Category Archives: Rhymes and unrhymed lines

Keep on rocking in the free world

I Voted - Election2008
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

It is the eve of Election Day 2016. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will battle it out at the polls tomorrow, and, like much of the world, I am flabbergasted: How did we get to this point?? I want to remember how many of us felt during this season 8 years ago, as we waited to see if we were successful in electing Barack Obama as President of the United States, and even 6 years ago, as we evaluated Obama halfway into his first term as President. I don’t foresee I’ll feel any of the same unbridled excitement tomorrow — just relief or horror, depending on the results. But I want to share the post below, long-buried in my Drafts folder, so that we could remember what hope & happiness felt like.

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Born by the river in a little tent

I’ve been doing a lot of listening to Sam Cooke lately, thanks to Suheir Hammad’s reference to him in her poem, Daddy’s Song. It took me a few years, but I finally decided to check out who exactly he was, and, whaddaya know, he sang beautifully. I would have just shared this on tumblr, but I’m not sure just how many of you actually click around over there [add it to your RSS feeds, crackstars!]. So, here’s some music and poetry for you:

1. Sam Cooke: A Change is Gonna Come


2. Suheir Hammad: Daddy’s Song


That part at the end, where her father blows her a kiss? The best.

More of my Suheir Hammad favorites (via a comment I left on Maddie’s photo a few weeks ago):

- We Spent the 4th of July in Bed

- Not Your Erotic, Not Your Exotic

- Brooklyn

- First Writing Since (my absolute favorite poem of hers)

It’s not as easy as willing it all to be right

"What are you doing?" asked my friend, after I had finished praying and was still kneeling on the floor.
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

I’m so tired of constantly feeling so tired – I don’t sleep enough, I fall asleep holding books I once could have finished reading in a single day, I sleep crookedly, and my neck has been aching for over a week. Also, there’s that drama that enters my head once in a while: “Am I doing constructive things with my life? Let’s switch it up again!” Clearly, I am my father’s daughter, bored too easily and always wanting change. And yet, too much standing still while questioning my next step, mired once again in indecisiveness and lack of direction.

It’s too easy to get lost in progress, or lack thereof, so here are three beautiful things to remember from last week:

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Poetry reading by Mohja Kahf at the Arab Cultural & Community Center in San Francisco last Monday. It was a wonderful evening, not in the least because I got to see the beautiful ladies, Momo and Baraka, again. And also because Mohja Kahf is hilarious, and that must have been the first time I laughed so much at a poetry reading. She writes candidly about topics such as sexuality and motherhood in a way that’s quite refreshing, as is her take on historical figures that become more approachable and human through her poetry – Asiya, the Pharaoh’s wife, sitting with her husband at a table of Neo-Cons; Asiya written up in the tabloids, dismissed as “crazy.” I picked up copies of Mohja’s poetry collection, E-Mails from Scheherazad, as well as her new novel, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, and asked if she could sign my sister’s copy of E-Mails from Scheherazad: “I’ve been specifically instructed to tell you that you’re her favorite poet.”

“Ooh, instructed,” she laughed. “Should I add some exclamation points to my signature?” And so, she did.

While I was waiting in line for the books, one of the women on the ACCC staff asked, “Do you write poetry?”

“No,” I said hurriedly, thinking she had confused me for RC, one of our rockstar Muslimah spoken word poets here in the Bay. (It wouldn’t be the first time; I think it’s the headwrap that confuses people.)

“You should,” she said. “We’re trying to organize some more poetry events here at the ACCC, and we’d love for more young people to participate.” She wrote down her name and email address for me.

I remembered how, the week before at the Poetry for the People reading at UC Berkeley, D had asked the same question, “Do you write poetry, too?”

“Ehh, no,” I said. “I only write maybe one poem a year, when I’m forced to.”

“But they’re always such good poems!” interjected my sister.

The day after the Mohja Kahf reading, my buddy A harassed me about my refusal to participate in the open mic at Blue Monkey, too: “Only losers don’t do poetry readings at an open mic.”

So now, apparently, I need to write more often.

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Writing travels the world: Maliha’s beautiful essay, Necessary silence of being made its way to me not only via Blogistan, but also through an email listserve I’m subscribed to. I emailed her to let her know, and received the following reply:

I’ve been lurking around your site and wish you, missy, will take a break from all the messy and beautiful chaos around you, to write a bit more. But with spring weather finally here, and the greys and storms dissipated, I totally don’t blame you for sweeping specks of sun rays rather than blog.

So, there we go, another reminder to write more often, from the beautiful lady who excels at it. It’s too bad that, as I explained to Maliha, writing these days means, for me, too many incomplete posts saved as drafts, and too many scribbled bullet-points in my little moleskine notebook that need to be turned into real posts. And, yet, my buddy Z exclaims: “How did you blog so soon after the last one? How do you have enough material?” It’s not for lack of stories, clearly.

