Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rough Stuff

These are middle drafts of the three newest poems I've written. They've come out sort of as a series--because they are concerned with similar topics. I swear I am no where near ready to be married, but I've been thinking about it a lot lately, in the abstract I guess. I'd be curious if you married people had any thoughts, particularly about "And". Anyway, here goes:


And stand together but not too near together
For the pillars of the temple stand apart…
--from “On Marriage,” The Prophet, by Gibran Khalil Gibran

And (+) conj. 1. the most basic connector: “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” man and wife, man and woman, boy and girl, male and female, master and servant, mother and father, sister and brother… 2. Yin and Yang? Earth and Sky? 3. consequently: “I saw her across the room and my heart stopped and she made me do the craziest things. I couldn’t sleep! Days on end, I couldn’t eat! And then, finally, she agreed to marry me.” she: “And it’s been heaven since then, hasn’t it?” he: “What are you talking about woman?” and pinches her ass. she: giggles and sighs (and sighs and sighs and sighs and later they will moan their regular and uneven chorus). 5. The final joint in a series: ironing his shirts, cooking him dinner, and bearing his kids. 6. The present is an addition, the future an addition, to the past, and to our collected imagination, and our history, and our symbols and signifiers and systems. 7a. In the News, Marriage is turning into an Elite Institution, like before... Marriage in America is capitalism’s wet dream, full of SUV’s and IRA’s and Caribbean cruises and Thanksgiving feasts. 7b. And the revolutionary rant: Polyamory! Raising children in tribes! With many who can act as parents, and sharing knowledge and tasks and celebrations, like before… 8. But back to marriage, which your mother tells you is something that will certainly some happen to you, which your father tells you he put you on this earth to do: to marry and join your good genes with some other’s good genes, and in the end you will continue the line, fill out the tree. 9. The advice-giver clears the advice-giver’s throat (Ahem!): “A successful marriage is a combination of chemistry and hard work.” 10. The concave form and the convex it lays against; like two folds of flesh inside a closed fist.

after A. Van Jordan

After Dinner

I am happiest behind a sink
of dirty dishes; scrubbing pots
makes more sense than sitting
in the swill of satiated

Try to talk about what is happening
or what happened or what will


and you might trap me,
briefly, in the bones of memory,

but then the light will catch
the corner of my periphery,
flash like a rocket’s sizzle
in a darkened sky, and I bolt upright,
for there will be water to boil
for Turkish coffee and tea,
tupperware to fill,

wilted, oil drenched lettuce
to brush off of plates.

I am

I am older wiser stronger stupid fragile
breakable fixable trickable tall pale
freckled smelly scented woman girl
female bitch whore angel virgin am I

Sometimes the house we live in
feels like a small, cold sickness,
tight and falling in on our heads;
then one day I came home,
slowly pushed open the door,
and the windows
the dusty floors
with light.

The food I cooked for dinner was
hidden, wilted, bought last week
that night we ate burritos instead,
but I cut it, touched it, built it
and we talked over it
and very slowly cleaned up,
talking still and eating
small, sweet berries, their
bright juice settling
the meal.

And there are spaces in my love for you,
where the thought of loving you
is laughable but
here there are stars
and tendrils of silent sidewalk air
crawl over us as we
trace street corners
and deeply
the night.

I am virgin angel whore bitch female
girl woman scented smelly freckled
pale tall trickable fixable breakable
fragile stupid stronger wiser older am I

(Thanks to my writing circle, Jim, my Individual Vision class, and my sister for reading some/all of these is such early stages.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Shaken, not stirred

Another short post, for my sister, L, who is adamant about me keeping to posting regularly. (Oh, L, I miss you! (She's also dubious about me using initials to identify people. What's the point? she says: I know who you are talking about anyway. But does the CIA? Ha...))

Martinis entered my life when I moved to San Francisco, as one of my main companions here, M, was into them and we spent many a night out together when San Francisco was fresh to me. Consequently, I take mine like he does (and probably always will): shaken, very cold, extra dirty, with three olives, and preferably Grey Goose. OK, so the fancy vodka turns it into a little investment, but it is well worth it. The buzz is...clear and intense and fun. The hangover is...minimal. But, whatever you do, always drink one glass of water for one martini and don't go over two drinks. I've done it, but I wouldn't recommend it.

