You Can’t Write Poetry in a Language Not Your Own
I met the Lingua Pura through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
at the open air cinema in Cairo, torrid summer nights
edged with cartoons, usually Tom & Jerry, followed
by Hollywood features: G.I. Blues, Psycho &
Zorba the Greek which flashed male buttocks
on drama-soaked isles, worlds of music & color
that throbbed a cloudless sky. I followed subtitles
in French and Arabic, swatted mosquitoes, decoded
English slang. When I moved to America, aged twelve,
a horizontal meeting with Shakespeare & Erica
Jong baptized the language as my own, weaved
past French syntax, its feminine chairs
& masculine chandeliers, eager to skip 40
synonyms for love, Arabic so archaic I’d need a linguist
to finally kiss my frog.
Now I sprout an accent that belies relative
ease, though my faith wavers with noses that run & feet
that smell, & why can’t ‘abbreviation’ be a smaller word?
English & I reach back to a honeyed moon
laced with jasmine trees, the movie screen lit by Elvis’s smiles,
Janet Leigh’s screams, Tom’s wild yearning to catch Jerry’s tail.
A Visit to My Mother’s Seamstress
“The world begins at a kitchen table.” —Joy Harjo
As we gather in the spacious kitchen,
perch on wooden chairs, her sister
is kept locked in a room. We dread
her laughter which begins like singsong,
quickly turns to thunder which stuns
our ears, pierces the summer air.
Behind her door, a male voice starts to recite
a graveside cycle of scriptures.
A child whines, chairs smash,
then son of a dog, son of a creeping
beast, I fuck your mother’s ass blare in full
female vibrato, a cast of characters hurling
through her tongue, her continent of angst
near yet unimaginable to my childish heart.
We ignore the ruckus,
the day resumes. The seamstress’ face
etches with her sister’s shrieks as she places
pins in my mother’s dress, adjusting here,
tucking there, her curt professional dance.
The laughter returns, a coarse cascade of mirth
scaling the span of octaves. The seamstress
says her sister’s condition started as a child,
when she saw the ritual washing of the dead,
her father’s body on a kitchen table, his pale
nakedness, incense fumes hazing the day,
the cantor’s incantations. No remedies can
stem her chameleon gifts. We sip tea amidst
her screams and hallowed laughter, which
continue to shower us like dark blessings.
Nadia Ibrashi’s work has received prizes in competitions held by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, the Poetry Society of Michigan, Ebony, Writer’s Digest, Gemini Magazine, Springfed Arts, the X. J. Kennedy Awards, and others. Her work appears in The Southeast Review, Nimrod, Narrative, Quiddity, Tidal Basin Review, The MacGuffin, The Whirlwind Review, Rosebud, Atticus Review, Alimentum, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, The New Sound, and others. Her stories were finalists in the Tifferet Journal of Spiritual Literature and Raymond Carver contests, both in 2015. She is assistant editor at Narrative magazine, and graduated as a fiction fellow with the Writers’ Institute, CUNY. She is a member of Detroit Working Writers and Springfed Arts, and has practiced medicine in Egypt and in the States.