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Hazem Fahmy is a Pushcart-nominated writer and critic from Cairo. He is currently pursuing his MA in Middle Eastern Studies and Film Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. His debut chapbook, Red//Jild//Prayer won the 2017 Diode Editions Contest. A Kundiman and Watering Hole Fellow, his poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming in Apogee, AAWW, The Boston Review and The Offing. His performances have been featured on Button Poetry and Write About Now. He is a reader for The Shade Journal, a contributing writer for Film Inquiry and writes a monthly column on Egyptian horror cinema for Nightmare on Film Street.

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I watch him in a black and white

press conference, lauding

our blood, calling us beautiful;

holy yet still in need

of piety. But a father's love

comes with a price, and some were


happy to pay it. Men

in uniform smile when you


least expect it. Omar marked

an قهوة in Queens worthy

enough because it hung

his framed portrait; pride of martyr


and poet, mustache so majestic,

it could grow from celluloid.

Ahmed Zaki once spoke

in his voice and no man has been


worthy since. Still, we’ve summoned

his name in hushed times and that was

prayer. We're not ready

to admit. For years, Baba

held vigils for him in his

dreams and spoke of a love

he may never know again. I

settled for inherited memory,

paid libations to a god

that never knew me by name.


When I'm ready I light

a candle and know what it means


to smell history, impure

and whole. I light a candle


and watch it drift swiftly through

the Mediterranean.

Habits never die easy,

but neither did he. 1970

still lingers: thick smog,

in every nostril,

a shadow, we hid

in for too long. The saying



التفتكره موسى يطلع فرعون


But I am not sailing to

find a pharaoh. There are

no prophets where I am heading.


Under the briefest scrutiny, Egypt becomes unreal. A friend of my professor riffs on Benedict Anderson — all communities are imagined, but some more than others. The implication being: there is value in the primordial. Say: خيال عملي. Say: your ancestors matter (ed). Say: here, I have all my papers. But who will you call ancestor in the same breath as father? Half of Cairo dreams of being “Arabian” or Turkish. Nationalism will have me believe I am a “pharaoh.” يا سيدي I am no king, speak for yourself, unless given consent.

When I say unreal, I am speaking of the quotidian absurd. Egypt knows nothing   if not irony. Human rights lawyers investigates forced disappearances only to disappear. Zubayda appears out of thin air in Faisal. Her mother becomes a liar on international television سمحيني أنا هنا State becomes sorcerer, makes a magic trick out of a daughter. Now you see her, now you don’t. In defense: ISIS complicates things — what is a martyr, anyway? Are you prepared to play God with language? Trust the process. Come back on Monday.


Every day my timeline bleeds for friends of friends claimed by the night, nothing left of their smiles but photos. It is so easy to sad react. What lang uage is left in the age of Amr Adeeb? Say disappeared, and you might follow. Say law and order, and you will get an ocean of uniformed men. My father asks: how do we know these kids are really missing? Perhaps he is really asking me to define that contentious word which haunts all of us.

Define missing in the land of rivers. In a cab whizzing through El Marghany street, I point to a renovated villa sticking out like a blood-soaked thumb. The driver gasps: don’t you know? They put Mubarak in there. I saw him on the balcony. Every year, my mother reminds me Gamal, Mubarak’s youngest, could still make a comeback.


I could buy a ticket today,

and get on a plane tomorrow. I could walk

through a gate, and smile

at the cop who graciously lets me

through. I could drive through traffic

silently, only cursing for dramatic effect. I could find

a job and pay the bills, be diplomatic

by the water fountain; say shit like: you know,

they really are trying, or: no one knows

what really happened to that Italian kid. At least

he came back.

At least he is buried


his mother can visit

and mourn. I could say: Disappeared

is such a strong word.



