I forget tradition, a tray of sticky dates passed around the kitchen table, bismillah
in our mouths before we ravenously break the dusk, chew and spit back the pits. Ma ladling
lumpy lentil soup, abandonment pouched in her long sleeves, an old injury she does not
stop pressing. How are we still here? Made of garlic breath, violent affection, arrears.
Ma pushes, alhamdullilah for these bounties, we are blessed, girls.
these communal myths we tell to spare each other.
I forget how I cannot see the stars, how the barbecued smoke eats at the sky, how we
elbow our way through chattering heads congealed in every crack on Haldon. I cannot
see the sidewalk, but I hear it – Sahlab! Sahlab! Mustachioed men in red tarbooshes
summon us beneath strings of plastic crescents – dangling babies shriek parents into
surrender – a siren wails somewhere. This evening orchestra. My sisters dervish and
droop: shiny baubles, painted gold lids and hips, desires too big for the lives that chose
them. Ma says, this love is haram, so we learn to keep our distance. Together we
remember the Lord.
these distractions we share to comfort one another.
And naming those who stray will not bring them back in any religion.
I forget how our Lebanon made its way to Lakemba. Mothers of disappeared sons wait;
they hold up headscarves like white flags, like nooses; war wants us even in peacetime.
These Muslim dogs, these ragheads, chalk outlines and choppers crawling low. Our loss
barely literate. We pretend not to notice, this neighbourhood is an obituary.
these griefs we silence so we do not set ourselves on fire.
I forget how I awaken in the arms of another. How there are no muezzins interrupting
dawn, only this tango of breaths and gasps. How I have dared to worship in a language
that is not Arabic, how I tried to scrub and scrub ma’s beauty spots off my face. You are
devoted to them, to this altar of soft, turmeric skin and sadness. I shake the shame out of
my curls, I dip into the surge, the stagger, the rapture and the rupture. The din – it ruined
me, it split my god. I want to pray, but I cannot recall the verses.
these transgressions, so I do not forget
every lonely night that ever was.
Read the full shortlist for the 2021 Peter Porter Poetry Prize by clicking here.