Frozen in their Kodaks, our old folks wear slippers to protect the carpet from their feet.
Colours leech. A tap drips. Dinner lingers in another room. A yucca erupts on the lawn.
The lounge is an orgy of fakery: leatherette armchairs, plaster dogs, silk orchids,
mock encyclopedias and more fringe than necessary on lamps, hairdos, lips, pelmets
plus random tassels wherever there is dangling and come-hither velvet.
If a grandparent smiles it is like a wolf had stopped by for tea and a slice of Battenberg.
Parents vogue in folky knitwear surrounded by cigarettes and the Sixties.
Is this how they will see us, our early years tucked into albums balanced on the knee like babies?
Will pages crackle as laminates separate and we stare back red-eyed as hounds from blind pubs?
Whereas our last few decades will click past in seconds on a screen, backlit, cropped and cherry-bright.
There they can find us, between swipes, catching our breath, wiping the joy from our sleeves.
I refuse to disappear –
this hand is my complexity:
count its rivers and wedding rings.
Marrying a man is my victory,
your disgust. If years before I married
a woman, that proves the riches of love –
see them pour from the unpeopled heavens.
I slip like an otter past your nets.
Note how various I am – my children carry
rivers in their hands, my ancestors lifted
doors onto their backs, lifted toddlers
and boxes in their arms two hundred years
ago, tested home against the holes
in their boots, the spit of neighbours.
I come from heroines who spoke another
language – see them climb carefully
into rickety boats, measuring safety over
every wave and mile, shushing their babies,
softly patting their backs, pinning hopes
on half an hour’s doze. What triumphs!
To arrive and think I’m not welcome here
but that door needs a lick of paint. I’ll make it
mine. I carry their name and if you can’t
pronounce it – if it gutters
against your tongue –
it’s as glorious as my fingerprints,
singing for my mouth that shapes it,
my ear that answers to it like a perky dog.
If whatever I do tonight
makes you shudder you don’t need
to watch. When I kiss his eyebrow
his shoulder his dick it’s none
of your business. I claim sanctuary
in his arms. My door is bolted.
I’m an eel and he’s my river.
Call me scarey queen or gulley queen.
Quote Leviticus, its abominations. Answer
me with your machete. It’s nothing personal.
Stop me seeing my child, my grandchild.
I might infect them with my love. Build
a thousand walls to block me, I’ll find
a thousand rivers to swim.
Seventeen of us in horn-rimmed glasses:
the rock and roll fan boys of downtown Damascus.
We met on Mondays, in the cellar of the Al Pasha Hotel
with a bottle of Arak and a copy of 20
Our prize possession was a pick Buddy once played
at the Fiesta Ballroom, Montevideo, Minnesota.
A few of us made up The Crickets, Tarek on bass,
Victor on goblet drums and myself on Qanun.
The drain covers hiccupped as we cranked out
our version of Mailman, Bring Me No More
Once a month we went head to head with Rifat,
the Syrian Elvis who performed in a kaftan wingsuit.
That spring, when the people filled the streets,
we played Marjeh Square: raving on a flatbed truck,
shaking the windows of the Interior Ministry.
When the shots rang out, we fled down an alley
and hid in the upstairs room of a hair salon. We left
one by one in pink dressing gowns and perms.
The next day we painted a pair of Buddy’s glasses
on a twenty-foot portrait of Bashar al-Assad.
Bombed out of our basement, we took to the hills
still wearing pencil thin ties and suede loafers.
We traded vinyl for Molotov cocktails, then, on every
shattered tank scratched ‘True Love Ways.’
A year on, just six of us left, Tarek sold his
for a passage to Greece and a tub of day-old falafels.
The rest of us joined him, squeezing into a dinghy
while mothers held their children. The boat swamped,
I collected five pairs of glasses then swam for shore.
In the sand I left these words: ‘Buddy Holly lives.’
Every photograph is a certificate of presence. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida
Every photograph is a certificate of presence.
After the paramedics claimed the body, the coroner his bundle of forms, my mother, untrained in grief’s protocol took a photo of where her husband died; a kitchen in England tiled in scattered fossil and shell. You can see where the tiler under-measured, the grout line thick, jagged, not quite reaching the bespoke cabinets.
Six time zones back in another continent, before the future vibrates as one incoming message, I’m lying between Resurrection Fern and Ocotillo, watching the first sign of a desert spring. My body’s outline– a deviation of leaf-cutter ants on a caldera of limestone. Turkey vultures kettle the bluff of our six-month rental
I long for one of them to break its spiral, swoop in so close I’ll glimpse the pink scald of its head, but they rock and soar, diffident in their teetering flight, knowing the difference between living and dead, while I search in every pixel for my father’s presence, finding only my mother’s thumb blurring the lens with its raw imprint.