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Explanation of the photo that accompanies this post: Ayesha my love and I canceled our dinner plans last Thursday, so I was left with a free evening, and was actually rather looking forward to being able to go straight home from work.

But then: “Come over to my place for dinner!” said R.

“Who else is going to be there?” I asked warily. I was not in the mood to socialize with people.

“Me!” said the co-worker-in-crime, B.

“And?”

“Just us,” assured R.

“It’s not some fancy-schmancy thing, is it?” I asked. ” ‘Cause I won’t be able to stand it.”

“Not at all!”

So, I went over to her apartment in Fremont after work. We had dinner, and then it was time for maghrib, the evening prayer. There was no awkward questioning: Will you be praying? Will you not? Should we wait for you? Instead, it was all so matter-of-fact: Here’s a rug; the bathroom’s at the end of the hall; I have an extra scarf, if you need it. I appreciated the straightforwardness – needed it, in fact.

R pulled out a prayer rug for me to use – it was short and narrow and golden-yellow, the perfect size for my frame, and something about the beauty of it moved me nearly to tears as I was praying. When I sat cross-legged afterward, hands raised in supplication, my knees jutted over the sides of the slender rug. It had been so long since I had prayed (much less, regularly), and there was something bittersweet – ridiculous and yet so fitting – about the fact that a yellow sunshine-colored rug made me want to pray more often.

“What are you doing?” asked R, after I had finished praying and was still kneeling on the floor.

“Taking pictures of your rug,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because it’s so pretty!”

“And what are you going to do with the pictures?” she asked, puzzled.

I almost replied, Put them up on flickr for the world to see, but said instead, “I’ll look at them!”

She rolled her eyes, picked up the prayer rug off the floor, folded it swiftly, and placed it on top of my purse. “Here. You can have it. Now you can look at it all the time.”

I hadn’t expected this, but I was too giddy with quiet delight to politely question her decision with, Are you SURE?

We sat around afterward, drinking mint tea (okay, I just experimentally sipped a little bit of it; “Will you be offended if I don’t drink this?” I asked R and her roommate L, but they assured me they would not be). “That’s fresh mint from Zaytuna,” L said proudly.

I nearly choked on laughter. “Were you skulking around Zaytuna, picking mint leaves in the dark?” Indeed, she had been. She also shared stories of living in Kuwait and Los Angeles. B and I were fascinated by her Kuwaiti/Lebanese/Hungarian heritage, so L brought out her laptop and began showing us photos.

“Dude,” I said, “these are beautiful pictures. You really need to get a flickr account and upload these.”

“I do have flickr!” she said. Oh, internet, how I love you. L went back to her room, and returned with her camera. She and I sat there scrolling through her photos, while R and B just shook their heads – especially when I started taking photos of the tea-glasses again.

B made fun of us: “Yasmine’s going to come to work one day and say, ‘I quit! I’m leaving to become a professional photographer!’ ”

She needs to stop giving me ideas.

City days: River, culture, speech, sense of first space and the right place

I thought this was the question I most despised...
Near MACLA, downtown San Jose, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

I was taking BART into San Francisco one Sunday a few weeks ago when a young man got on the train at the MacArthur station and glanced curiously at me for much longer than I was comfortable with as he made his way down the aisle.

A few minutes later, I heard someone call out, “Excuse me!” I looked over my shoulder, as did several people in my vicinity. It was the aforementioned young man. The train was packed, so he was forced to stand in the aisle, a few rows behind me, from where he delivered his bombshell question to me: “Excuse me, what language do you speak?” Everyone’s head expectantly swiveled my way, waiting for an answer.

Being asked, “Where are you from?” generally annoys me. But I hadn’t known until that morning that being asked, “What language do you speak?” could make me so furious. Was he serious? I wanted to ask, “What the f*ck do you think I speak?”

Thrown off guard, I stared over my shoulder at the guy, mentally calculating my possible responses – my totally b.s. Pukhtu, my fluent Hindku, my ever-dwindling repertoire of German, my passably conversant Urdu. But then, still angry, I responded as coldly as I could: “English.”

“Yeah? Well, I just wanted to say that…” – here, he paused to swing his arm around his head and torso – “your style is really beautiful.”

“Thank you,” I said shortly.

“Where is that kind of style from?”

Guess,” I snapped, and turned around to face the front, eyes forward, jaw tight. Apparently, a red&white wrap-around spring dress from Forever21, and flared jeans, and dangly earrings and flip-flops, and, oh yes, the headwrap, are all exotic items that have no space or sense of belonging in American fashion.

I understand that I look different, and that this will raise curiosity wherever I go. I understand, too, that some people are genuinely interested in learning about others. But I have a right to be angry about how such interest is sometimes articulated, and the manner in which such questions are sometimes posed. Really, I was fuming over being asked – point-blank and in a completely rude manner (how is it okay to make that the very first question you ask anyone?) – about what language I spoke.

Goddammit, I’m surrounded by effin’ MORONS.

