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The Book of Two Experiences
Sara Elkamel

I am selfish. I want to name our child

a word you cannot say—Mounira,

or girl who illuminates. I want to possess the light

that around you hums. As you tunnel

from sleep to sleep I call the Engineer

of Patience. She says love is like water,

it possesses itself. I know water means intelligible

layer between this and that—red sky and seabed,

inside and outside, pleasure and thirst—but it also means body, 

relic, moonlit mirror


hanging by the door. I’m on the call so long you gallop 

across the sea. From the sea you call me bird,

blue bird, gone-bird, come-bird,

not-my-bird, rare bird, red-crowned crane—

and for fear of capsizing

this small boat, I do not respond:

Your bird. Blind bird.

Birds born blind survive just long enough

to heed the black wind blow and ravage

the harvest. At the end of the world, not even sugar


can expel hunger from the chest. They know this, 

but still they fill their beaks with crystals

and blow antimony over what’s left

of the light. When I return to the old questions, 

like what will we do about my inscrutable

womb, my impenetrability, I see the sea

a form of mercy. What’s the point now

in asking? Your body moves like any ocean.

What did the Bedouins used to sing? I dance from me to me 

and I journey from me to me. You dance


alone bird. Sorrow exhausts you, bird. 

In the future, do I step into the light,

then out of it? A new question

for the engineer, who says light has a history

of coming to the body and calling it home. Of course historically, the idea of houses 

was very different. It was the place you never notice

the bad lighting. What world was that?

In the next world bring me back

sugar from the sea. At the gates of

our bones sing to me. Sing the border song.

This poem borrows language and gestures from Iman Mersal’s poem “The Idea of Houses” and the poems "Late in the Long Apprenticeship" and "Border Song" by Carl Phillips.

Sara Elkamel is a poet and journalist living between her hometown, Cairo, and New York City. She holds an MA in arts journalism from Columbia University and is currently pursuing an MFA in poetry at New York University. Named a 2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar by The Adroit Journal, Elkamel has had poems appear in The Common, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Rumpus, American Chordata, Winter Tangerine, as part of the Halal If You Hear Me anthology, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @sarafarag.

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