i don’t know who they are, but
they say if you want to
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.
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

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 

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.