Thursday, December 18, 2008

I make these gasping attempts at doing what I know is me: writing small bitter poems, rantings at the world, singing full-voiced Opera that bursts through my apt windows...

But then what? I get sucked down into nowhere land of TV, of trying to manage the clutter that grows like nail fungus over my countertops, my fridge, every available table is ugly with loose toys Chinese from Egg Chocolates, a million post-its: one recipe for play dough, one post-it with a grocery list, one small starting of a poem I'll never finish.

I start to crack under the bits of nothing that I never can get rid of but that somehow ruin my self worth.

With shit like this to distract me, how can I write? Sing without clenching and knotting my jaw? How could I write a song again like I did so many years ago? How was I ever that brave and stupid to wring out my ugliest insides and present them to all?

Those poems and all that music poured out of me in, yes, great storms. The ions from the lightning kept me up late and shivering.

I painted on my walls and my arms in deep red oil paint. Woke up the next day and went to school like that.

I walked around my high school singing to myself. In my broken mind, this protected me from stares, this was my shield against all the slow-headed kids around me all day. I must have seemed crazy. Of course I did.

Shit, I wish I had pictures of myself.

I went to my prom as a silver alien: bald head, silver shiny miny dress, huge silver platform shoes, sparkly tights. My date: Zaq. His shoe soles, flapped as he walked. He wore a small red bow tie, impossibly crumpled.

Don't we all want another better version of ourselves? We fixate on that one year we were the perfect weight, had the perfect lover. When were you your perfect self?

I was my perfect self when I was most unhappy. When I spent hours and hours scratching poems into my notebooks, when I would sing just for sound.

I had this friend, Zaq. God, he was lovely. Had those glossy eyes of a Krishna devotee and just KNEW me. From the moment I saw him playing the pots and pans with old pencils outside the Wendy's on the 16th St Mall, I knew he would bring me joy.

So I joined his band. All I did was shriek into the microphone. I would trance to the shitty electric guitar and awkward bass line and brilliant bright light of his metal drums.

Eyes closed, I entered the dark place and tried to piece myself back together by singing out the confusion.

Now, what do I do to build a more perfect me? I am thinking of the Obama sticker I got in the mail: Working toward a more perfect union. I dream of a more perfect me, one that finds who she is and can translate all that I see into words and song.
God help me if I continue to fail.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

9-11: The day began with sky

The day began with sky-oh so warm and blue warm with what was left over from summer, warm with what was not yet fall. The day began with blue, bright sky and I was unaware of it, buried as I was in my new black laptop trying to hammer out an essay arguing for JD Salinger and parking meters or something just as disjointed. The structure just wouldn’t fit. I couldn’t figure out how to fit my language into the upside down pyramid. I kept sliding down on the structure’s shiny sides. I will cram these ideas into 500 words, into sentences that open like animals in a food chain, perfect harmony. I will make a chain that blooms. I will. And at just after nine o’clock that was my focus when the phone beside me rings. It’s Greg, my brother.
Just wanted to make sure you’re OK and everything.
Uh, yeah. Just trying to finish this essay. I have class at noon. God, I hate my teacher, you know and I just suck at this essay shit.
M.C., a plane hit the twin towers.
What towers?
The World Trade Center towers. A plane just hit one.
And in my head I see a plane fly too low and tip off the top of a very tall antenna.
Uh, hu. Oh. Well, I’m fine. I have to get going and get this printed out before I run to the train.
No, M.C. I don’t think the trains are going to be running. You just stay home.

And I did. Turned on the T.V. and watched the broadcasts of dust and screams on NBC, CBS, WB. I stayed home and watched Aljazeera footage: people in gray suits sailing from the 20th floor, letting go of briefcases, pages fluttering through the blue out of their hands. They showed footage on Aljazeera and the French channel TV 5 they would never show in the U.S.
(But I was here in New York watching it.
That is just one thing that is strange about place. It is so completely fluid. If I wore a short skirt down Steinway Street over by the Mosque at 25th Ave, the whole town of Sig in rural Algeria would have heard about it within 24 hours. You tell me where I am and I will have to correct you.)

