there is a fiery
woman with two
little pixie eyes in each of
the glances they
throw towards me, those
are the kinds of
days when i understand.

Sunday, 24 April 2011


a poem in books and misconceptions
prompt: autobiography

Where's Spot by Eric Hill
i am showing my dad that
praying is easy, i cross my arms
and mutter like i have seen him do
and he smiles and says he will teach me

his laughter is round like pita bread
which is really only just bread at home
but there are lines that have to be drawn
and i will never argue again with that boy
in my class about santa claus.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
there are three scooters sprawled
along the edge of the road and
there are four of us
i am given a twig and instructions
it is my turn to try and find the snake
but i really do not like this game
so we walk on the edge of the street
and we pretend that the wheat field is lava

we crack open the stem
of a thistle, wonder at the marble
of milk and dare each other to taste it

it burns

it is going to kill us both

but it is okay because we both
know all there is to know
about god and we love
our mothers

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
i write about flowers i have
never seen before and
acquire a hollow, breathing
collection of things i do not know
and poems that rhyme

i smile at the women with
tiny shoes and long coats
offer them pastries and
quaint little pieces of hearts

the question marks spill
from my fingers like sand

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
there is no excited exchange
in the air, no gasping confessions
about how my hands would
rather be preoccupied
with your hair

there is only the haughty
smell of your cigarette smoke
and the delicate punctuation mark
that you placed in the space
between us

i will be watching in case it falls

Saturday, 23 April 2011


there is something
poignant about the prayer
of a woman
who did not ask
for any of this

she lifts her palms
towards the sky
as if they were a book
in which she has etched

all the dull aches whose
stories she cannot remember
all the tangles of promises
from pig-tailed girls
and old women who
hold on to the tissue too long
all the discolorations,
the red-faced thoughts
that had been caught
wandering just outside
her window and all of
the throbbing questions with
a neon-green aftertaste
the billowing uncertainties
of having been
a girl and
a student and a mother and
a wife and a patient and
a shoulder and a seer and
 and not remembering the order

all of that is displayed
for god to look at and take notes
and nod and for the angels to sweep
and for the devil to have
for breakfast (one of these days)

and all i see is a woman in
funny looking clothes
opening her hands
and closing her eyes

and that, i suppose
is what is poignant about
a woman who did not ask
for any of this
but will gladly take care of it
until her prayers are answered

thank you for the award
there is beauty in
the dainty grace of questions
still unraveling

Friday, 22 April 2011


this is the poem in which i theorize about how
adrenaline is engineered. i document the sounds:

first the whirl, the avalanche of wheels
the distinctly metallic impression of
flexibilty, the not-quite creaking of
things that are doing exactly
what they are supposed to do.

and then the waterfall of shrieks.
the hush. and again, the sounds.

it is enough to dance around whatever
misconceptions i may have about balance,
about being "okay"
as in "keeping things out
of reach of consciousness"

so i look for distractions,
whatever little post-it notes
that may have a chance
to convince me:
it is not the same. it is not.
for instance

that boy is young enough
to have the nerve to panic
when he can't see his mother
in the crowd but too old
to reach for her hand when he can

and that one holds his girlfriend
around the waist and looks up
at the people around him
with one eyebrow slightly raised
but that one holds his girlfriend
around the back and looks at
the old gum stuck to the railings

and that girl is wearing black
and a shirt with the name of a band
that i figure is the kind of band
i should be more familiar with.
she shares a churro with her friend
and they talk about people
they know

and i figure it would be pretty cool
if i smiled and said something
about that band like how it's the kind
of band i should really be more
familiar with, or how  it's interesting
because i kind of roll the r's in churro,
not like you.

