Al Hafiz Sanusi
Al Hafiz Sanusi is 30 and still attempting to rewrite the stars. He has a million dreams unfulfilled. Yet, he remains optimistic he can tiptoe his way on the tightrope and onto the other side. This is him, coming alive.
No pleasantry is needed here
It’s only a four days’ stay.
They try their best to be nice to you
They smile, not showing their teeth.
They get you to dress up
Wear your best for your final selfie
Apparently a suit has been pressed for you by your aged mother
You wonder how they got around to contacting her
You forgot where she lives
3 seconds and they tell you to undress
Back to your stripes
Can I keep the suit?
They don’t reply.
They weigh you
Apparently it is mandatory that you have to be reminded
Of how fat you are before you go
Why, do they weight discriminate in heaven?
Or hell, they remind you.
They asked for your order
This time politely
As they play waiter
To your every request
Of course, they remind you once more of how fat you are
Sneakily hinting at you to go for the lighter option with some milk
You ordered otherwise
They cursed under their breath at your food request.
Lastly, they asked you to write notes
To whoever you need to seek closure with
Even pimps need to grieve,
They laughed at their own joke
You thought hard,
There is nothing you want to say
Other than let’s get on with the show.
As you take your final walk of shame,
You felt an eerie sensation,
Perhaps you should have written that final note to your mother
But it is too late now
You wonder if she is waiting outside the walls
Or diligently doing her Subuh prayers at home,
Praying that the doors of heaven are open to you
As you take the plunge to a better place than here.
Bed with Metal Arms
Her shirt held flowers.
She said again yes when nothing was desirable.
Alone in that bed,
her legs without muscle kept wavering.
Their exact flapping ripped at the air.
Her hair was still thick, skin worth admiring.
You have to keep these details close in your mind.
It was one sunny day
after another. The rest of us whispered:
at the sink, the laundry, the porch.
The oxygen tank claimed her in call-and-response.
When her voice went slack, I sat by the bed
with its metal arms
and promised what was ordinary, what would continue.
Of course there was final paperwork: one last
signature, the time
of pronouncement at the center of morning.
After the sinews and tendons released against harm,
I sponged the body.
I turned her over when no one else would enter.
Perhaps then I understood what was withheld from us.
We were still in her house. Some ate,
or chose a prayer for lunch.
I could hear a beeping outside and a lawnmower.
Nothing was wrong.
Train stops and labneh and the grim little sun and our clapping
all morning and later we slicked down to righteous
dance moves, pink greasy boxes of dough. Some would say
we were not divine between us but we hummed our shared holy
family in a quarry of folding chairs. One hour skimmed
to another and they were not forbidden, or clarified
with reason, but the ache of the olives and responses
rendered in timbal, qanun, tarub, the oud, and the sounds again
of distress and truth. Darwish said “Nothing is harder…than the smell
of dreams, while they're evaporating.” On those days we dressed
in our blacks and thick tongues, and the narrative
we offered was not an acceptance, a raging. We wanted to forget
to kneel. We spent the days linked to our divisions
of oppression and we fixed to the matter
of beginning. Every thought claimed five wounds. Dresses loose
with their fine threads, red and lime,
wheat gold. Outside, a stone bridge watched the great river
weeping, a mother sang to her baby. My taste in the mouth
of this crowd. Habibi, our losses, and most of us rustling
our arrows beneath them. Five times a day we ate all the oily
sweetness with our vigorous fingers, our tongues moving to cumin
and cream, and we passed from news to a chapel
of pita, to portions of dusk, our ghosts and marginal angers.
I took 48 photos of shadows in quick succession,
thinking one better than another, and saw in each photo
a lapse to spot evidence. I deleted them
from my memory which wanted not to hunger
for these compulsions, statistics. We were taught
so many instances to doubt, but the light came along
singing and we joined it, taking its melody as apology.
Talking to Himself
The specificity: to walk, to walk again,
to stair the house, to leave the couch. Not possible
to kneel, to stab
or bend. As if each inch
no longer needs a door,
you give the limb. A part that moved. A gift
—or was it
a betrayal? You give the hardest
loneliness. Insist to give it
to understand this world.
Out the back door, hedges.
All light on boundaries.
Again you wake tilted. With what’s left to you.
What is not. And you think only how it is
not to think
a leg. How we can walk
with our minds. You’re sure you can
do this. Be not ruled
by your elemental framework: bone and cartilage.
Remember the first day in winter, wavering
weather, femur, the fourth debridement.
The bees are audible at your neighbor’s garden, the next trailer.
Hungry, they are drinking.
You focus on the geography
of waiting. You wait. You are drifting—
patella, tibia, fibula, remember tarsals.
The future is a remedy
that can also be an emptiness.
Outside now, birds
greet each other, twittering birds
run away each time you look.
"Bed with Metal Arms" was first published in The Más Tequila Review.
"On Harmony" was first published in Pleiades.
"Talking to Himself" was first published in Two Hawks Quarterly.
Lauren Camp is the author of five books, most recently Took House (Tupelo Press, 2020), which Publishers Weekly calls a “stirring, original collection.” Honors include the Dorset Prize and finalist citations for the Arab American Book Award and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. In 2018, she was a visiting poet for the Mayo Clinic. Her poems have been translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish, and Arabic. Her website is: www.laurencamp.com.