A typical part of the martini experience with M involves explaining to the bartender exactly what we want, and then tasting the drink once it is poured and sitting in front of us, and then, often, sending the drink back for refinements. I used to shrink at the idea of telling someone who's served me that what they did was wrong, that they need to try again, but M has changed this in me. The places we usually go are nice establishments, often downtown. Last night we even warned the bartender beforehand that we'd be sending our martinis back if they weren't right. He sort of laughed at us but didn't flinch and poured the perfect martini the first time.

Once I found myself in a dive bar in my neighborhood, waiting for a date. I really wanted a martini but was worried that at such an establishment, the drink would be no good. So, I hesitantly asked the bartender: "How's your martini?" The pierced and tattooed man was pissed. He growled at me: "Why don't you give it a try and let me know?" Scowling, he made it. Reluctantly, I tasted, worried I'd have to confront him about not fulfilling my desires. But he did, and I tipped him well, even thanked him profusely. He didn't seem to care... My point? I don't know...

Have a happy day (it's sunny and beautiful here!)... And consider a martini the next time you go out. If I'm with you, I'll make sure you get the perfect one.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


"There are spaces in my love for you"

This was a line from the poem I shared in a class tonight. This class is one teacher, one other student and me. Each week we come to class having read a book of poems, talk about that book, and then share a poem we wrote in reaction to that reading. Of the above line, my teacher said it was beautiful, staring into the page in a way that made me wonder if she really meant it, but maybe she did, and my classmate said it reminded him of a good, modern, country love song. Oh gosh, what kind of poet am I? I'd post the poem here but it needs work and anyway I should be reading Orientalism, and trying to figure out what to write about it for my weekly critique in my theory class.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Perfect Day

Yesterday was a great day. You know the kind...? When everything goes right and the rhythm of it flows so it just feels good. In the middle of it, I went for a walk with A and B to Buena Vista Park. A didn't know where we were going, and he insisted it didn't matter, but as we walked up Haight Street and things started going uphill, he began to complain. we reached the park and began to climb upwards on paths and steps, he insisted we take breaks. But we made it to the top and it was gorgeous. I mean, of course, seeing most cities from above is nice, particularly a city like San Francisco. But it was also...nice to be there so high up and listen to the crows.

Here's a picture of A and B from behind as we were walking down, light shooting at us through the trees.

Before the park, I made lunch at home and we listened to Egyptian music. (Egypt's where I know A from. We worked at the same gallery in downtown Cairo when I was in Egypt for nine months between 2004 and 2005. He was born in a town outside Cairo and just moved here two months ago now, his first time outside Egypt.) I listen to Arabic music alone pretty often but rarely with other Arabs, so it was nice to sit and talk about the lyrics--what they mean, whether they are poetry or dialect. This is the sort of conversation you have when you listen to Om Kalthoum. Most of her recorded music is in very long operatic songs, beautiful, moving, painful, even if you don't know Arabic. You can listen to some of them here. The two that I know well are Al-Atlal (The Ruins) and El Hobb Keda (Love is Like This (or That?)). Both highly recommended. We also got in some Fairouz. She goes very well with sweet, dark tea.

A also reminded me about this crazy video:

A very tongue-in-cheek production out of his home country and my temporarily adopted home country. Awesome.

And then after the park it got cold and I biked west alone and then east again with T to a lovely gathering in honor of dessert. Creme brulee, ginger snaps, fruit salad, whipped cream, strawberry-crowned cupcakes, macaroons, mojitos. I'm not a sugar person, but damn was that a nice sugar high.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

War, what is it good for?

That quote always makes me think of that Seinfield episode where Elaine does that stupid thing. Yeah, I can see it in my head but I was never one of those people who quoted tv shows. Just don't have the mind for it. Anyway, it's kind of heavy, but I thought I'd post this poem that a friend helped me sort of revitalize today. We met up at this insane bar in the heart of the city with a huge "garden" out back full of picnic tables and all sorts of good people-watching. Zeitgeist. It was my first time and when I told my roommates that, they were all: "Oh, my god! Have you not lived?" So the poem's long and maybe kinda heavy but the topic's pretty close to me. Basically, how does war fit in? And what do we do with it? Where does it show up?
Autobiography of War (San Francisco)

(Lebanon, summer 1986)

The slow road from the Beirut to the south
spreads the length of the country,
along the beach,
bumper-to-bumper, dented and dirty.

Checkpoints with shacks fresh painted,
soldiers in front, nodding us on, waving us on,
peering in and nodding us on,
asking for papers and nodding us,
questions and nodding.

