Today on September 11th, as Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim racism swells around the world, a dose of reality by my friend and colleague Lisa Suhair Majaj. Her poem “Claims,” published in Geographies of Light, is read by yours truly in the video below, which was filmed at the Markaz Evening of Middle Eastern Storytelling on September 9th. The written version follows.
Claims by Lisa Suhair Majaj
I am not soft, hennaed hands,
a seduction of coral lips;
not the enticement of jasmine musk
through a tent flap at night;
not a swirl of sequined hips,
a glint of eyes unveiled.
I am neither harem’s promise
nor desire’s fulfillment.
I am not a shapeless peasant
trailing children like flies;
not a second wife, concubine,
kitchen drudge, house slave;
not foul-smelling, moth-eaten, primitive,
tent -dweller, grass-eater, rag-wearer.
I am neither a victim
nor an anachronism.
I am not a camel jockey, sand nigger, terrorist,
oil-rich, bloodthirsty, fiendish;
not a pawn of politicians,
nor a fanatic seeking violent heaven.
I am neither the mirror of your hatred and fear,
nor the reflection of your pity and scorn.
I have learned the world’s histories,
and mine are among them.
My hands are open and empty:
the weapon you place in them is your own.
I am the woman remembering jasmine,
bougainvillea against chipped white stone.
I am the laboring farmwife
whose cracked hands claim this soil.
I am the writer whose blacked-out words
are birds’ wings, razored and shorn.
I am the last one who flees,
and the lost one returning;
I am the dream, and the stillness,
and the keen of mourning.
I am the wheat stock, and I am
the olive. I am plowed fields young
with music of crickets,
I am ancient earth struggling
to bear history’s fruit.
I am the shift of soil
where green thrusts through,
and I am the furrow
embracing the seed again.
I am many rivulets watering
a tree, and I am the tree.
I am opposite banks of a river,
and I am the bridge.
I am light shimmering
off water at night,
and I am the dark sheen
that swallows the moon whole.
I am neither the end of the world
nor the beginning.
Come on out next week for a night of Middle Eastern storytelling! I’ll be reading a new essay about my last name and how it relates to being Arab American and mixed. Plus, we’re going to dance the dubke! Details below:
Bitch just published my take on the film The Prophet. Check it out by clicking here:
I’ve been chosen to be part of the cast of Expressing Motherhood! I’m going to read a piece from my memoir-in-progress about choosing to be childfree. The show is one night only–on Saturday, November 7th at 7:30PM at Spirit Studio in Silverlake. Tickets are on sale now and since it’s in a small setting it’s going to sell out fast…buy your tickets now by clicking here! They’re $25 each, but the show should be well worth the splurge!
"You're Arab American?" "Yep." I nod, knowing what they'll say next. "I never would've guessed. You don't even look Arab." "That's what people tell me," I say with a smile, shrugging my shoulders. Over the years, I've played with different responses, having heard this reaction innumerable times from both Arabs and non-Arabs...
My essay, “Passing as White, Flaming as Arab–Why Mixed-Heritage Arab American Women Writers Choose Not to Pass as White and Instead to Flame as Arab,” has been published in the latest issue of Mizna! (Click on the title to read the essay in PDF. Visit mizna.org to buy your own copy of the amazing issue.)
Special thanks to Amira Jarmakani, Diana Abu-Jaber, Leila Buck, Lisa Suhair Majaj and Naomi Shihab Nye, who contributed their personal experiences and brilliant ideas.
Take a look at me reading from my thesis, a memoir-in-progress, that tells the story about a 30-something woman (me) who gets married assuming she’ll have kids, but then considers living childfree. To grapple with her decision, she writes letters to the child she has not conceived. Since my husband is named Bear, I call this project “Dear Cub.” This snippet is a tribute to Bear’s grandmother, Tita.
Filmed at the University of Southern California in May 2015.