Ramadan Day 29 – Is This The End, My Beautiful Friend?

For Gloria, Family, and Friends

Ramadan 2014

My first prayer is the one for Gloria. Gloria is a person of faith. I still don’t know the details of her God. I do know that she treats faith with such respect and care. I know her kindness, compassion, and generosity toward others and herself. Her courage jumps into whatever I write, and her love is infinite.


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My Friends,

I pulled these chairs up for you so we may speak together.

Hush, Yonder is a castle.

What you have done for me is but the first step

in a repayment plan for all the love you

were once given.  How else could you recognize the gift?


Just sit there right now
Don’t do a thing
Just rest.

For your separation from God,
From love,

Is the hardest work
In this

Let me bring you trays of food
And something
That you like to

You can use my soft words
As a cushion
For your


Translation by Daniel Ladinsky


As Ramadan draws to a close, I sit outside alone in Sewanee.  A soft wind, so companionable, and my breath, always the breath–no speech but the scratch of my pen. It thunders later tonight.

The lightning is a flicker here and there in the long grass. Look up to the sky.

The rain is loud and steady.

I fasted in Brooklyn, then in California, back in Brooklyn, now in Tennessee. I did this with you.

Tomorrow, I venture to Murfreesboro, or Nashville. A Joss Whedon-styled Angel, the man with a shorn head, who was with Bats – the two who gave me a little fright on the first night, drunk and partying, who had locked themselves out, insisted that I use his rental car to drive into town.

If you don’t use my car to attend Eid prayer, I’ll be upset, Angel said.  This is like your mini-Hajj.  I could use your prayers, he adds.

In the kitchen for two nights, as I eat, he comes to discuss our faiths, aligned, yet I can tell he is struggling with something. Our talking draws the spirits closer. I want the questions in his chest to burst free of their cage.




What does it mean to be at the end of a time?

Frenchie leaves a reading with tears in her eyes, touched by a talk I’d been unable to attend about procrastination and aging. To know that our time is limited and be at the end of our careers, she mentions. It felt brave.  It felt personal.

Somewhere on Pluto

a wind dies

an engine stalls in Detroit,

the flower of summer sets

into the apex of the Sun.

Did I tell you this story already? Frenchie says. I keep thinking that you were there, even when you are not. She shakes her head.

In a place where I expected to make connections and only hoped to find friends, this statement touches me.

I am with you, I say, even when I am not with you.

Allah whispered this into my ear during this fast.




At the beginning of an event, I’m already leaning toward the ending.

If I really want the time to end, the ending is bright and full of fluffy clouds.

However, if I want the time to last forever, I cannot picture the end.

I will be a different person than the one today, and the future is unknowable.  I would like to stay here.

Stop this: Full-of-worry, even sadness, missing the future where I will no longer be me,

missing the present.




Saimo tells me of her difficulties during Ramadan. I nod throughout as each word feels like shared steps.

Good, I think selfishly — I wasn’t the only one challenged by the lack of the Ramadan pattern.  I’ve come to love my routines. It was an endlessly social Ramadan, but I could not settle into company, wanting to be alone more often than not but unable to make that space. My writing didn’t flow, even though I wrote. I appeared peaceful, but inside my thoughts were strained.  It was a Ramadan of contradictions.

Usually, in the last week and a half of Ramadan the blessings of the fast are bestowed: an infinite peace, a calm, a quiet. Prayer is easier.  Focus is possible.  The hunger dies and is replaced by the food of the Spirit. The good stuff, Saimo called it. This Ramadan, we said to each other, not so much good stuff.

Every morning I woke up expecting that I would not be so hungry or thirsty, but my body betrayed me. Instead of slipping into a meditative state, my head would rock and roll. Was I asleep? Did I snore? Did anybody see me?  More times than I could count.




Where is my spiritual journey?

That second meal was usually the hardest. I was already full. Trying to sleep. Waking up to pray. Trying to sleep. I lost count.

I expected that my faith would keep my doubts at bay. I was full of so much anxiety, as if I could not keep myself from anticipating that I would be anxious. Allah has listened to too many complaints to me. Each gratitude is paired with a fear, such a couple.

