Published in Poetry Potion 2013.01.Print Quarterly edition: On Being Human
Arabic Lessons in Egypt
At a masjid in Madinat Nasr
just before Maghrib
I find jidatee with her nose
in His signs
while a metronome
of bone on bone
keeps time with
those knees creak as much
as the scuffed plastic
of the chair under them
she’s not really my grandmother
I hear only one word out of her hundred.
Ana la atakalam arabiyya the guidebook told me to say.
Ana talibah, min junoob iffrikiya was from today’s class lesson.
jidatee, who’s not really,
fingers the dark cloth of my jacket
before pointing to my skin
she’s trying to figure it out
South African but you are not black?
Ummi’s ummi’s ummi min Hindeeyah I stumble
I haven’t yet learnt the Arabic word for great-grandmother
jidatee brings her finger to her forehead
makes a little circle with it in the middle
La, la, Muslim I say
sounds a bit like a song
and we laugh before we pray
maghrib – the sunset prayer
jidatee – Arabic word for ‘my grandmother’
fatha – Arabic grammatical mark
kasra – Arabic grammatical mark
ana la atakalam arabiyya – I don’t speak Arabic
ana talibah, min junoob iffrikiya – I am a student from South Africa
ummi – Arabic for ‘my mother’
min Hindeeya – Arabic for ‘from India’
la la- Arabic for ‘no, no’
I was told you are buried in the row
alongside the highway
under a tree
along the fence I walked to them
reading names heavy with someone’s longing
none of the Khadijas I found were you Katy
I saw a man with a prayer book in his hand
standing as still as the trees and
I didn’t want to break what he had by the
leaves that would have crushed under my foot
and I left
not having found you
but knowing that the prayer I sent from my car
will get to you somehow
we could picnic in your cemetery
the sweeping spaces clipped green
the benches good for cupping us
between the hum of traffic
and the slow hush of grass
sectioned off by census of faiths
in death too we choose to lie close to our own
you would have told me so
perhaps it is that when we rise again
it will be among comforting commiserators
or if we did happen to call upon God by a rightful name
there’d be no rubbing our neighbours’ noses
in more dirt than they were accustomed to
red mounds of heaped soil for most Muslim graves
green perspex stenciled names
prayers for the highest stages in Heaven
among the few entombed and headed by
granite supplications more adamant
and then there are some with a clutch of
scratched-on plywood sticks
like plant markers
these grave gardens
grief wistfulness tend
careful beds of succulents
blooms flourishing both wild and contained
in pots and vases like
ornaments in your mother’s display cabinet
I will return to look for your tree
in this nursery of loving wives devoted husbands
dear friends and fallen angels
I will look for you in the golden hour
when the day draws over your grave
gentle and warm God tucking you in for the night
and it feels like we’re nearing
the end of something perhaps
a hope that Death will not sneak up behind us
but walk towards us giving us
time to prepare.
Woke at 3AM
to the windows
the bricks shifting
under rib cage.
Only it was the earth moving.
I was hoping
It is what happens when you fall asleep with a writing assignment on the brain. Dreams of duende manifest into the earth twitching and leaping in Jo’burg South early this morning. Did it wake you too?
I seek you out
in the cradles of hands
between the creased ditches
and the padded mounds.
My thumbs are search parties
covered in prophets’ ink
rubbing through piles
on prayer mats.
In a palmful of Joburg snow
children see you clearly.
Published in Poetry Potion 2012.04 (5th Anniversary Edition)
First soft and unknit
to mould through mothers
to begin this work
of hardening frame
to fall free when six
from the top of the world, fracturing fear
and breaking in three places
casting a school-term in plaster
scribbled on in fruit-scented markers.
Bones, I drink to your strength.
The milk, always, in tall glasses
good for glugging in one go
and skillful lickings
of wet-white mustaches after.
Under stretched-out bras and holy panties,
I scribble bones into perfumed diaries
that close with a heart-shaped lock
pickable with a paper clip.
Bones, you make good backs
built to bend
under the weight of adolescence
and spring up
the world becomes
for a woman.