Tarek Ghaddar grew up in Beirut, Lebanon. He attended the University of Miami for degrees in Biochemistry and English. He continued with a Master’s in Public Health at the Miller School of Medicine and is a first-year medical student at Florida Atlantic University. Trauma from war and his sister’s cancer led him to pick up a pen. His poetry has been published in Eclectica Literary Magazine, Mangrove Literary Journal, Prometheus Dreaming, the Emerson Review, GASHER, the American Poetry Journal, the South Florida Poetry Journal, and the Ghost City Review. He lives in Boca Raton, Florida. 



my friends swam into the water,

whipped red by jellyfish,

they dashed back onto hot sand.


A Physician’s Guide to Active Listening,

listening to them curse and laugh, listening

as they embraced and kissed and rolled in the sand,


and I read, and they laughed

and I listened, and they laughed,

and years later I woke up alone,


with too many books to read,

smacking, stacking, and pushing

them around on my desk, struggling

to recreate the laughing of friends,

or the crashing of waves that day.


I spent middle school limping home

after getting the shit kicked out of me,

the class sandnigger.


I didn’t inherit my father’s skin, but

my classmates practiced their politics

on me anyways. No doubt to rehearse

what they learned from their fathers.


they called the child whose middle name was Mohamad

a Hajji, A-rab, sandnigger, and beat him blue.

I was brown enough to be called slurs, but not to hide my bruises.


        when mama and baba ask, blame the bruises on football.


my teachers were surprised that I could read,

surprised to see Tolkien’s Silmarillion on my desk.


I learned to read to escape the names,

escape the bruises, escape pointing fingers,

the “teasing” classmates, wrapping towels

around their heads, the Sharpie-colored beards,

the hands wrapped around my neck, the sweat-dirt-spit

taste of a middle school locker room floor—


I didn’t exist in Tolkien’s world, skinrace didn’t exist

between the hills of Middle-Earth, in the burrows of the Shire,

beneath the endless gilded forests of Lothlorien.


Aragorn, Frodo, and Gandalf were good because Tolkien said so.

Orcs, Saruman, and Sauron were evil because Tolkien said so.


what comfort in being told who is evil! to believe it,

how easy it is to be told who to hate, who the enemies are.


I’m an immigrant Shiite from Lebanon— Tolkien revealed

the appeal in reviling me, beating me. I am the evil.


        that’s why it’s okay to bomb my family and slaughter us like Eid-lambs


my teachers were always surprised I could read.

white and bilingual makes you educated.


if you’re the kid of immigrant Shiites and bilingual,

you’re uneducated, too [__________] to integrate.


I learned to be the [________] Shiite

they wanted me to be. I kept two books in my backpack.


one book of what they thought I should read—

Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl-type picture books.

caterpillars, goofy dinosaurs, all blue-eyed,

tributes to white skin and blonde hair—

the other book of my own taste. Henry IV, The Hobbit,

The Scarlet Letter or Flannery O’Connor collections.


there was no crimson “A” stitched on my breast,

but when I wrote my name in white chalk on the board,


        next to solved equations, each letter glowed red with unspoken Islam.


my teachers were surprised that my father graduated

with a PhD from an Ivy League. immigrant Muslims

were supposed to be [_______].


they made a point from then on,

of turning anything I did into a disaster.

I called someone a dick for saying

“Muslims are retarded for fasting.”

I got sent to the principal for foul language.


        Good immigrant Muslims are barbarians.


I speedwalked in a walkathon—

they gathered a signed sheet of “witnesses,”

with an elegant cursive script,

a proclamation, that “Tarek Ghaddar lied

about running in the Walk-A-Thon.”


I remember my teacher, Mrs. Picano,

the way she showed it to my father and mother

as if to say, “Your son is the kind of [________] Immigrant Muslims are.”

I remember the zeal in her eyes,

they glimmered at the prospect

of dragging me to Principal Hench’s office,

to get me kicked off the Safety Patrols,

to ban me from going on the DC trip,


        her disappointment when Hench gave her a firm denial.


at the Vietnam Memorial, after reading a few rows of the names of the dead,

I remembered the missiles of Hezbollah, the airstrikes of the IDF,

neighbors bloodied and crows feasting, the golden glow of wartime sky.


I bent over and threw up.

Picano locked me in a room for it.


        to her I must have been disrespecting the glory of [_______].


some organization mailed everyone in our neighborhood a pamphlet

to “educate us on Islam.”  My father opened the pamphlet and trashed it.

An hour later, I dug through the garbage to see what had twisted his face in fury.

On the front was a child in a guillotine, and in 28-point Times

New Roman font:

                “ISLAM: RELIGION OF TERROR.”


karimo cried

cuz he hit his knee,


cradling him against my breast

I realize that I won’t be able

to protect him forever,


one day we all must cradle

what we love, and their bodies

will not be warm