Wounded Cheeks

She is among poets a Mozart. Always playful, forever joyful. Beauty not only a virtue, but an end unto itself. Her sensibilities as delicate as a debutante’s cheeks. Her prose shimmers with overflowing ambitions. Her pride dominates the stage, like an aura of grace struggling to hide its confidence. begging the world to take a seat, not to miss the spectacle, discover daunting revelations. So contagious are her pleas, they require us to register her presence, as they humble her audience. Like the serenity of light, early morning, as it lands on tree branches, and its reflection on the surroundings. Her metaphors standing out the way beautiful domes adorn long stained-glass walls of medieval churches.


Should I Engage?

Trapped in thoughts like punctuations between sentences.
Yet certain my contributions will clear the air,

invite intriguing conversations with my fellow travelers
on this train ride, during my visit to Morocco, my first home.

They must have guessed I now live abroad,
am an outsider— my Gap shirt is too white.

As if doubly bleached,
plus it stands out in contrast to the colors around.

They will shortly conclude
I reside in an English speaking country,

for I will let escape the inevitable ok, the affirmative yeah,
and the convenient wow as I nod in agreement.

My Mother’s tongue buried deep somewhere.
Despite my careful selection of words,

I struggle to finish a thought.
Rusty as I am, I need warming up.

Outmatched and out of practice;
no matter my precautions, traces of rough

edges float in my speech, a betrayal.
I will come across as calculating, may be preaching.

They will inevitably ask: where are you visiting from?
America— immediately prompting eyebrows to rise.

A vacationer, a gringo. Will they dismiss my ideas?
Or pretend to be impressed?

Not really, they genuinely smile, and flood me with questions.


Four by Four

A puppeteer feels vibration,
echoing from the puppet
as it reacts to the dictated directions.

Mentoring is no different.


Claims to being the source of light,
from self-inflated egos,
are felt hardest on other self-inflated egos;

until darkness suffocates all.


When a dictator makes light of his ugly self,
or self-deprecates, it does not make him less evil,
and certainly not human.

In suffering, normalization is off-limits.


Sadness has enormous rings
that are forever expanding,
easily shared among the miserable.

Pain is contagious.


Oasis of Doubts

Oasis of Doubts To doubt is to be humble and be mindful of intricacies.

The human in every situation is complex, messy, profound, powerful, and at times irrational; never mind the potentially potent influence of the subconscious. Or so I imagine it to be and I could be squarely wrong.

Between the realm of one truth and another neighboring one, doubts plant tents and host the stray for an overnight stay, perhaps for much longer whenever those guests dare to ask questions, apply scrutiny to the prevalent narrative.

The absence of doubt leads to drunken arrogance which is supported with actions rooted in the absolute, and is bound to incite chaos, inflict pain, and sanction hatred.

Doubt is our insurance against tyranny of thoughts, actions, and beliefs. A reliable way to survive collusion and clashes. An enabler to carry the torch of civilization forward.

Doubt is an extension of life. A savior. To doubt is to reinstate our ability to find common ground, share, and ultimately love. To doubt is to be human.


Forces of Life

Do flowers know when they are dying?
The flooding currents don’t believe
they will ebb in the afternoon.
They do not think it’s all because of the moon.


The Original Apple

I met a muse who was born a goddess.
She played down her powers, until she met me, then
served me the eternal wine, promised barrels of honey.

The original apple, she said, was mislabeled:
a classic case of failed marketing.
The apple was nothing but the right breast of Eve,
a metaphor lost on uncreative men.
No woman cared to explain it.

She will guide me to light up the night sky,
showcase vast deserts,
bring distant mountains into focus.
She’ll show me how to shorten winter,
give flowers more color, denser scents,
and make water more refreshing.

She hopes I meet my heroine
among the newcomers,
before I deplete my energy
to the point of an empty tank,
or worse: stay untapped until I rust to death.

My heroine is out there but I’m not sure where
or which country she belongs to
or what century she comes from. What
books have her name. Whether
the ocean could preserve our fingerprints.
And what mountain houses our goats.
All I know is her eyes have a fire
that ignites inspiration.
Her lips flood the world
with peaceful goodnight wishes.

I will find the biggest forest on the planet,
set it on fire, and send my worries and doubts
via a rocket ship
crashing into its center.

My heroine is out there and I swear to furnish the night for her.
To serve her the spring untouched, on the margins of my long arms.

With her love, we will fill the front pages
of a history written for us,
tap into the talisman’s secret channels,
and rearrange the letters of alphabets.

We will open a school for all women,
and ask them to dress the poets
in rare silk or exotic feathers
from obscure islands, urge them
to melt all the world’s literature
and apply that ink to their eyelashes.
In the humanities department,
a new branch will be inaugurated.

