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after abdelhalim, fairouz, asmahan, khalil gibran

here we are      an edge we have been on before
ya hawa ya hawa   oh wind oh love    yes it’s both
but which one really
the leaves above us are pills melting
into the night, which is just a border
up close.   tobah     [strings][strings]      tobah, tobah
  tobah means never again, never again
will i love you, my heart, my tears, a tear in my heart    ok
but this is boring. let’s talk
about something else.          people are only lines
written with water      it’s not that serious. i just want to drink
my coffee. i just want to think about roses     i misheard
the words as a laugh, beautiful    like a song    of roses            one time
i climbed stairs
that weren’t there
i took the flute, i sang, my tongue
made all the right motions. singing is why
we exist.          we cease
when it stops      [strings]      hung on the light, stained glass
is just skin stretched over memory   [strings]   of beads on my fingers
Teta taught me
the prayers
assalamu aleyki ya maryam
full of grace   arabu m’aaki       blessed are you
amongst women       today we’re not discussing fruit
just Asmahan, beckoning the snake     ya habibi come
follow me into the garden      why should i hide      i misheard the words
there weren’t any fruit         just meet
me once, then
tobah   [strings]     the earth always comes next
with all its room for bodies
when you’re done
with them
listen,   l’hatni             means “follow me”
but sounds like
my Teta broke
her arm in the
h’atli              right by the roses
she feared a snake would find her
before i did      i did not
hear her cries for help
my inner ear is compromised             i harvest syllables
that aren’t there                     i try to cross
the gap    between mountains           borders           a blue star
a window          a photograph     take me   there, oh love        or breeze
i am afraid                        me too
to grow up in this
new wound
or nowhere at all

Jess Rizkallah is a Lebanese American writer and illustrator living between Boston & New York. Alumna of Lesley University, MFA candidate at NYU & founding editor at Maps For Teeth magazine / pizza pi press. Her work has appeared in Word Riot, Nailed Magazine, Button Poetry, Rattle, & on her mother's fridge. Her collection THE MAGIC MY BODY BECOMES won the 2016 Etel Adnan Poetry Prize & is forthcoming on University of Arkansas Press, 2017. Find her at

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