Thursday, 21 April 2011



if i were a middle-aged man
on a desk with a swivelling chair
in an office and it was my job
to come up with names
for things that don't really need them
i would call this the age of
quieting questions and
loud corrections

after all you are always happy
to let me know that the actual name
of the obnoxiously bright one next to the yellow
is carnation pink, and also,
i got the order wrong
it goes: midnight to navy to
violet to cornflower
and finally periwinkle but
you're not really sure
where the regular blue belongs

crayola boasts sixty four
"different, brilliant colors"
of crayons in your box
but that number doesn't
impress you as much as it used to

and you have been looking for
all the other ones in places like
under the bed or where
the ladybugs go at night

and who knows

maybe in a couple dozen years
you and i will be middle-aged men
on desks with swivelling chairs
in an office where we are paid
to make big decisions like

this one would most likely taste
like blueberry cheesecake and
i will call this one "grandpa's hands"
because it reminds me of the smell
of orange peel
on fingernails
in newborn winters.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


driving/i will have nightmares about this

it strikes me as far too delicate, this marriage:

the haywire physics of movement
that says "all matter is chaos", the
tender, pulsating imperfections
of poetry or heartbeats
the lines lines lines
the haughty metronome
clucking its tongue at me.
"You will go left now.
You will go

there are things that i must learn to
make a show of keeping in mind, like:
fastening seat-belts
and stopping at stop signs
and steadying the steering wheel

and then there are things i will quietly
tuck in bed behind the wheel, like:
any and all qualms i may have with things
that roll into an unmeasured distance
such as the days of the week

and every urge to stare at nothing in particular
and contemplate penning pseudo-poems
about children on bicycles

and my predisposition
(i am told it is only human)
towards things that are
statistically bad ideas
likely to lead to a litany of aches
and may cause nausea
and can
in rare cases
be fatal

like asking too many questions
or falling in love

Tuesday, 19 April 2011


if anything, you have been a lesson in layers
but i loved you even before
you quietly dismissed
every itching dread

it was a risk i was willing to take
after all i have always believed
in the little little maybe
and sometimes in bigger
more certain things like:
there will be journals to fill
and scabs to pick

and besides
heartbreak, next to
chocolate and free-verse poems
is my favorite indulgence

Monday, 18 April 2011


*line-by-line collaboration with fellow NaPoet (she lives here)

The light hums and flickers, and moths dart around it.
This is the scenery of dull, yellow-lit poems. There is no
Feeling of urgency, no new lines waiting to be discovered,
only the pens with their crossed arms, and the occasional
Obliging eraser, saying if you write, i will efface, because it is the reason for my being.
The books shuffle and straighten their backs, there is a hushed
whisper of promised endings and moments when sticky fingers turned eagerly
expose little exchanges and quiet hopes. But for now they sleep.

There seems a deep silence over the world, oppressive, or is it
just the cool, light cloak of reason, coaxing "There is no need for your
endless effort to push words out of your mind, they will come
in half-dreams as little seedlings and unfurl in cursive gardens and
move through you onto the paper if only you give them time, time."

And still the light flickers, the moths dart--the only company for the midnight poet
Who still sits looking away from the world of paper, around into air, and desperately
wringing the questions like sponges, offering his heart on a platter for the muses
And finally, finally, the words begin to come, and a smile accompanies a lift of the pen--

Once upon a time.

Sunday, 17 April 2011


Prompt: portrait-poem. (I love you, T).

she is a woman
with a sleeping piano
and sprites in her fingers

i would like nothing more
than to watch the urgent runs
the soft disappearance in twos
and the abrupt plunge

she will cross
her hands
her legs
and she will wink

it is different now
there are times every bit of woman
was clenched into a fist and torn
from her womb
times when she tried to find pieces
of herself in the blanks she
struck into the keys

when the questions were thunderous
and the piano was a black hole
and the goddesses shook

but not today
she is very much in one piece
and on some days it looks like
she is disappearing, it
sounds much less like
wondrous crawling forests
where demons curl around trees
and more like chords

as if there are prices to pay
for being alright.

