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To Those of Us Who Just Didn’t Rebel Enough Before Quarantine

You hear Mama tell you / that you must be waiting for her to die to live your life.

Poetry | poetry
June 28, 2021

Editors’ Note: The following poems by Mish Ismy is part of the notebook I Want Sky, a collection of essays, poems, fiction, and hybrid work honoring Sarah Hegazy’s one irreplaceable life, and the lives of all LGBTQ+ Arabs and people of the SWANA region and its diaspora, and, too often, the risk inherent in their visibility. Edited by Mariam Bazeed and published as a part of a partnership with Mizna, the notebook will also be available as a print issue, released this summer. Continue reading work published in this series here.

By your mid-twenties, you’re ready to take 5% personal responsibility
for being a forever single type, and to blame 95% of it on the pandemic.

You’ve spent your youth covering up and crafting a personality, 
but we all know that when god gives you a fat ass and bad knees,

you don’t really have the option of not being funny. 
You remember the last time you went out, like out out, 

to a place where people danced, it felt so wholesome 
that you were genuinely confused, wondering:

why did god say that this is wrong,
or why did my elders tell me that god said that?

Dancing, you meet other rebellers who ask: have you started drinking
yet? Kind of like being a queer brown muslim 

is not wanting to think about it at all. We first come out to our parents 
as, “I’m a strong ally…” and maybe that’s a complete sentence for us,

since Mama never mentioned Sarah Hegazy.
And you know she knows, because when you 

sat next to Mama, you saw Sarah’s face on her iPad, 
a face you’ve seen on your screens and in your waking

and sleeping dreams, before Mama tilted the screen away from 
your view. And Mama has never hid her screen from you before

because she’s the kind of brown muslim Mama 
who acts like she has nothing to hide.

So you’re in your mid-twenties, telling your parents, 
“I don’t want to marry a man…” like it’s a complete sentence, 

even though it technically is, but not for you.
You’ve spent your youth fantasizing about driving 

fast, but we all know that when you did 
get behind the wheel, you were so slow 

that you needed “Toxic” to approach the flow of traffic,
to drive fast enough so that you and others 

don’t die this way. Now it’s a pandemic 
and you’re slowed down to the sedentary,

staying at home so that you and others 
don’t die this way. You’ve read and heard 

all these rebellers talk about having a lot of secret sex that’s not-so-secret 
anymore because your random ass has read and heard all about it.

And you’re this lowkey asexual virgin who feels 
like she’s wrong even in the ways she’s haram. 

Even though you know that you don’t have to fuck 
to know you’re queer and that everyone’s on their own timeline, 

you also know that knowing isn’t believing. You also know
that Mama knowing isn’t Mama believing, because you’re

the kind of brown muslim daughter who acts 
like she has nothing to hide. And dammit, 

you just didn’t rebel enough before quarantine. 
And you’re not sure if you’re opting out 

because you’re afraid or because you know who you are, 
but you’re trying so hard not to die this way. 

By your mid-twenties, you feel like maybe you waited too long 
to want, and you wish you had let yourself want to be wanted sooner.

Maybe you’d be confused about something else 
if you weren’t born a queer brown muslim girl. 

But you’re in your mid-twenties and it’s a pandemic 
and you still haven’t had your first kiss and you mourn

how much it could cost you. You hear Mama tell you
that you must be waiting for her to die to live your life.

And you wish you weren’t opting out, but you’re trying 
so hard not to live this way. Then, you remember god, 

and you beg him to let you be haram in the right way 
for once and to please not let that be a complete sentence.