9/11 tastes like rice & beans
(To Hawaa on the eleventh of the ninth)
This day rattles a nail along a radiator. Buses fold inwards,
grief-heavy. Hayaati, you smell like burnt wires and train tickets and all that thick foreign.
Samah, your youngest, copies your every move.
Wraps herself in a pashmina halo. That tender age when the world is a warm lap,
teasing feet into bedtimes. Send an older brother today.
An ice-cream van’s tinny laugh,
the slip and slide of plimsolls,
and the image of a man, spitting on her open face
and calling it ‘revenge’.
So you’ve crumpled into kitchen cupboards like two tower hearts falling.
The sweeping will get done, for once.
Tell yourself this. Watch the soup bubble its cartoon violence. See your son
refracted in its brown eye, a scarlet target splayed on his back.
Crying like an Israelite.
A second death replayed in TV loops
and that extra hijab you keep in your purse in case the first gets torn off like membrane.
Switch the gas on; watch it sigh into being.
Meat lies in the sink, unwashed.
Thawing like a kind of forgiveness you want to see before you die. You will season it well.
You always do.
Khalaa. Habaryar. I am so sorry. This apology is a rusted can, clattered for loose change. It is
for you, for the world, for these liquid streets, for Nasir’s reddened scrubs,
his head dizzying in a hospital hallway. Us folding into a chair, knowing what morning
hating this selfishness.
Fourteen years of exile from ourselves like Rama in a forest we are told doesn’t exist.
We have lived in headlines ever since. Outside, there is a war.
There is always a war. You hand me a plate.
I believe in the transformative power of cocoa butter and breakfast cereal in the afternoon.
Pick a sky and name it. The scriptures say there are seven.
We have enough time.
A fig, bruised-pink, resting on the dashboard,
tilted as if to say
‘khalaas get it over with bitch’.
This breeze feels too much like an aunt, tugging at our scalps,
hardly saying sorry. I think of how perfectly
timed your buzzcut is. How the border was dotted with goats,
lone whistleblowers against concrete skyscrapers.
Here, in the country of your birth, we cross the Persian Gulf,
leaving a lush behind us, and the stark of my bracelets,
green as Uganda.
A tunnel above us, reflected in a lucent drop
of light on your cheek. This liminal state between island and man.
Between Africa and Asia,
the world’s two thick thighs,
Behind us, they are drinking from time’s cup,
under the same stars a prophet gazed up
at. They call them drones now. I think. Ahead,
I know even less,
except our feet hanging off a hotel bed;
a geologic upheaval.
Your mother sits in the glove compartment, the kohl shedding from her eyes.
I share you with her,
the way we share our unbelonging
and make a castle out of
this bottled sigh
they call living.
I believe in a place where we can be ugly and poor and needy and still wear crowns.
Take me there.
MOMTAZA MEHRI is a biomedical scientist and poet who remains unsure which world came first. Her work engages with inheritance/psychobiology/ugliness/urban zoos. She has been active in the zine/small press underworld for some time, featuring in OOMK, Diaspora Drama, Hard Food, Heat, Bint Meen and other delights. Anthologized in Podium Poets as part of the London Laureates longlist, her debut collection will be published in 2016. As a community worker and part-time translator, she specialises in burning incense and bridges. Her heart yawns in three continents, London being its current owner.