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At the Gates, Mikhail Makes Me a Feast of Rain and Dirt

Editor’s Note: Hazem Fahmy was a finalist for the 2019 Boston Review Annual Poetry Contest and this poem appeared in our arts anthology Allies.

Hazem Fahmy
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For which I'm truly grateful.
I've spent a lifetime dreaming
of cities wide enough
to hold me. I have feared open
roads; the seduction of
the unfathomable. All my life
I have prayed for a soil
unburdened by time, say an
Eden of a nap. And yet,
I sit before him alone.
He asks me about my kin
and country. I say: I am
sorry if I ever spoke
out of a mouth that was not
mine. I say ‘we’ and hope that means
something. I don’t pretend
to know where ‘we’ live. If there
is a place for ‘us’ I have
known it only by name, but
never map. I have looked for ‘us’
on the highway, only
found sirens, restless screeching;
choir of dust, shriveled lotus
by an empty bank. Maybe
‘we’ are all just in love with
scorched temples, dead languages.
Every dry river has a lake
for a mother, and I am tired
of the violence of water;
how it holds the still land
with its ego. Somewhere,
there’s history without
burden. There is an ‘us’ I don’t have
to wash of blood and
kerosene. Cut off my tongue
if I claim I know what it
looks like, but hear me when
I say it does not smell
like gated flowers, or stale fear
underneath a thick blanket.
I know I too am guilty
of this legacy. I have praised
the dirt I have spat on
only when it grows
what I ask of it. I've dug a grave
for every nightingale
who sang too loud. And for that you
can call my mouth rotten, but
never rested. الحمد لله
Insomnia’s the only
vocab my city ever
gave me, and I speak it well,
let it overflow from my open
mouth unto the tired
earth. I know ‘we’ have all grown
weary from the taste of rust,
how it's brittle trauma makes
a home out of our teeth. But
find me a history that
has ever undone ‘us’ and
I will go to bed tonight
unfazed by the summer. He
says: it is foolish to fear
the dark. I say: God gifts us
the night, and for that I am
eternally grateful. There
were days when I wished myself
small enough to die
in the flame of a lantern, but I
have settled for that music
which shakes the stillness. I have
mocked martyrdom’s allure, I am
weak يا ربى I was
never near Bilal nor Omar.
Forgive me my timid jaw,
my quiet hands. They only
want to build.
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About the Author

Pushcart-nominated poet and critic from Cairo.

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