I was wearing an orange dress, I had no clue why or how. I didn’t own a single item of clothing that was orange—nor did I ever plan to. I was in a ballroom. A stadium? No, a ballroom, a hotel ballroom. The same one I’d been to years ago when I had to go to some relative’s wedding. That was a strange day; I’d seen so many family members that I hadn’t seen in ages at that wedding. The music was so loud. I could feel judgmental eyes on me for staying at the table where the aunties sat instead of getting up and dancing with people my age. But the food was great that night, and it made up for the headache, the awkwardness, and the fact that I felt like a hostage to traditions the whole night. Meanwhile, this time there was no wedding. Instead, there were hundreds of people I knew and had met throughout my life. Most of the faces were blurry. I couldn’t tell if I was a blur to them too or not.
The angel came down to earth bearing a message of peace. He swept over the pyramids of Giza and landed in the heart of Cairo. People gathered around to witness the heavenly being, capturing the moment through the camera lenses on their phones. The world watched this miracle unfold — taking in the angel’s magnificent wings, which arched off his back in a graceful curve. His skin glistened in the sun like fine copper while his hair fell below his shoulders in flowing locks like unkempt wool. And when he spoke, the people listened, for his voice was like the song of a nightingale bearing the promise of a brighter future. The angel spoke of love and peace, of fear and hatred, of humanity and the eternal light. His words reached the ear of the president, who feared his own stardom would be diminished. He ordered his intelligence agencies to act, and so they did. The angel made the evening news — they called him a criminal, an anarchist, a troublemaker, an outcast. They said he fled from Heaven under a cloud of shame, with the goal of chaos and war. They censored his speeches and erased his online presence. And still the angel stood in the heart of Cairo and called for freedom while the people listened with open hearts. In his growing fear, the president deployed the army, which surrounded the angel and took aim at his chest. The angel smiled for he knew the battle had been won. He removed a single daffodil from his pocket and planted it in the cement beneath his feet. He then spread his resplendent wings and took off, ascending the heavens, his purpose achieved.
The customers of Café Taba were tapping their feet on the floor, up and down, following the beats of the hakawati’s song.
The hakawati gulped his third glass of tea, and then continued to sing in his alluring voice, which gave his audience goose pimples, making even the stoniest hearted of them almost want to cry.
No one knew why.
None of the audience could take their eyes off him, nor could they stop listening to every word and every syllable he uttered even though they were sure that he knew nothing about love. He was clearly too young and too vain and had never suffered. Even Dunya was sure of it. None of them could fully or even partially understand the theories he was trying to peddle through the vehicle of his songs. How could Fear be the opposite of Love? Wasn’t Hate its eternal enemy and opposite? The hakawati was talking nonsense, trying to be clever, they were sure of that. Even Dunya who thought of herself (relatively speaking) as an expert on the theories of love and its manifold manifestations did not understand. But none of them really cared whether he was right or wrong because what they loved about him most of all were not his stories, or his theories, nor his rhymes—but the voice in which he sang them. Perhaps in Europe or America people could follow their hearts, some of the men reasoned. But here, in the conservative Republic of Syria, Fear was the master. Fear held everything and everyone under its sway, and everyone respectfully bowed their heads to it.
From “The Little Light that Escaped”
But I remember.
The scent of sun and ash, a taste of resin, blame. Summers across slanting floors and smiles like sickles for thoughts of flight. Abandoned streets and a feeling of sinking. Makeshift holes not far from the sea; closer in, the cicadas’ hum the whirl straight up to twilight’s hem, brittle wings which brought no breeze while all the rest were busy drinking, swallowing the searing-eyed, searing-tongued prophets and seers, and jaundicing into the yellow silence of the years. The tonal monotony of the land.
Days passing, just out of the reach of the sun. Days passing, in a basement room, watching the arc of the sun through a small square of sky. Tides of no turning. Blocks of light mosaiced while the slow days tasted of mineral, copper, rust.
I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.
God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—
All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.
Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.
Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.
He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.
Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.
– Plato, BC 427–347
Always I have and will
Scatter god and gold to the four winds.
When we meet, I delight in what the Book forbids.
And flee what is allowed.
– Abu Nuwas, AD 756–813
The moment a man questions the meaning and value of life, he is sick, since objectively neither has any existence; by asking this question one is merely admitting to a store of unsatisfied libido to which something else must have happened, a kind of fermentation leading to sadness and depression.
– Sigmund Freud, 1937
The revolution is for the sake of life, not death.
― Herbert Marcuse, 1977
Eros is an issue of boundaries.
– Anne Carson, 1986
“Hi, I’m writing a piece on Arab porn and would love to get your input…”
“Why would I be relevant to Arab porn?”
“Porn meaning explicit web content, or sexual self expression in general.”
“I see. Well, okay. I’d like to read what you’re writing but I don’t want to contribute. Not because I’m against the idea. I just don’t feel like revealing anything at this point, or I don’t have anything to reveal. I don’t want to explain myself or my sexuality or whatever.”
The long fact of the turned face is named faith.
Through the tall windows opposing the tapestries
that depict the gaze of the lion, low hills with dark cows
remain far. A pheasant plump in the dirt, a voice saying you,
and modern angles guide us into the room where we were
never again, as in the absence of any machine a man
watches the ball propelled down the lane toward him
then bends, pins in hand. I hear his regular breath.
The Palestinians today are drowned in a world of predestination. It looks and feels like the fight to defend their issues is not a choice they have made, but rather a call they have followed blindly. Those who have chosen not to follow that call as it is, or heard it differently, consciously or not, are considered out of tune (not to say labeled with the most horrid qualities).
There is no doubt that Palestinians have the absolute right to fight for their dignity and freedom (what is the meaning of life without dignity and freedom?) But to take to the streets without a real awareness of your purpose or a clear strategy of what it would take to achieve it is suicide.
The Storm Takes the Heart.
.What does that glum sun search for in its useless
round and why does its purple body come apart
and endless discs come tumbling down from its
flaming core, followed by black birds
black and crossing over like the storm
whose eyes aglow with tears we barely glimpse, they come
out from the graves of the forefathers and make for Jordan.
Suddenly the sunbeam disappeared. I believe a cloud is passing over the house. Sunbeams disappear for two reasons alone: clouds hide them or it is night. And being morning, most probably a cloud is passing.
Maybe soon it will rain and I will be able to watch the rain from the window. Life is so beautiful: that circumstances allowing one can watch the rain. Mine is a water sign and I imagine that now and then a planet up in space melts and flows down in front of me. Happy notion. I pick it up and approach the window. I open the pane and look out at the cars, the arid asphalt, the weary labourers. Why do these labourers get tired? I used to get tired myself sometimes and the sweat would flow, but then I turned my back on it and for years I rested. Sweat of the brow is hateful; shameful in fact. Disgusting: rising from sleep to make oneself sweat. A car goes by leaving a light cloud of dust behind it. A cat asleep on the corner opens then shuts its eyes. I close the window and slowly make my way back.