Saturday, 16 April 2011


Prompt: Recombination. This passage is one of my favorites. I'll spare the world my attempt at explaining why I think it's brilliant but here is a link. Anyway. This is recombined from the opening to Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.

three steps:

you are one plain
tap, standing simple
as a sock and
always on the dotted line

i envied, and oh,
did i have
a fancy for you

i did indeed
you can tip
my tongue, my life,
you light my sin

but there is no soul,
no fire

look at this
misinformed summer,
this tangle of prose

i had loved you,
down the tip
of the teeth,
to the feet
i had loved you
always and always
and always

but you are not
in my arms.

Friday, 15 April 2011


It is not silence,
the rhythmic tugging
at microphone wires.

My heartstrings
are made of the same stuff as yours,
they are only a little bit easier to
put in a cage.

Look at these stamps,
itchy colonies on my skin,
how they've grown in
rancor and sting
since that first stubby
toddler's finger, pointing.

But "sissy" is a word
that bounces off
lightly, harmlessly
from mouths too small
for bubblegum.

Bounces like
sticks and stones can
break my bones,
like the pigtails of
jump-roping girls,

Like dodgeballs.
Stop it.

Yes! is the word, they told us.
Yes is the word that would save us all
so I opened my chest like a fridge,
opened my chest for the neighbors' dog
for the history books
for my mother.

Look at these stamps.
Not even nature will look at me now.

Thursday, 14 April 2011


Prompt: Sonnet!

First, you must know this history, this
Spontaneous misalignment of circumstance
weaving webs of questions and dreams, this
Marriage of sorts, this ironic dance
between physics and the dainty sway of grapevines.
And now, notice this dormant willpower--
Notice how time has weathered the guidelines,
And yet how strictly you follow them still.
It's not a matter of waking up, it's more
of feeling for your pulse every once in a while.
of leaving post-it notes on your mirror, in your drawers
that say:

I am allowed to wrap answers round my fingers, to respond, retreat, or resist,
To be made of hay sticks or diamonds, or anything in between. I exist.


Sammi Speaks

There were no trains to take us anywhere.
No bookstores in which to take shelter.
No quirky aunt of yours who would take us in.

I have had to pull words out
of your mouth like floss, like gold.
There are many days that I noticed
lullabies rippling in your eyes.
I had asked,
"Do you think I am beautiful?"

You never really answered
loud enough for me to hear,
but I have only just realized
that you never really asked, either.

And I did not know
what questions you had
about kisses, about guns,
or even about
did I think you were beautiful?

Noora, before you fell into my fingers
it would have been easy
to answer that question.

"Play the piano for me,"
I said, and you shook
your head, your hands
and your eyes at me.

How I wanted to take
you by the arm and show you the world
outside your brain.

To tell you
you were the prettiest
ugly girl I have ever known,
and I love you.


Tuesday, 12 April 2011


Day 12 Prompt: Nostalgia. The photograph I used is below and can be found here. I have always been a big fan of Sylvia Plath but I have never familiarized myself with Ted Hughes's writing. So what follows isn't based in any way on any reading of/about Hughes. Just felt I should clarify.

I am allowed to want to have held you a little bit closer.

memory, fondness.
Within which fold of your skirt,
Underneath which eyelid,
and in which of the etchings
on your palms?

Or had it been too late then
to make separate piles of you:
One for the children,
one for the peanut-munchers,
one for us.
And the rest?

I do not know about the rest.
After all, there are things you
had all but decided for me.
There are days you
waved flags right under my nose
But who was I to stop you
in the name of good health
at the expense of poetry?

It was either in a poem
or a nightmare
that you asked me to be
your lover first
and then your vampire.
And who was I to refuse?

Monday, 11 April 2011


Day 11 Prompt: Write a poem of at least forty lines that is a single sentence. This was fun.

