Poem

Omar Sakr
American Dirt

The once-white lady dipped her hands

into a faceless mass at the border

she said, I’m the one to give you a face

 

as if she wasn’t the one who stole it

in the first place, someone must humanise

the mass, the migrant caravan, the babies

 

as if people can ever be less than people,

where did that idea come from I wonder

but never mind that for now, let us return

 

to her pale hands, dainty nails barbwired,

the little metal knots a decoration

coiling from lacquered tip to skin

 

as she rakes her own imagination

to find a reason to love a person

more than her privilege, the power

 

that turns a border into an aesthetic.

I must admit I am tired

of white imagining nations

 

always as a precursor for violence

or personal validation, soldiers

and would-be saviours, aren’t you

 

tired, too? Settlers gotta settle, I guess

and it’s true I’m part of the colony

on Darug dirt, beneath Darug sky

 

desperate to cling to what distances

me from my history—not heritage

but what begins with birth

 

at Liverpool hospital, which was built

as well, on Darug land: here is where

my Lebanese family fled

 

for a better life. Or just a life

depending on how you define it.

Better invites speculation

 

of greed: why couldn’t you be satisfied

with your dirt & despair & the lot

your ancestors stomached? Unless

 

they didn’t, unless they too ran

from who knows where or what

or had to beg in a language or three

 

in order to survive. So many do not

survive these crossings, so many drown

in the ink between citizen & person.

 

Tell me, who gets to own a story?

All my life I have been owned

by a story: of a prophet

 

named Muhammad, peace

be upon him: of the Crusades

that never ended: of Lut,

 

peace be upon him: of a war

splitting a country like a watermelon

red seeds spat across the world:

 

of a baker who married a woman

in Qalamoun, and forced her to cross

the sea, fists wrapped in prayer

 

beads, their children, my mother

in tow: of Lebs in Liverpool, murdered

or munted, made a spectacle of,

 

disasters in diaspora, a colonial

headache. I am leaving out so much,

joy, of course, but also terrorism

 

the story noosed around our collective

neck, because this is the news & 

it has to be newsworthy, a fear

 

stamped into my bearded many-

storied face until I becomes them.

And I love them too, even the violent

 

me, even the belt that beaded

my back with blood, even the doped-

up drongo, the roided-up cuz,

 

sis in Adidas trackies at Centrelink,

the boys at Maccas making a ruckus,

even the cops trying to fuck us

 

(just kidding, not them) but you

see what I mean, right? Between

our bodies, colossal stories lie

 

like sleeping lions & few know

how to cross without waking the pride

that eats the vulnerable alive.

 

Once I believed I could make myself

free, at least for a time, here, in language

that was before I knew of people

 

with barbwire hands

hungry to reach out & touch anyone

regardless of the cost,

 

who cover desperate mouths

& whisper over the muffled shouts

I’m doing this for you

Omar Sakr
is a poet and writer. He is the author of the collections These Wild Houses and The Lost Arabs, as well as the forthcoming novel White Flu.

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