i don’t know who they are, but they say if you want to sing sing. if you want to dance, show me. the darker-bodied world i come from doesn’t know how to name this desperate shuffle of feet for anything. more than the percussion of shame steady, i stay steady in this pooling of reverb. i don’t trust your hands any more than i trust the watch my uncle gifted me from the home- land. have you ever run your palms along the trunk of an olive tree? we hail from the same place. my father tells me about the old country, and i don’t ask where the songs went, when we were left with just verses belted out to God. i haven’t seen my cousins in 10 years, but i watched a nation that wants to own my nation slither a fist into a keffiyeh and call my country “fashion”— this is the pelt i know. and i’ve learned them and those like them to be the kind that steal all the steps before the grave; cueing all of the joy, none of the grief. i know you won’t keep it, but if i tell you a secret will you believe me? i danced along the spine of the shore, built myself in the sand until the ocean came for me. i folded with the waves, caught these hands held up, and asked: what is the sun, if not just the yolk of the moon? or rather, what am i in the dark if not just a way to get to you? i heard them say that my people were bad, but we can’t be that bad if mama still lets me in after daybreak— the salty mess of my pride baked into this dress, her chuckling gently at what is left of me. do you know how i learned to sing? i prayed; burned verses into my flesh, this patient garb. i lost myself. i did this until i forgot what the cries meant. i watched them spin out of this chorus of mouth. and still, i asked, and still God didn’t stop me, didn’t sing a word
This poem first appeared in Drunk in a Midnight Choir on September 15th, 2016. To view the poem as it originally appeared, visit the publication here.