Was it ABC that showed footage of “Arab Muslims” dancing and burning the American flag, glorifying the day? Was it all the networks that kept showing the footage over and over again without giving specifics as to who these “Arab Muslims” were exactly?
That necessarily leads us watching to group Arab Muslims together as a group that hates us, that loves the destruction of our friends and family, the destruction of US.

But who is watching these Muslims? I am watching, with Larbi asleep in the bedroom still.
All of New York is watching this. The whole fucking country must have seen that. What else to do? We group THEM all together. Those who hate America.
Then there was the assumption that it was Arabs, that it was Muslims who caused this disaster. This murder. Right away. Within minutes of the towers alighting, a-crashing. How could we know so little and yet, we knew who it was already who had done this?
But it was THEM, right? Yeah, but couldn’t we have just has some proof first, couldn’t we have just taken it one step at a time? Suggested that it was Islamic kooks when we had some semi-jelled info pointing us in that direction.
How did they know so fast? How did we know so fast?
The pronouns are not accidental.

Everyone tells you that day changed their lives forever. Life has become divided, hasn’t it, into before 9/11 and after 9/11.
Well, you know, that was before 9/11, someone will say.
I do it, too.

I started majoring in Middle Eastern Studies BEFORE September 11th. (To somehow reassure myself and those around me that I am, indeed authentic. The real deal. Not some ambitious girl looking to work for the CIA)

But really, life entered some place that I am waiting for it to re-emerge from. I am waiting for the Pope to be someone who doesn’t begin his time as the infallible voice of Christ with a speech on “Islam, the religion of violence.” I am waiting for a time when my husband can just fucking get his citizenship papers (it has been 8, yes 8!! years since we got married), when the INS will finally finish up his background check. It has been almost 4 years since they started doing it. Come on, if you haven’t found anything yet, do you really think there is anything there?
I am waiting for everyone to take a step back and maybe check out Hindu Nationalism as the new evil of the world, or maybe just forget about jitterly fixating on a polar opposite. Maybe we don’t need an “other.”
What would my professors say? That America is defining itself by what it is not: Islam. But I am here to say that it is America. Because my beautiful boy with his black Irish curls and deep brown North African eyes, with his Thomas engines and his small, green prayer rug is America.

Has this turned into a rant? Does it have a cohesive thread? Probably not. I keep adding some to it, here and there. It wears me out. Because it is so big, the change these seven years have brought me. I just want some understanding, basic, out there in radio land (by which I mean the place I inhabit, these crazy New York jungle walls and beyond), some bit of knowing of people whose faith is Islam, some understanding of their variety and love and regular-ness.
Or maybe I just want to talk about me (well, that should be a given) and what I have learned in that time about the religion so close to my heart (but not in it). About what I have seen in this time.

Let me just post this now, but I have to warn you, it may be continued

Friday, May 30, 2008


It is not like Africa here. In the city center but to capture the moment of walking through he square, the three women squeeze onto the stone bench warmed with the sun, the old men sit on the very edge, stubbornly clinging. It's the end of the day and the sky its too blue for my sunglasses.
we sit and eat olives
pigeons rush by the man wearing red pom=pom hat, leather pouch of water slung over his shoulder.
We rush to Marrakesh, snarls of prickly pear cactus border the houses jaunted together with tin and plastic sheets weighted with loose bricks
The houses are pink concrete awash in white crumbles.
the square: women sit on the grass with jalaba knees clasped in hand.

Through traffic we head south in a ice box bus.
When we stop at a truck stop we eat tajeen with buttery lamb, fresh figs, icy Coke in bottles.