I comforted myself with the thought that at least he didn’t tell me how great my English was.

Several people got off the train at the next stop, and, next thing I knew, Mr. Smooth & Charming had found a seat in the row diagonally across from mine. “Hey,” he whispered loudly.

I ignored a couple of the Heys, but I didn’t have a book with which to pretend to distract myself, and, up and down the train, people’s heads started swinging back and forth from me to the guy, so finally I turned my head, eyebrow raised challengingly.

“So, you’re not going to tell me where you’re from?” he asked in a wheedling tone, sounding a bit hurt, as if I were doing him a great disservice.

“No,” I said, spitefully spitting out clipped responses. “You just keep guessing over there.”

I turned around again. A minute later, he ventured, “Are you Gypsy?”

No.” I didn’t even bother turning around, but could still feel him staring.

“They’re the oldest race, you know.”

I sighed, raised my eyebrow again, tried to give every indication of being uninterested, but couldn’t help asking, “Who? The Gypsies?”

“No. The Egyptians.”

“I’m not Egyptian, either,” I said.

I felt like I was actively participating in a guessing game, in Twenty Questions or something, and the ridiculousness of the situation (and, perhaps, of my antisocial – even defensive? – reaction) started to hit me. Everyone on our side of the car was silently watching our childish exchange. I tried to suppress a smile, and he must have noticed my face softening, because that’s when he made his smooth and charming move: “You’re very beautiful, you know.”

“Ha. Uhh, thanks.” And I was trying not to laugh, because somehow, in his cocky yet completely bumbling way, Mr. Trying Too Hard To Be Smooth reminded me very much of my co-worker from my old Sacramento job, and I couldn’t wait to get off the train and call H#3 and say, “Guess what idiot on BART just reminded me of you?”

I turned my head to the left to look out the window. From my right, Mr. Smooth added loudly, “Your beauty will never fade.”

Mein Gott, can we get to the city already? This is killin’ me.

A young mother of two, sitting in the seat across from me – and directly in front of Mr. Smooth – smiled. Most of the other people seated in our vicinity smirked as well.

“Did you know that?” he repeated loudly. “Your beauty will – ”

“Yeah,” I said hurriedly. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“When?” he challenged.

“What?”

“When will you keep it in mind?”

Forever,” deadpanned the man behind me. I started laughing, and so did he, and Mr. Smooth, shameless flirt that he was, smiled winningly, as if his charm had finally achieved victory over my cold war. I was still chuckling a few moments later when we reached the Powell St. station, and something about laughter as a letting down of the guard put me in a good enough mood again that I even saluted Mr. Smooth as I stepped off the train, calling out behind me, “Have a good one!”
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I hear in my mind all of these words

People's Park, Berkeley, CA
Poetry in People’s Park, Berkeley, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

My new buddy
recently introduced me to the poetry slam at MACLA and upcoming open mic nights at Blue Monkey in downtown San Jose [Blue Monkey! The name just makes me laugh and think of Baji, my favorite robot monkey pirate], then I also attended the Poetry for the People reading one evening last week in Berkeley, and will be at the Mohja Kahf reading in San Francisco this Monday, so April has been all about poetry appreciation. I hope you knew that April is National Poetry Month, otherwise, that’s it, we just can’t be friends anymore. I’ve been subscribed to receive a Poem-A-Day from Poets.org in my email inbox since last year, and what’s even more rocking is coming across pieces of poetry on my usual online haunts like weblogs and flickr.

[Click each of the direct links below, to access the poems in their entirety.]

Brimful, who writes so beautifully about San Francisco like no one else can, posted Reverie by Bhikshuni Weisbrot:

Then breathless,
I may take a moment or two
to settle and see the multicolored
glory of fall,
gold-fanned leaves
pressed flat and sodden
after a day of rain,
a season at its peak of beauty
full but fragile
so you know from experience,
bound to disappear.

The next day, she shared Atlantis—A Lost Sonnet by Eavan Boland:

what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.

Ganesh posted Louise Glück’s Averno: Part I, Poem 4:

How privileged you are, to be still passionately
clinging to what you love;
the forfeit of hope has not destroyed you.

Maestoso, doloroso:

This is the light of autumn; it has turned on us.
Surely it is a privilege to approach the end
still believing in something.

The New York Times review of “Averno” also quotes some lovely lines from Glück’s various poems; I think I shall have to buy this book.

Baraka’s Poetry Monday focused on Su’ad Abdul-Khabeer:

Young men in fitted caps
whisper
“Damn”
deep in sly glances,
Others offer courtesies in appreciation.
Women honor us openly or
with their arrogance,
And the press
can’t get enough of us.
See, clothes do not hide the woman
They announce her.

To cover or not to cover
Is not my battleground.

I don’t know how I never found Madlyne on flickr until two weeks ago, but her jarring photograph was captioned with Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, Kindness, and I knew we’d have to be friends:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Finally, a comment on Anna’s weblog led me to The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?