If that is not commitment, the sky must be an illusion.
The mountains will need to close down the volcanoes,
flatten themselves, and absorb their dwellers’ meditations.

Meanwhile, I deliver kisses to make the world fertile again,
make the dew learn new greetings.
I distribute smiles for the fields to expand,
and for the oceans to reveal their inner wealth.
I plant promises for the music to outdo silence,
and for love to outshine the sun.


Beach Town Midwinter

Cold and somber, the beach town
does not recognize itself.
Unlike during summertime,
it is deserted now.

The long nights of the winter
are a relief.
They save face
from daylight’s humiliation.

She feels like a beach town midwinter.
The alleys are empty,
the streets wet,
and the ocean is left alone.

Although the waves are louder,
they yield no interest.



A young soldier picnics in the countryside,
searches for butterflies and long-stemmed roses.

Fresh air runs through his rifle. The woman beside him
sports a long skirt and a camera around her neck.

The fields are blunt and honest;
with their secrets extended, their flaws exposed,
they feel intimate.

Here, the birds’ singing and trees’ whistling
are welcoming songs. The winds
in their contradicting directions
don’t disrupt old women’s prayers,
and the laughter of their children.

The soldier and the woman exchange moments of solitude
with their inner worlds. For fear of living on the margins
or rendering their presence obsolete, they open up
through a language marked with loneliness.

The woman thinks of a future
where her own daughter takes the dog for a walk.
The tough questions asked at parent-teacher conferences.
The many long hours
during history classes to sit through.
And the introductions around dinner tables.

What do you do? they will ask.
Their inevitable reply is interesting, no matter her answer.

Except when her listener has a reservoir of emotions,
like someone raised in the countryside,
where dancing was a doctrine,
and connecting with others is a way to draw strength.

Only then she could reach back
to the deep wounds of a past alive.
Although protected, the past is still haunting,
and exhausting to retell.

She devours her listener’s soft touch,
the sincere and passionate gaze.
A heart is opened: tender moments are born.
A shared experience she will revisit often.


Praising Bureaucrats

Never intimidated
by the enormity of the tasks at hand,
a bureaucrat will keep at a job meticulously
without showing signs of fatigue or boredom,

indifferent, and with the determination
of someone looking to level a mountain
using nothing but an index finger
to pull down one inch of dirt at a time.

To make the mission succeed,
other bureaucrats join in, just in time.

I have come to appreciate
the slow motion of the bureaucratic train.
Even if it derails, it can still get back on track.

There is wisdom in being slow:
ask the turtle how its shell grew tougher
with each slow step it took.
The thickness afforded her
much desired protection.


Mustafa, the Gravedigger

Late in the afternoon
when the wind picked up,
the sky darkened.
The people on the streets
rushed home.

On the field was Mustafa, an Egyptian volunteer translator
in Lesbos, turned gravedigger; he rose up
to a burning duty: to offer a dignified burial
to his fellow humans.

After bodies piled on the shores of Greece,
Mustafa decided to bury dead refugees,
Syrians and others. To honor
their decomposing bodies
and let them rest in peace.

Today he buried two women
and a seven-year-old boy.
Laying down the body of a child hits him hardest.

The last person to touch this boy’s body
before trusting him to earth
in this foreign land
is a brother in faith, a student migrant
who managed to cross
the cold-hearted Mediterranean
safely to Greece.

After the boy was laid in his grave,
he was greeted from the grave next to his
by an old Greek lady.
He made an effort to introduce himself:
Sami is my name, and this is Leila next to me.
She is not my mother.

Last time I saw my mother was
the night the planes bombed Aleppo.
She trusted me to her cousin, my aunt.
I cried that night and my mom kissed me,
and promised to catch up once we reached Greece.

Syria is my country. The day I was born
the sun was high, and my father the owner
of a successful sweetshop.

Before the war and at school,
my teacher spoke often of a Spring—
Arab and splendid. I imagined green fields,
butterflies, happy children, and cookies.

I imagined our school
with wide windows, big backyards,
and lots of crayons of various colors.
I love to draw happy faces, and birds.

But the war was ordered:
many were killed, displaced,
their lives suspended.

Nothing has changed then, the woman on his right said.
I have lived through two devastating wars.
Futile murder, savage
and inhuman; the systematic killing
of innocent people— being Jewish was their crime.
It left shame on our humanity.

In the name of something or other,
our continent killed 60 million.
In the name of something abstract,
humans take away
the most concrete thing of all: precious life.

I see you are tired. It must have been a rough trip.
You need some sleep. Your mom will find you.
I know that because mothers keep their promises.
My name is Maria, and I wish you a very good night, my dear Sami.