Daaniyatun Qutufuha

One day we will break through our world to another structure mitli mitlek
where green divine curly leaves touch every face and laugh we will at the days
when queer was odd and left out cold qariban you my daughter-sons glorious will be
embraced by the stars of evening your quranic aunties around you braiding your hair
the fatherly kiss on your forehead planted sweetly the shawl of grandmothers drawn around
your shoulders the cousins who pull you dancing into the dabke you sparkling my darlings
graceful oil lamps frothing out whole fountainheads of truth wet
potter’s clay black brown red yellow formed round and round with willing fingers mutual loving
and there will be mahshi and kibbeh, lots of kibbeh, all shapes, pan-diamonds and footballs
we will make it together, shape it together, and you and I are making it now we are peeling garlic
cloves for the feast I can smell the sumac purpling the chopped onions meantime I am here
ma’kunna bringing aunties who know how to levitate you and to protect you turquoise amulets
it will be so simple one day, love, so like the sea, all will say why on earth did we not do this before
what was wrong with us in the old world the hell? why could we not read the signs in the olive trees
and the bright blue grapes were right there in front of us the whole the whole time dangling daniyaat
and language will be different Arabic will be different accommodating all my Loves
different how? lass-tu adri, habibaatu qalbi,
lakinnaha aatiya:

Fronting for Your Life (Syria, 2011)

With the other guys from my unit I fan out
into the square where protesters are yelling
They don’t look like foreign agents
They look like me and my brother
but we have orders. I dart, feint
pretend to chase one down an alleyway
He scrambles up the alley wall
You should see his face when I light a cig
and let him climb over, eyeballing me     knowing
that might have been the last minute of his life

I lie low till protest chanting fades
maybe get a sandwich with side-hustle
money from my brother
They don’t feed us well in security
keep us hungry     keep us broke
My brother and I sleep thin
pallets eye-level with roaches
Our commander shot a recruit point blank
row beside me     insubordination
Service is mandatory for guys from our village

I hoof it back to the branch
like I’ve been running nonstop
bristle, “Where the fuck did you guys go?
You were supposed to cover me!” Once I even punched a wall

You can get away fronting only for so long
Then you have to shoot a protester

Traitor He Who Kills His People

الخاين يلي بيقتل شعبه

- Women & men
across from the Libyan Embassy

22 February 2011

Women, men    candles in hand
chant “Traitor, he who kills his people”
stand before the state redefining treason
Three brown-haired women crowdcenter
mouths vast with their own voices
louder than they’ve ever heard themselves
necks within grabbing reach of state police
trembling morph into singing beings
and in that moment everything for them changes
and they know it    they know it

Tell the next generation
how the tears stream down their faces making them shine
how the wax drips from the candles burning their hands

MOHJA KAHF is a professor of comparative literature and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Arkansas. She's the author of a novel, three books of poetry, and an academic book, Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant to Odalisque. Her writing has been translated to Arabic, Turkish, Japanese, Italian, German, and French. She's a founding member of the Radius of Arab American Writers and winner of a Pushcart Prize. In 2011 she joined the Syrian Nonviolence Movement (لحراك السلمي السوري), which was founded by protest organizers inside Syria. Her most recent book of poems is My Lover Feeds Me Grapefruit (Press 53, 2020).