BY MAJDA GAMA
I last saw my grandmother at the end of a century
that ended many countries. The world’s cities
became unreliable, changing name or sect.
A tiny woman in perpetual white. I have seen
the sepia photograph of her in the early 1940’s
wearing a floral gown, the picture hand painted
in color; I can’t be sure she ever wore anything
but the same thaub & tarhaa, memory being mine.
Ascenseur, she said, in this early century
on seeing an elevator in her son’s new Beirut home.
When we all lived in Alexandria the lift
that moved us between floors jarred and stopped short
below our floor; a harres pulled us up hand by hand
in the old century. Would she understand the way I grasp
at places? The rope between our family knotted thinly.
Or yearn for cities that hold figments of our bayt.
By Marble Arch young uncles with slicked back hair
walk toward a Roman road, turning onto Edgeware
with its cafes serving qahwa & hand pounded fruit tobacco.
Up Alexandrine stairs comes the metronome sound of slippers.
In every decade one of us walks down the same street.
I last saw my grandmother not where she was born
but where I was born and am not from.
That is the Arab condition.
BY MAJDA GAMA
In the Al-Ain Oasis, we ride across ancient acres of palms
on a white golf cart fitted with mini-fans for the days
that scorch the body nine months out of the year.
My mother rides a seat ahead of me. Yellow-blonde
hair floats across her lips as she turns to talk about
a visit to the Loire valley in nineteen eighty-two.
That was the best trip of her life. She’d left her ten-year old twins
in Arizona with her mother. I don’t mind my parents
visiting castles without my sister & I.
Or that they undoubtedly ate brie & chocolate mousse
with adult abandon. My mother wore her hair up
then, in a knot, & clipped gifted gold to her ear lobes.
My father traveled with little bars of bergamot soap
in his luggage & jars of sandalwood to scent his way.
We buried him nowhere near palm trees,
in the red, backhoed dirt of Virginia. Must I
go there—I am here—in an oasis thousands of years
old. Beneficent palms rise above as we drive by.
Their bodies crafted into towers over seasons by the careful
excision of fronds. The fronds used in every part of life,
for shade & shelter. For tools. Then the females
are hand-pollinated in a fertility rite still practiced
by the farmers. I wish to know what the men whisper
to the date trees, & how to move
between these bodies with hands of pollen.