When the houses become hollow, when they were never full

When the houses become hollow, when they were never full

When the houses become hollow, when they were never full 750 500 Dania Daoud

I think it came in a segregated coffee house in Jerusalem. After the
bakers had gone home and the freedom fighters and writers sighed in
unison “our work here is done” with smiles of tire crowding every inch
of their skin. Maybe it was after the bottomless cups of coffee
accompanying the bitter search for something. I hear the folks clatter
and laugh, almost loud enough to wade into the steeping of ancient
coffee beans we stole back to its rightly possession. I see the men
playing cards in the back room on Iranian rugs with looks of renewal.
And you too, don’t see me. You see words elegant enough to surpass
half-lived truths. And I can die elegantly too. I can die with the world
parading me a martyr. I can die resilient, enduring, with purpose. But
when I die, my stories die with me. I see the batons. the police holding
a little boy on the side of the pavement, where he too, may elegantly
die. Survivor’s guilt turned testimony and the tear gas canisters settle
into the gravel. Eventually, the freedom fighters become mortal, their
stories turn human, and everybody returns home. I think it came from
your daughter, samheeni. Because this is diaspora and I am only half
yours, samheeni. And your daughter sits lamplight, night skies reciting
Al-fatiha saying ‘I know we haven’t spoken in a while, but God light a
fire in our bones on nights you didn’t ignite the electricity. Let the
layers of Gaza’s moons reflect the blood spilled with shackled bodies
lay rusted recoil.’ And God, strip the white man of his complacency
because even silver spoons eventually rust. This is children picking
yasmine petals for luck. This is mothers planting more olive trees for
luck. This is counting the lives lost. This is losing count. This is body
forms apologies in cities I can’t claim. This is diaspora. This is carry your
stories in Ramallah, carry your stories in Chicago. This is grief and gore
is bread if it keeps you alive. This is soft voices spread gossamer thin,
praying with both hands tied. This is coming from women who endure,
and we come from water and clay. Maybe it’s the reason words escape
my stomach, get rifled-down in my throat before the residue ever
reaches my lips. Maybe it’s the reason we are drowned in tides and
forced to endure. And I know it’s the reason I try to name every river as
something I can reconcile. Every time we drown is every time we’re
reminded we are ribs and lungs and womb of everything and anything
that is collateral. When I tell people where I’m from they say “I’m
sorry.” But this body is not burden. This body is border and crevice.
Skin, turmoil and dusk. This is escaped. This is forgiven. This is
grandmother turned mint to stone. This is grandfather’s poem said too
softly. This is diaspora, because I am half yours and I will repeat your
stories everywhere.

Header photograph © Joanna C. Valente.

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