(after Safia Elhillo)

Once, in a stolen land that wanted
my name dead, I knew

nothing of drums and strings. Once,
I could not wake if Imam

did not bring the sun to my
cursed bed. If nothing else, I listened

carefully, heard Abdel Wahab
trick their colonial

ass. This is the rhythm of unflinching,
the sea as still

as night—we like it that way.
Here, I ask Mama again

what she needs but a radio
and she still says: batteries,

and well-pressed clothes for my child—
just so we look good when we cry

to Om Kalthoum. Once,
in a stolen land that wished

my tongue in the ocean, I could
not explain what it meant to cry

without tragedy. Now,
I hold Mama’s hand as we weep

to his crooning. I raise
my hand; a request—سواح.

He smiles and asks me: for what?
We are here now, habibi.

Then for old time’s sake, I plead,
for chorus of memory,

percussion as cool as dew.
And so me and Mama cry

with Abdel Halim, as we
did with Fairuz, and every

song that brought the breath back to
an empty chest. Once, I spent

a lifetime incapable
of drawing a map home, but


I have always known what it
sounds like.