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.