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.