On Blood and Handprints

By | 1 November 2019

We talk about blood –
the way it pools in basins and nails,
turns brown when you leave it to soak too long
and stains.

Tayta has lived in this house forty two years

and learns to repurpose her memories,
shudders while we wait for the fireworks to echo,
says that we build our veins
into the places we choose to stay,
says that they hid bread in the walls
during the war
and Um Jamal died full
next door in the house
with the red water
and heartbreak in the bathtub,
says that the first one passes
and the grief bleeds into all the others,

and what are we in the end
but the children of war,
and what is war
but a mother disciplining her careless children.

But what about the blood on our hands, Tayta?

What about the people who left
and the stories baba doesn’t tell anymore?

Baba’s hands are weathered
from tearing and replanting roots –  
his palms are the geography of every place
we have bled and fled,
his home is built in cherished memories
and forgetting,
says that we were lucky,
we the land of opportunity
doors wide open
future bathed in sunlight children,
but the homeland landscape in his eyes lingers

as he tells me that I could never survive back there
with my loud voice and my Australian English,
says that
it is always political

And what are we
but the children of politics,
and what are politics
but a father disciplining his unjust children. 

But what about the blood on our hands, Baba?
What about the white men
and the people who left

We call living the war, survival

We call remembering it, gratitude

We call refusing to

Baba hurts his back at work,
shows us the scars from that one time
he got his arm stuck in the machine
and the blood clots under his nails,
and mama says the sacrifice happens before the bleeding,
says that the fireworks took his hope with their echoes
and now we cannot dream straight anymore,
says that they packed all their things in the dark
and boarded the boat to Cyprus,
says the coastline over Beirut still makes her cry,
says that it isn’t always quite sadness.

And what are we
but the children of sadness,
and what is sadness
but home calling us to come back.

But what about the blood on our hands, Mama?
What about the lives we build
and the ones we don’t?
What about the people who leave?
What about the white men
and the stories baba doesn’t tell anymore?
What name do you put on a mass grave?

Are we still casualties of war
if not the dead
but the pooling in the aftermath?

The post-terrorism,
 lead boot identity children,
I saw myself on the front page of the newspaper
wearing a different face the other week,
and now Jihad is a dirty word and Shakespeare is irrelevant.
What do white men know of tragedies
when they put the blood of our ancestors on our hands?

And who are our younger siblings
but the maskless villains
of a world that they have never known
to not hate them,
and what were you wearing on September 11, 2001?
and why do we all look so different now?

And how long must we stay hidden?

And what are we
but the children of hiding?
And what is hiding
but an orphaned sense of identity
trying to distinguish between the call of home
and the false promise of something better?
But what about the blood on our hands?

They crossed the sea for you
and now all they can taste is the salt in their eyes 

Does guilt pass down through generations?

Some days I just want to know if home will remember my name
or if it ever learnt it

But what about the blood on our hands?

I look at myself in the mirror
and ask the white girl to own her privilege;
it wasn’t my ancestors who built this city
on rattling bones and smallpox,
but what am i
but a benefactor
of the actions of somebody else’s

And what about the blood of my hands?
the way it mixes
and pools,
and who’s blood is it now?

in the end,
we all die of broken hearts

And what is a heart
but a place to hide the blood a while?
Let it know that there are shades of grief
that stain brown when you leave them too long
and those that were brown to begin with

And what about the blood of my hands, Mama?

Which one is it, Mama?
Are we ever going back, Mama?
What about the people who left?

What about death?

What about building graves on black bones and smallpox?

And all these white memories –
the ones with the
loud voices and the
Australian English,
where do I put those?

And what are we
but the children of context?
And what is context but
a map of all the places we have been?

And finally
the blood pools in the arches of my feet
and the borders of my palms

in condolence,
in sorry –
 I will be better,
even when homeland’s call feels foreign,
even when we look like this,
even in opportunistic tongues,

n traitor skin.

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