if teta never had to leave lebanon i wonder if she would make preserves | Jess Rizkallah


the middle east wasn’t called the middle east before the west started calling it that.
i learned this three years into college,
twenty-one years into the first generation,
and so many poems deep about how
this region is a cat back and forth
under the DNA propping up my blood.
i could stop calling it the middle east
i could call it Mediterranean
i could call it kitchen counter in the sunlight
parsley straining in the sink
i could call it abdel halim-hafiz tuning my mother’s heart from the radio
teta’s apples becoming vinegar under the sink jido’s mountains swallowing the moon every morning

but why would i dignify the history books
by letting them think all this remnant is Art.

the collection of small miracles i like to call home is just the pinking skin around a scab where once, the earth was a mouth laughing like lutes and molasses.

why would we let the west think this jagged wound a birthmark, like it was here all along

they don’t teach it like this: a toddler dipping into the fingerpaint innards of the cat rubbing it on the fridge, smiling up at you stupidly, like this is art. they teach it like: stupid cat for being a trusting predator. for sleeping belly exposed.

poetry workshops tell me to be less Poetry about my rage
poetry workshops also tell me to be less poetry in my poetry
to never let the poem know I’m talking about it, never let it know where you are, what it is,
don’t talk about writing.
never talk about writing,
this is a game to play while your people burn.

today in the sun, tomorrow too
but the next day they’ll be leather
on the tectonic hot plate
under the west’s tongue / under the hiccup holding a pen, drawing new lines where the earth was already wrinkled.

they call the zig-zagged eastern border between Jordan and Saudi Arabia “Winston’s Hiccup.” indeed, Churchill once boasted of his “liquid lunch,” of “creating Jordan with a stroke of the pen one Sunday afternoon in Cairo”
are you joking

they tell me to be less phantoms wielding scalpels about all this, less filling but more cavity
over the already boring down to the DNA held in my mouth when i speak they tell me to just fucking say it

sometimes there is nothing left to say.
sometimes there are just mountains struggling to breathe / just abdel halim hafiz singing revolution from the kitchen counter his heart stuck in the static’s throat and the overwhelming twitch of the fingers into a fist, of the squeeze around the pen sometimes there is only the bubble on the job applications where you fill in the circle next to “white/middle-eastern” because you’re working hard today you’re a good American today.

you get to be white today.
you’re white when you’re behaving
you’re a terrorist when you’re angry
you’re a liar when they wound you
you’re a predator
when you’re backed into a corner.
you are the earth’s oldest apples
you are DNA becoming vinegar
under the kitchen sink
venom under the tongue
something you didn’t put there
something you’ll always be spitting out.

Jess Rizkallah is a Lebanese-American writer, illustrator, and coffee slinger living in Boston. She’s founding editor at Maps For Teeth magazine and at pizza pi press. She’s a pushcart prize nominated & nationally ranked WoWPS poet. Her work has recently appeared in Word Riot, Nailed Magazine, Wyvern Lit, Alien Mouth, and on her mother’s fridge. Talk to her about whales & find her at jessrizkallah.com. This piece first appeared in text on Drunk in a Midnight Choir.

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