The woman with henna stained hands: thick dark blood of it crawling up five fingers
her dress covering, is pink and grey, sparkled thread runs through it,
her scarf pink around her face,
her eyes sunk in cohl,
her feet slippered into blue dark blue, scuffed, bent at the pointed tip.
Her husband sleeps with his chin in his hand, holding his head in place while the train rocks us to Marrakesh.
His long scruffy jalaba the color of drying grass,

Talking on the cellular phone,
staring into the square's center where tourists pose with the pigeons.

The end of the day in this between place,not hot not cold, no clouds.
Cars fighting through people, people finding their way.

pneumonia blue
crisp curl green
fried dry
sauteed/ heat/ color

Marrakesh. May

it rains here in the afternoon. heavy iron clouds crowd away the eye-straining blue.
the air conditioners him, curtains pulled against the heat. the kids from Belgium, pink skinned again and again jump from the pool's edge sloshing the deck.
later when night comes on, the bats will come swooping through, sluicing above. the momma cat and her three babies will venture out hunt for scraps of dropped burger, tuna from the Moroccan salad, lapping up spilled diet Coke.

Sig, Algeria
The Prophet's Birthday

These shuffled shelves,
messy blue silk pajamas,
the perfumes and eggy creams crowding the bureau is a gift to me in
these empty hours to fold, one into another.
Outside the streets fill with rain
Children run, Apaches slamming their boom-boom crackers
just below my windows: yellowed, shuttered.

When I first visit Algeria, I have two years of classical or fushah Arabic under my belt. It does me no good whatsoever. Everyone laughs at me when I try to communicate in a language that is ONLY heard spoken by newscasters. The dialect I am thrown into has nothing to do with classical Arabic. The verbs are shaved down, the tenses mean little, even the "I" form of verbs is not the same.
As if this isn't bad enough, the vocabulary is completely different. Verbs, nouns, adjectives: I recognize almost none of them except "big" and "small". Great. I'm fucked.

These are the words that I tried to learn first in the Algerian Arabic, on my first visit to Algeria, in 2003:
Watch out!
Hey you!
Be careful! I'll get you!
Where is the bathroom?
He cries
I know, he knows
Go! Get away!
Get out! GO!
Above, below
The way
Like this
Les couche, diaper
I remember
He cries
Is crying
he smiles
All the time
Lying in the dark with Sofiane flailing his arms around in bed, the baby asleep and finally detached from my nipples. Listening to Fresh Air pod cast and there it is: the American woman who has written a book called what else? Unveiling or Unveiled or some such shit. Poor woman married an Arab and had a hard go it. So then decides to exploit her personal life to help balloon what we all hear daily: Arab men are controlling. Arab men will marry you and then steal your children. Arab men will try to destroy your personhood.
Hum... And then I think, what would be the title of my memoir? How can I counteract this attack? Because for every stupid book like this one, I have to deal with a million little questions from everyone I meet. "So...did you have to convert to Islam? So, what does your husband REALLY think of women?"
This woman is following in the proud tradition of Sally Field’s role in “Not Without My Daughter.” I think every American has seen that film. If not, everyone has learned the lesson of it: Arab men will woo you, bed you, marry you, father your children and then steal them away in the black night taking them back to their tents in the sand where they will force your daughters to dress in head to toe black polyester with nary a bellybutton in sight.
This woman and Sally Field and all the other women, including lots of Arab women, I might add, who have written books and consulted on films have fucked me over and made it impossible for my marriage not to be a jumping off point to a political and religious wartime conversation piece or an excuse for ignorance to rear its nasty-toothed head.

Just yesterday the man who came to fix my living room windows says to me (picture him standing on my window sill, facing away from me/ picture me in cummy pajama bottoms and a huge bathrobe, Zakeria on my hip, my hair frizzed), he says to me: "Well, I have another job, too. I work in the airport. Yeah, I have to support my wives and kids. So, I guess I'm more Arab than the Arabics!"
What the fuck am I supposed to say to this man? A man who refers to the Chinese immigrants of his neighborhood as "Orientals." Orientals? What fucking era does he come from?
OK, and let me just back up. This man works for TSA, which is in charge of the security of JFK, the busiest international airport in the United States, right? This man is a cultural disaster. He has absolutely no clue about anyone besides his own white bread breed of Americans who sit down with him every Thanksgiving or burp their way through Memorial Day cookouts. This man is an ignorant joke. And he is supposed to make our country safer? I swear, this man wouldn’t know a real threat if it hit in between the eyes. But he sure as hell is a racist, ignorant SOB.
Gad Bless America.
But back to my Tuesday morning.