And after hours spent inside,
in the house’s middle room,
hours playing cards and reading books
while the grownups whisper urgency,
while the world outside booms, low and loud,
the outside world falls away in crumbs,

after the booming stops,
when moms are making dinner,
my cousin takes me to the roof
and we collect bent bullets,
treasures clutched in happy fists.

The next morning a tank rolls down the main street,
right past us on the balcony,
staring down at the beast and eating grapes.

(Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, early 1991)

They say the wives and children can leave;
they send special planes—

we stay.

And when the SCUDS come at night,
Dad is supposed to wake us
and take us
to the safe room in our house,
a room where we are supposed to have canned food and water,
a room with all windows and doors sealed off with tape.

When the SCUDS come at night,
dad leaves us dreaming
and goes up to our roof
to watch American missiles intercept the evil missiles,
like fireworks.

One night an explosion wakes me up;
the low rumble far-off finds me
warm under my blanket, and
the house quivers like a womb.

One day we go to the embassy and
they give us gas masks,
show us how to use them:
“If you put these things on wrong,
You’ll suffocate.”

We play victims for a war drill;
two marines wheel me on a gurney
down the embassy’s long halls.
One curses under his breath: “Fuck…”
It is the first time I hear that word live;
and my eyes
are closed; I am pretending to be dead.

At home Dad helps us put the masks on.
We take photos:
Me and my sister wearing gas masks, wearing nightgowns,
all tangled hair and medical alien faces.

Mom puts the masks on a high shelf.
Some kids bring theirs to school,
strap them on with their backpacks.

For Valentine’s Day,
my best friend puts paper missiles through paper hearts,
writes messages across them in cursive.
Mine reads: “You are my favorite SCUD.”

(Surabaya, Indonesia, May 1998 (& an echo))

Driving home from school,
our car gets stuck in the demos,
in the knots of men and women
filling the streets and the city.

Each demo is a different color—
the day they are first angry,
they wear green t-shirts,
some with green bandanas covering noses, mouths…
They wave sticks, hold signs, yell chants.
The group is a seething green organism.

Our final exams cancelled,
I furiously make out with my boyfriend in a taxicab
before they make us fly to Singapore on
a jumbo jet packed with Americans.

Dad stays and over the phone
he talks about angrier demos,
smashed in windows, looted supermarkets,
a Molotov cocktail thrown over his office gate.

When we come back weeks later
things that used to cost 10 rupiahs
cost 100 now.
We carry stacks of bills.

“The country so sad, it bleeds.”
Dad writes years later, the final time he goes back,
the country seething still.

(New York City, September 2001)

Our first thought is that a pilot made a stupid mistake
on this Tuesday morning,
when we emerge from the subway
And everyone is looking south
at a newness on our famous skyline.

After going to two classes
the idea crystallizes
that something has happened.

Cell phones not working and somehow I find my friends.
An entire city is wandering and crying and staring
and we wander, try to donate blood,
then downtown to a bar with peanut shells on the floor
to drink Stellas and watch CNN.
In Brooklyn that night on the pier
across the water the fallen towers smoke
against a new-starred sky.

We stay in our apartment three days
in front of a tv pulled from the closet.
They are showing
the same thing over and over,
with all possible variation.

We call people we love who are
not here.
We smoke cigarettes, try to write emails, to talk.

But there is difficulty doing things,
in restarting life, going back to Manhattan
where there are “missing” posters everywhere,
candlelight vigils, stricken faces,
a big crater downtown,
a smell my roommate knows as death
each day when the subway passes under it.

(Egypt, April 2005)

At work behind computers and our boss comes into the office to tell us
a man has just blown himself up and killed a few, hurt even more
with a nail bomb
in the middle of the Khan,
among hookahs and scarabs and leather and gold
and tourists
and Egyptians.

When the second bomb goes off,
I am in the Sinai with Lisa and
we have just had the bumpiest, scariest
ride of our lives out of the Rainbow Canyon
with two Bedouins in a four-wheel-drive.

Stopping to fix our flat tire at a sandy way station,
I have text messages from Cairo:
“Have you heard? A crazy man blew himself up
Jumping off the bridge and two women shot at a tourist bus…”

Dad calls from Virginia at sunset and says: always be aware;
we are eating fresh grilled fish, looking across the slow water
at Saudi Arabia as soft purple mountains in the distance.

(Lebanon, summer 2005)

Hariri’s grave under an awning by a monumental mosque
that he was having built in the downtown
he had reconstructed.
He and six bodyguards are now lumps,
covered with Astroturf, draped in white flowers.