In theory I admire you;
You are loud and you make no apology
For stabbing history in its back,
You give voice to
Bitterness that has been
Sputtering for centuries,
Burnt like
things that fall to the back
Of the oven
And take to stiffness
And smell, and for that
You offer me a nose—
You are a woman
And you speak this tongue;
I am allowed no guilt,
No xenophobic comfort—
After all you may well speak the truth:
On any day I am obliged
To trust you over
The tired old men who ruffle
Their feathers
And point their fingers,
The men who would rather see
The both of us dead

You tear me limb from limb,
With nothing but words
And a matchstick;
You scowl at the little girl
I was, who made a show
Out of putting on praying clothes,
Who listened and learned,
Listened and learned

And what am I to do
With these beautiful beads,
This pendant with swirling words,
With these goose-bumps
I still sometimes get
At the mention of god
And good women,
And all these stars?

Sunday, 10 April 2011


So I was just looking at the prompts on the NaPoWriMo website, and I feel like doing the one for Day Nine, even though it's Day Ten. This is a backwards poem--I'm supposed to write the last line (an old saying) first, then the second-to-last, and so on. Here goes.

give thanks
and everything in moderation
these are things i have learned
from your children; honest men and good women
and the good book. the other good book.

in some ways we are the same.
we have both written words for lovers just out of reach,
watched feet and lamented the lack of bridges,
wound our fingers through imaginary hair
and tilted our heads to the left, sighing.

yes, we are very much alike
except that you are a willow tree
and i am a paper crane, unfurling.
except for the dust collecting on your books, the guns.

i am allowed to reinvent the way you smelled,
or the first time i saw your portrait
and it became the ghastly picture of god.

every once in a while your hand pops out like a cabbage
and I have been tempted to take it, but:
everything in moderation.

Saturday, 9 April 2011


I am sorry about that day
back in fourth grade
when I almost called you a --

I had learned that word from the neighbors' kid.
At least that is the lie I told mother.

After all there was knowledge I could not dispute:
You tell the grown-ups, you become a snitch, and
A woman who marries a woman becomes a --

Tell me, you said, and from there
I imagine you threatening to choke me.
I remember running my finger up and down your bedpost.
I remember leaving.

I am sorry I have never been brave enough
to either be loud or be silent. That I have
spoken always with a smile
about "Oh! The pastries are great."

I am sorry I made you lock things up:
One, your cat
Two, the curse-words in your music
And three --


together, sound

after the first few times i drew patterns
on the back of your hand, i opened
my mouth and out fell a question.
you smiled.

since then, we have become very different people.
we have learned each others' breath.
we have memorized the veins in the softest parts of our arms.
we have made, together, sound.

like on the bus ride to Aqaba,
with only our backpacks and the keys in your pocket
we laughed as if it would save us,
and we announced to the sea that we were in love.

or when you finally met my mother
and i met yours.
we had no reservations.
we made it clear: this was ours.

we made, together, sound.

but not when he stood, goldfish eyes,
knees locked, and a gun to your forehead.
not while he counted your sins on his fingers
and barked. not then.

that night, we were both quite alone
and very much quiet.

Thursday, 7 April 2011


selfish poem.
you are making a tally.

in the class where you are asked to sit criss-cross applesauce
and learn acrostics that you know you will forget
in the unlikely event of an emergency

but these things happen, she says
there will be boys snickering, sharing stories
If that's how you feel then why don't you
tell it to an arab, if that's how you feel

and you do not deserve to be indignant,

in the class where you are taught of
raging tides uprooting history,
of rallying cries in litanies of languages
there is a whispered conversation
they said that if you are against gays
it means you are afraid of them
--what?--bullshit, i know.
the people against hitler were not afraid

and you do not deserve to moralize,
you do not deserve to be indignant because
all you ever did
was write a poem.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Now there is nothing left to imagine.
You have spoken into me and through me,
Draped on my lap.
There are no explanations.
You are the girl who picked up her
passport and pumps and left home.
And me? One night my nose bled
onto the granite and I fell asleep on the wind.