To view on mobile turn phone landscape

But first, I say: يا عمي.                              I have never been taught a geography 

                                                                                                Unmarked by  cataclysm,

all islands seem            

to be drowning.                                   He frowns, grunts a sweet sound

                                                                                                only a عمو second to no man  but

                                                                                                Baba can muster. Asks:

isn't that what their vile mouths

have always wanted? يابنى every dawn

is a gift.                                            Who are we without open arms?

                                                                                                 I know too well what it is to dream

                                                                                                 without rest. I have asked for nothing

                                                                                                 but hair of thick night, brushed

                                                                                                 across a brown brow, clear;

a beckoning horizon,

all my children need to know

that day is always coming,

                                                                                                 the light is already here.

يا سلام

                                                                                                 What has the world made of you?

I confess:                                           an apparition in transit; eyes like

                                                                                                  scarabs, small desert things, as silly

                                                                                                  as they are pretty, can be crushed if

                                                                                                  need be.

I had a mouth of dry sea, an empty

landscape, miles of antiques

poking out of the sand. I had the teeth

of a dull blade, of recession and wasted aid.

I had the neck of lamb, soft when silenced.

                                                                                                  Children gathered to watch how

                                                                                                  kitchen knives made a budding  rose

                                                                                                  of it. I had a chest  of bronze, as in

                                                                                                  the age, as  in

a language bowing to a foreigner’s name.

I had                                                the heart of a stallion shipped  as far

                                                                                                  as possible from the land that birthed

                                                                                                  him. I had

the gut of the calm after

the storm has been forgotten, after

we turn around the boats, let sand and sea

make a home out of our brethren's still bodies.

I had                                                an arm of rubber, flexible to a fault.

Knees of gelatin—                                  there was nothing halal about this.

My feet were a force to be laughed at,

but also lined up; given direction

when needed.                                      And now that you have walked here,

he asks, what will you make

of the morning?                                   What is a land unburdened by blood? I say:

I want a here we craft

with our hands;                                    bring your folk — tell them to bring

                                                                                                 their folk, all folk who’ve inherited

                                                                                                 the taste of steel,

and all folk who vow to                            spit it out. We will

meet under an open sky.

Bring your bread, your rice,

your chicken. I know no greater love

than the warm hand after the full belly,

or a wave of music washing over

a gyrating body, the ecstasy

of jiving to the earth.

And what of the weight

of language, he interrupts,

how does the body learn to                        carry that which once tried to break


Mourn a century. I know

he knows the answer,

nonetheless, I say:                                  I long to lock arms with all y'all, my


all my beobles, come:                               let us rudely interrupt  our own

                                                                                                  English. I don't need you to explain

                                                                                                  what that word means.

I've left all screens in a faraway world.

Put your throat against mine. Let us vibrate

viciously,                                           accentuate all accented syllables.

My whole life I waited for a spring

of strings and now                                 this music is the only kind of language I need.                                                                                                       Once, I cursed the

                                                                                                  prick of that tongue that could not

                                                                                                  say my name. Here,

I find enough forgiveness to bury

the violence of this English. Here,                  I can say: praise

English,                                             and you know I mean our English,

as spoken by  Mama and Baba, broken

and rebuilt by the b's of my teita:                  do you hear

how her bronunciation is boetry

in and of itself?                                     English — reborn, glowing as

                                                                                                   accents, vernaculars, pidgins,

                                                                                                   creoles —

baptized in all the glory weak hands

once tried to snatch from us –all of us–

who never asked for this language, but have       bent to fit our bodies just the same.


We alchemy the tongue. We epic

rhetoric, revive dead rivers with                    every word reclaimed. We summon

the rain  with our throats. يا شعوبي

At last here comes                                  a train we don't need to fear. Screech                                                                  serenades the night, like

Hugh's trumpet. Behold,                            a river of dark wine without sin,

borders nothing but a deranged

dying man's fever dream. A song

we stop listening to.                                Edward smiles. He takes me by the


                                                      Drink up. Drink whole. We've earned

                                                      a wide world we will never need to

                                                      apologize for.

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