The Poetry Project

Three Poems

Kamelya Omayma Youssef

the right speak

how air you
nice to me to
nice to me to too
i laugh this class
today happy
tomorrow busy
nice to me too too

the way students greet each other in my english as [another] language classroom
feels like the way we should be speaking in the first place.

i am god today. is you god too?


within her, i seek. refuge from the accursed.
the ideology i see in a gaze, a form,

i press into, against, a breaking, a wall,
i go inside, where lives the terror, i stare.

i unfrail this heart, i wear her tooth.
her sinn is ancient, is golden.

i strike a single match, i wait for the flame.
I watch the cinder the body contains.

there, a story. here, a body.
each limb, a room. her face, a fate.

years i was afraid to ask a woman a secret.
gone now, with god, a mother, a daughter.

some see a closed door, some leave it, some knock.
some invade a story, no consent, no grace.

i give her a form, i sing her a note,
a language for her thoughts, i write her a law.

this, a silence, breaking, a secret tucked in.
i gather a shroud, i place it gently

over the 19th line, all the years of her short unknown life.

Flowers for Tata and Jido

My first visit to my grandparents’ house
four months into the pandemic.
All the surfaces freshly wiped down.
The only dust I see
lightly coats Tata’s perfume bottle.

I tell Jido I am writing
a play about Cleopatra.
When I say her name
Kilo Batra, he nods.
He says he used to sing
Kilo Batra by Abdelwahab.
I look it up on YouTube,
a 24 minute recording,
a full orchestra
and The Composer of Generations
sings and the lyrics
fade in and out
and Um Hafez and Abu Hafez
arch their valuable heads
toward my tiny phone screen
and read along.

Jido says there is
another song by Abdelwahab,
ma7la 7ayat alfalla7,
How Beautiful The Life of The Farmer.
I fumble to find it
meanwhile he sings the opening lines.

My grandparents sent me off
with a plastic bag full of dates.
Jido said that my khalo
sings Abdelwahab the right way.
I know this and have cried on a train
to a WhatsApp video of Khalo
singing in a garage of men
in another country.

Um Hafez laughs
and tells a plucking from memory
then says she does not believe
her children should owe her anything.

Someone from our village is a senator
in Ottawa, Jido says
I google and find instead
a busted coke dealer with our last name.
They laugh and say it’s probably
some other so and so’s son.

If I could gather all these cousins,
I’d have an army
and a garden of stories to harvest.

A car drives by,
Fairuz from the speakers.
A small grove of daffodils
arch their beautiful heads
toward the concrete curb.

My heart still hangs
in the air where Jido sang:

A constellation of breath in the universe
where the star of me comes to live
and be extinguished by love
as I know is my fate
and all of ours.

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