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40 Years: Poems by Rami Karim

Older immigrants talk as if Reagan invited them to dinner. / The dream never showed, but we can paint chain link white.

By Rami Karim
Poetry | Poetry Tuesday, Rami Karim, poetry
February 27, 2018


40 Years (excerpt)

(2015) Lebanon was my parents’ ex who
kept calling. Watching them break up
became everything I knew about living
in longing, constructing Beirut in East
LA, and knowing what had to be learned
and forgotten.

(2001) A woman at the supermarket
asks where I’m from. It is not the same
as I’ve been asked before. I pretend not
to hear as I walk past her to the
checkout lines. I look back to see her
follow me into the same aisle.

(2015) I remember them repeating “This
is bad” as we watched and re-watched
the towers shrink into themselves. Two
weeks later, Adel’s father was shot
behind the counter of his convenience
store on Pico. The memorial service was
held at St. Nicholas Cathedral on the
Westside. He was a Coptic Christian
from Egypt.

(2001) “Where are you from?” this time
tapping my shoulder. “No English,” I
say back, not lying.

(2015) I’d always been aware of my
parents’ immigration, but who they
were to America was obscured by who
they were to me. I could see their
relationship to Los Angeles change. It
became tense, weighted with threat. I
wondered how it compared with Beirut.

(2001) Every newscast has been the
same for weeks. Now they are
interrogating people with ties to the

(2015) We bought miniature American
flags to decorate our car windows. My
parents said it wasn’t about being guilty
of anything. The flag was a checkmark
near our name in a hypothetical
catalogue of potential threats. I told my
mother we had nothing to hide and she
responded ma khass: that has nothing to
do with it.

(2001) “Just in case” is something
I learned at the factory. Employees would
talk about ordering more materials than
needed, just in case. Samer asks why we
have to be invisible. In English I say
“Just in case,” and he replies, “Whoa,
you said a whole sentence.”


East Olympic Blvd.

Older immigrants talk as if Reagan invited them to dinner.
The dream never showed, but we can paint chain link white.
Dad pays bills in Vegas while mom plays house in a musty two-bedroom.
No one likes a pity invite, but they chose clams over mortars.
It is okay to be nostalgic.
Just remember you can do more in kitchens here
and the water never goes off.



My father poured ideals into a reservoir,
built a home out of solitude.
What a rug could do if you let it
regulate surplus.

On his way to work fixed his tie,
had visions of maybe a mortgage.
From added labor,
ambition collected.

He watched at a ledge,
measured what it takes
to make a dam