I am here for the first free elections, which means
nightly celebrations with fireworks.
The explosions make my stomach flip,
sound like bombs and guns.
I find them in the distance from balconies and rooftops.

The streets are papered with fliers and portraits and freedom graffiti.

And more deaths this summer still
as bombs go off in strategic locations.
The news blares from the tv in my aunt’s tiny apartment,
desperate newscasters and repeated images of split open cars and buckled streets,
groups of young men, arms on shoulders, huddling towards the microphone.

We take walks on the Corniche at sunset
As the pink and orange and purple light
Grace the ocean and the other city-dwellers who have come.

One night is marked as we walk past the boardwalk and before I understand
what’s going on,
we are in front of a roadblock in front of an armed man
in front of the hotel where Hariri died months ago now,
a building right up on the beach, a building with the front sliced off
so we can see all the rooms inside,
like a doll house,
except the floors are bent through ceilings and frozen dripping.
There are metal rods stuck skyward, and a group of seagulls
pecking at something on the seventh floor.

(Not Lebanon, July 2006)

We watch war on television,
Arabic channels beamed by satellite to California.

We call Lebanon,
we wait for news of which villages have been hit,
who is staying, who is leaving;
some are even going
back home.

We wonder how it will end
and how far Nasrallah will go.

Many support him,
don’t want to say it,
since the man wears a dress and a big beard
and gets money from Iran,
but he is strong in a way that we admire.

We talk about the big wars from last century
and the time of peace between then and now.

And on my lunch-break downtown,
in front of the building that I never realized houses the Israeli consulate.
On one side of the street, they wave Israeli and American flags
and on one side Palestinian and Lebanese flags.

Voices fly back and forth…chants, drumbeats.

Two men in suits walk by and
one asks the other
what this is about. Neither knows
and they ask a policeman, who explains…

Walking on, the first man asks, nodding his head
towards the Arab side: “What do they want from us,
Anyway?” The other shakes his head.

A ragged man on the corner shouts:

“Who belongs to a war?
Who does a war belong to?”

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

in the beginning...

I'd like this blog to be brilliant, just like I'd like everything that comes out of my mouth to be, but, will be what it is and this is only a beginning.

Today is Wednesday, which turns out to be my favorite day lately since I don't have to go to work but instead I get to go to school. My job is not terrible, it's actually probably the best job I've ever had in terms of what I'm paid and how I'm treated and my relationship with the people I work with; it's just not something I'm terribly passionate about. And wouldn't we all like to be terribly passionate about what we keep ourselves in cornflakes? My father used that phrase with me when I was a freshman in college once, in one of those phone conversations where it feels like he might be communicating the meaning of life and I am flipping out about the fact that what I do (what I love to do, what it feels like I might have been put on this earth to do) is fruitless, in terms of the fruit of capital, which is green and has all these dead presidents all over it. Following me? Dad basically said, "Amira, do what you gotta do, do what you love to do, but also you've gotta make sure you keep yourself in cornflakes." What a weird thing to say, right? Like, is that a phrase out of the sixties or something? So, my point is, that when my dad presented the cornflakes, he made it seem like making money might never align precisely with my passion. Maybe he didn't mean that at all. Either way, I hope to prove him wrong.

So, I live on a little alley in a central part of San Francisco, a few steps from Dolores Park. The park is a good moderate size, with hills that slope up on one side to a path shaded with trees, a good swing set, tennis courts, lots of palm trees, and really neat views of all the tall buildings downtown. On sunny, weekend days, the crowds can be a annoying, even if you are a seasoned people-watcher, like me.

On my block, we've got the namesake of the park, the Mission Dolores, which is the oldest surviving building in this lovely town. The thing about it that I'm so impressed by is that from the outside it's just your basic gargantuan building that you walk by a million times and basically ignore, but from inside, it's like a whole different planet. I won't go into it now, but I suggest you go if you are in S.F. And I give the graveyard four stars.

Anyway, so it's Wednesday, my favorite day, and I was woken up by the sound of jackhammers pulling apart the concrete tiles of the walkway in front of my house. And I'm getting out of bed much later than my ambitious plan and today at school there are short stories to workshop; there is Foucault to discuss. Discourse on shifting structures of power, anyone? Here's a little video a classmate sent out to our class, a back-and-forth between Noam Chomskey and Michel Foucault that will give you a good idea of what Foucault is all about, in case you've ever wondered, like I did before I took this class.

Wasn't that interesting? Isn't Foucault Spock-ish? Where is this thing taking place? Who are those people in the audience?