Like Smoke Does

By | 5 December 2019

Ama, speak Arabic, please, I still understand it. No, America
didn’t make me forget, like it forgets my name. / It’s fine there,

except people keep asking to see my hair. He can make his own plate,
knows the names / of spices, has two hands, is sitting right there. I don’t always

talk about equality. I talk about school, my garden, what I’ll name /
these poems. Remember the fire last year? Grass still won’t grow

where the grenade hit. We knew there’d be no rescue — all the lambs
loose, a white stream emerging from the smoke cloud, directionless, with nothing

but their names. / Call my mother, Umm Threa — I’m firstborn.
Yes, he’s the first son, but my name / still matters. Yes, here I go again.

Do I tire you? Do you remember when I hadn’t yet been taught my two syllables,
head shaved, called Child, Little One, in an uncle’s hand-me-downs,

sexless as a mispronounced name? / Don’t deny it. We recognize women
through the men: Umm, mother of Ahmed. Bint, daughter of Ali —

their birth names / abandoned, an existence overlapped by his.
To strip down your own name / and fold it back together

is a kind of war. I dreamt of shouting it into a cave. Each letter was fed
to fatness and something was built bearing my name / after the echo died.

What Eve must have felt when Adam went ahead and named / all the animals
before she was even created. I feel it now whenever a mother

is named / for the son she births, a father by who he possesses.
A name / should be the sound we are found in. I learned early what God

likes to be called, swished a hundred names / around my mouth to taste
but my own. The other day someone’s cousin was patted down

by police, a Muslim death the news won’t cover. Maybe because
he had a name / like Abdullah, they’ll reverse the story, say he

pulled the trigger. I touch my forehead to brown earth, whisper
our names, / pray the ground cracks open this time. Yes, Ama,

would you believe our name / in America is a fish-hook, each vowel
like pulling glass from their tongues, trying not to get cut.

I wanted a name / that glided on gums, wouldn’t hit the back of teeth
with a rattle, no hitch on the voice box, please. I announced

myself and the sound arrived roiled and muddy like river silt
stirred up. The white kids laughed harder, rubbing their own names /

on each other, snakes polishing their scales. Even the wind in this country
can’t say it right, howling my name / like a throat mid-gurgle. I drank down

Jane’s and Emily’s as a whirlpool sucks waves, went home saying,
Call me Susie. I longed for a name / that left the lips readily.

One that could kiss and be kissed, one of tailored lawns, backyard pools,
lemonade stands. Now I tell them, If you can say Tchaikovsky,

you can say Threa. Yes, I remember my full name / — all ten
from my dad and the men before him. I recite them together.

They press against mine like bodies on a full boat, lost
between the Mahmood’s and Mohamed’s. Do names / exist the same

after translation? Do they thin-out like smoke does when it trails
up, past high branches and all the names / sung in trees? Threa drifting.

Threa as lone, gray wisp scattered by the wind,

until even the sky forgets

it was ever there.

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