It is not that we compliment each other--
We strike each other out, but only with a certain sadness.

Only with a certain sadness do I watch you
pull me by the elbow; do I become
your tape recorder;

Do I feel (only in my throat)
the lullaby bubbling
"But Sammi, you are beautiful, and
somehow you are mine."

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


It is time again for you to wonder at cosmic typos,
the blunder that brought you to this mess of slurs and ties
and the men who wear them. The red-faced poet saying the pledge.
The voices; you are only the excuse nature makes
when she forgets to say "just kidding".
The minefields in between the right sounds.
The god that drew billowing black borders
and gave you a voice of chalk.

And you could have been a bumblebee.

Monday, 4 April 2011


It's been at least a couple of years since I last used rhyming in my poetry. Apologies for the rust!

Mother, the Doctor Lied to Me.

I remember the rules but not the names
collecting pebbles and shells. The games
we played--running, we'd say, to Malta and back.

And then at school we learned of the sea,
dissected the flag and the olive tree.
They warned us about the schisms, the bombs, and the borders.

We learned to fold history neatly in two:
What we read in books and what our grandparents knew.
Our houses had been here longer than the grapevines.

I remember the dust on the windowsill
His books, his glasses, and his words: "I will
have to make sure. Now, open your legs."

Sunday, 3 April 2011



Notice, first of all, the lazy spill of her shoelaces onto the floor.
Expect her to trip over them.
Notice the slant of her eyebrows. Speculate about her name.
Be wrong.

Acquire a taste for clothes that are carefully chosen to look effortless.
Practice speaking in a low, charcoal voice. Intend to use it around her.

Cringe at the way you introduced yourself.
Laugh in all the wrong spots.

Ask her about God.
Trace the rims of her teeth with your eyes.
Record your observations.

Hypothesize about love.
Try to be discreet. Give up.
Wrap your limbs in a ribbon for Christmas.

Fancy yourself a batch of brownies.
Fancy yourself an ashtray.
Fancy yourself a cigarette stub.

Stare at your hands.

Recall not wanting to eat.
Find it hysterically funny.
Do it again.

Notice how long it has been.
Count the names you have learned since then.
And still--

Call it nostalgia.
Call it an exercise in character.
Call it poetry.

Saturday, 2 April 2011


I used to be your favorite metaphor.
You took me home in a plastic bag from a carnival one day
and you tried to give me a name in a foreign tongue.
I said nothing.

We held hands in the streets of Amman,
shared stories and artificial orange juice on the sidewalks.
I became Noora.
I became dried apricots.
Now I am powdered milk.

Notice the rhythmic rocking.
You call for me by closing your mouth
and tilting your eyebrows.
You offer me trinkets:
a sack of coins and a rich boy with glasses;
two and a half cigarettes, an angry mother
and a gasping heart.

You press your face against the glass,
prepared to take notes.

I say nothing.

Friday, 1 April 2011


It must have been July.
It was the year I responded, "I know" to everything.
The year you toppled off your bike,
and onto your back, rolling downhill.
On the news, there were people dying
and you wrote a poem.
I hid it in my drawer and said it was mine.

You are mine that way.
I have tried to scoop pieces of you up
off the pavement.
I have learned to listen and retreat.
I tell you nothing--

And you flicker. You weave in and out
of my memory like the snake in the garden
I was sure you had made up.

I am not so sure anymore.
I cannot know the nightmares that swirl around you
when you are alone, or what lulls you to stare
at the hopscotch calendar boxes.
I don't know what days your demons decide to
make faces outside your window.

I never found the trail of blood on the asphalt
where you fell off your bike and onto your back,
toppled downhill.

And I don't think I ever will find it.

Monday, 28 March 2011

NaPoWriMo 2011

I have never done this before but it seems like an equal parts insane and awesome endeavor. I have a couple of dismally failed NaNos under my belt but I'm more confident with poetry so hopefully this month will go well. Four days to go!