Fear sometimes washes over me
I close my eyes and slow down my breathing
I remind myself of the magic words:
Now + Here
Now: It is Thursday, March 10
Here: My Boston apartment
I begin by counting the contents of my body:
One head, two eyes, two shoulders,
A slightly elevated belly,
Two thighs, two legs, and fingers of peculiar length
Everything is intact, and in its place
I inspect the space around me:
The prayer plant slowly lifts her hands
Toward the moon, shifts her collar
To the right, lays the other hand
On her chest
Mimicking my grandmother’s seduction of God
In her night prayers
I stare into the triangle-strewn carpet
I trace how each triangle intertwines with another
Has several neighboring triangles. Each of them
Has a rib that grew from someone else’s body, and with which they will die.
Arriving in their strange world
I imagine walking through a triangular street
On a beautiful, quiet evening
Paying no attention to the details of my outfit
Or to the colors that materialize
The scene’s contours are obscure
But in it, my head appears
And although I am strutting,
Probably towards a place that will revive my happiness,
The fear is still with me
In the pocket of my pants (What color are they?)
Sticking its head out like a genie
One time, the fear takes the shape of a man who startles me with a couple of words
So I respond with larger, sharper words
Which makes him a laughingstock for the triangles,
Whose roars calm me down
And another time, the fear is a monster
I slay with twenty bullets
Or, I would have forgotten my shotgun
So I prick his neck with my nails
Or, I would have clipped them in the morning
So I pull him apart with my teeth
Which drill into his body
Sometimes I arrive exhausted
At the triangular street
I ignore the garrulous man
And when I see the monster
I take steady strides
Toward the opposite corner
Even if I hadn’t decided to count these triangles right now
I would have been counting cubes on the supermarket floor,
And I would have imagined the emergence of other creatures
Which threaten me, and drive me to become sometimes a phoenix,
Sometimes a ghoul
I often manage to save myself
I run, I run, I run
To the end of the world
Or, I stand there bravely
To finish them off in cold blood
The scene always ends on the same note:
My body is drenched in sweat
And there’s no sign of their blood
At the crime scene
Words Don’t Come Easy
The Word no longer comes to me; I now go to her myself. I call her, I flip through her Instagram photos, hurling hearts seconds after the arrival of each one. The posts and memes she shares no longer carry encrypted messages aimed at me. I am no longer her favorite reader, her ideal reader, her like-minded reader. She has stopped mentioning me in a funny video, an exceptional dance, or a revolutionary text. I observe the ways she spends her days without me. She goes on a morning walk that further distances her from me; she sometimes bikes, or is driven to the port in a new person’s car—most likely a struggling novelist.
Him too she will leave—she is moody and irritable. If she could not make it last with a prose poet, how will she ever stand to live with nine characters from three different generations, spread out across four continents, between two wars, about to become three? He will end up in the same boat as me. She will then replace him for an experimental writer, who blends one subgenre with another. She will make him feel very special—exceptional even—the first and last love of her life; she will give him Kilito’s books, and stay up all night positing that it was Arabs who invented genre, and not the author, and that anyway, the author is a Western heresy, and that the author must die, together with his genres—sub or not—and his experimentation—they must all die. She will leave him swinging between genres, torn between prose blocks and verse, and the novelist and I will end up having to take him down from the cross.
My hearts stack up in a column on the side of her screen, bleeding into one another, red seeping into red, staining her thumb. Sometimes, disturbed by my onslaught of hearts, she callously empties my heart chambers of any trace of her, removing even her pillow, which she often used as an excuse to avoid spending the night with me. O, how I’ve tried to fasten my valves to keep her captive. She fought back dramatically, and threatened to fling herself off my coronary. She slit my veins, that savage bitch; even my pulse she let wander like a stray into the pages of strangers.
I send her a poem, or a song I enjoyed, and that made me think of her. I read the lyrics with my ears first, before I search for them on Google or in YouTube comments, to read them in verse. I make sure the song could only be about her, about us, about what has been lost—what’s possible. Sometimes she responds, aridly, like someone looking for an ending. She bats no eye at all the pleading in my Arabic songs. She skips the musical interlude—the song’s carpeting—in an instant. Even the Mawwal—that stone that moves lake beds—she walks right over. The sorrow that climbs the soul’s stairs and into the oud player’s fingertips, the violinist who surrenders his neck to the guillotine of separation, the qanun player caressing the butterflies that sprouted, just last night, in the belly of a new lover: she leafs through them all in one or two verses, before slamming the window shut on the singer’s gaping mouth.
She humiliates me, weighs me down. I suggest meeting; I offer my invitation calmly, so that when she turns me down—as usual—I would receive her aloofness with sportsmanship. When she spent her days with me, she would eat and smoke and wage chaos where most of our memories still live. She would always show up to weddings and farewells—occasionally to funerals—and in the first few weeks of every love affair. She may be jealous of my new lovers, but she also knows they are disposable.
Lot’s wife stands near the entrance, deformed more radically by the artist than she had ever been by the Lord. The artist didn’t preserve her salty body; instead, he restored her in bronze, crafting a prisoner of eternity. She can’t visit the neighbors to gossip about her new visitors; she can’t even cross the gallery’s threshold. Mummified and silent, she overhears fleeting conversations, surveils countenances with incurious eyes. People of various races— jinn, humans, and angels—walk past her daily. In a past life, she squirmed if she had to carry strangers’ stories in her belly—she would wander the neighborhood, disgorging one tale after another.
She is no longer a threat to secrets. Now, Lot’s wife pays the price for her fleeting nostalgia, her passion for the past, which compelled her to take one last look at Sodom. Looking back, she barely managed to archive the colors of her life, barely captured the morning’s scent before it went missing, together with geography. She barely swallowed the language whose extinction would turn her dreams obsolete. At the border checkpoint, a migrant is not allowed to occupy herself with anything but the present moment. It has been said that in turning back, she had compromised the identity of the Lord. Or that in her gut, she believed Sodom innocent, wrongly battered to dust.
Perhaps if Lot’s wife had waited until she got to the cave before letting nostalgia overwhelm her, the plot of cosmology would have gone in an entirely different direction. In fact, it might have ended in that cave, and left us in peace. Why couldn’t the Lord understand that all she wanted was to write a poem about ruins? Is it because men have a sole claim to ruin?
She looks tiny on the plinth; her head like a newborn with no talent for wailing. The artist has stripped Lot’s wife of her limbs. Perhaps he feared she would escape the gallery, and travel back to the underworld.
translated from the Arabic by Sara Elkamel