What am I supposed to say to this man who I have just moments before told that my husband is from Algeria?
Stupidly, I engage him. "Well, my husband just has one wife. That's me."
"So, he's just getting started, hu?"
"Uh, no. He's finished, actually. He doesn't need any more wives. I am plenty enough woman for him."
What was I thinking? That I could somehow convince him, a man who attaches a device to his vacuum cleaner and then vacuums his baby's nose out, how could I somehow explain to him that just because some men who are Arab have more than one wife, that my husband was quite satisfied with just the one?
How could I possibly make myself feel less humiliated by this, short of pushing out of the window well and onto the concrete a few stories below?
And might I just add that all the while he is pronouncing the word Arab like Ay-RAb.

And since I am running all over the place with this entry, let me just point out something more current about Sally Fields. I love her show, Brothers and Sisters. I watch it every Sunday night. She plays the mother of a big gaggle of grown siblings who live and play and duke it out with one another in the California sunshine. She is a widow and the shadow of her husband looms over the show, in part because some of them still work for the business he started. Love it. But here’s the latest revelation of the show. The Grand finale of the show goes like this: not only did Sally Field’s husband have a life-long mistress; he also fathered a son by a third woman.

I must point out here that this does not bring to the surface any questions of her late-husband’s religious beliefs. Religion is almost never mentioned in the show. I have the feeling that the uncle might be Jewish, but that is just because his name is Sol.
No one in the show is talking about the need to lobby congress to protect women like Sally Field from sneaky men who have, de facto, THREE WIVES.
The show treats her dead husband’s personal life as just that: personal.
But when it comes to sharing a life with an Arab and Muslim man, that marriage must become political. It is forced into this realm by all the films and books and magazine articles that again and again paint Muslim men (especially Arab Muslim men) with boogieman eyes that steal women’s souls.

After September 11, I thought I could act like an ambassador of sorts. In my trips to North Africa I would talk to people about the America I love, about the people I know who protest the war in Iraq, who advocate for justice in Palestine. And here in New York could talk to all those people who I meet, in the park, on the subway and ask about Sofiane’s name, about my husband’s background, or even my friends and family, about what I know about Islam as a lived religion, about the infinite variety I see in the people who practice it. But I get tired of it.
What impact can I have when the images and ideas about Muslims and Arabs are so solidified that I can't even begin address them? Not really.
Case in point: A conversation I had the other night at dinner with a couple of cool ladies:
Chic #1: Those poor people in Miramar are all dying. I guess the government isn't letting any aid in there.
Chic #2: Yeah, well, aren't they Muslim, or something?
Me: Well, actually, it’s because they have a military dictatorship over there and are afraid that the US will try to spread the idea for regime change along with the bags of donated rice and beans.

Even this gets exhausting to write (and to read, no doubt. Sorry.).
Fuck it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

books were a destiny then

1) the tangle of rainbows in the sprinkler/
the breath of crumbling caulk on the front porch just before it rains/
newborn kittens squirming from their sticky birthsac/
(the crooked wings of the ride-on horse could not fly)
Nicey's stonewashed jeans, legs that went on and up/

2)from Larimer street, the first western sunset: the yolky sunset scrambling all its colors onto mountains:
will you cradle me? smooth blues and apricot (the tang of loss) into the mountains' crooks and peaks

3)this is me: standing up on tabletops, spitting into microphones
this is me: tortoise glasses slip in sweat
(when she bit my pussy, the curl of a helicopter in the sky.
: if press on my eyes long enough, webs of gold comb over retina and rey/
scraping gold leaf from the church's walls.