We come into time expecting one thing, but getting another.




Tonight there was a graveyard walk. I was busy stuffing brownies in my bag and caught up to the group, cheeks bulging. The great poet Claudia Emerson who I discussed earlier was trailing at the back of the crowd with another poet, discussing her chemo and the exhaustion of her thyroid dysfunction. I caught only parts of the conversation. Later, I realized it was about the reading of poetry at the graveyard.

A group of New Yorkers raised a fuss, Claudia’s companion side, when we read Alan Tate’s Ode to the Confederate Dead so that sort of ended that.

I can see why that’s not a popular title, I interject.

Well, it’s not about celebrating the confederacy, he says. I do think they just stopped at the title.

Oh, I say, well people don’t make so much room for complexity these days.

So, Claudia agrees and nods, when I asked ____ what I should read, that’s when he asked me to read Wolves. He was so emphatic. She laughed.




This is exactly what Claudia Emerson looked like the year before, at the grave of Allen Tate, reading his poem “The Wolves”:


There are wolves in the next room waiting

With heads bent low, thrust out, breathing

At nothing in the dark; between them and me

A white door patched with light from the hall

Where it seems never (so still is the house)

A man has walked from the front door to the stair.

It has all been forever. Beasts claw the floor.

I have brooded on angels and archfiends

But no man has ever sat where the next room’s

Crowded with wolves, and for the honor of man

I affirm that never have I before. Now while

I have looked for the evening star at a cold window

And whistled when Arcturus spilt his light,

I’ve heard the wolves scuffle, and said: So this

Is man; so-what better conclusion is there-

The day will not follow night, and the heart

Of man has a little dignity, but less patience

Than a wolf’s, and a duller sense that cannot

Smell its own mortality. (This and other

Meditations will be suited to other times

After dog silence howls his epitaph.)





This is what Claudia Emerson looked like reading Tate’s “Ode to the Confederate Dead”

We shall say only the leaves whispering

In the improbable mist of nightfall

That flies on multiple wing:

Night is the beginning and the end

And in between the ends of distraction

Waits mute speculation, the patient curse

That stones the eyes, or like the jaguar leaps

For his own image in a jungle pool, his victim.





I didn’t end up catching the reading at the graveyard.  I was with myself in the basement of a library printing out directions to Murfreesboro, then walking through the graveyard by myself in the dark (to scare myself), then popping out upon Frenchie as she and other writers listened to a recital of one of Allen Tate’s poems near his grave, her flashlight on.

Buahahahahahhah, I said in my magician’s voice.

You’re not funny, she said.




What does it mean to be at the end of something?

How will you feel tomorrow about this Ramadan? Saimo asked.

I don’t know, I said, but last night I popped a filling out while I was flossing. Do you think I need to see a dentist? I asked Saimo.

Well, I’ve popped out a filling before, Saimo said. I don’t think it’s a big deal.

But I don’t think I’ve ever done it by flossing.




We are the lake. Allah is beneath the surface.

I became more concerned this Ramadan with doing things properly, unusual for me.   I cannot think upon all the reasons for this particular evolution. I didn’t say my usual jovial Ramadan Mukabar! I wanted to pray correctly, my gender-queer self wanted to bend toward hijab like a magical rainbow. I needed two tutorials, one from Pelé on washing, the other from Saimo on how to wrap my hijab. It’s as if I disappeared into the swallows of Tennessee and emerged with two bobby pins and one safety pin.  At the end of the rainbow is a perfectly arranged Muslim.




Is the spiritual journey simply the sum of its parts?

Is it one forehead, two hands, two knees, and two toes?

As if our philosophies are rendered useless by the fast.

Our bodies become both loud and invisible.

We come into time expecting one thing, but getting another.

Has this fast been everything you could hope for? Allah asked.

Yes, Yes




Ramadan is my container. Without the limits and constraints of Ramadan, I would not have come upon this end because there would be no such thing as an ending.

There is a grace in submitting to a time, in pouring your life into a container.  This foreign object that encapsulates you makes it possible for you to identify a shape.  Who hasn’t imagined infinity as an arc, heading towards our personal goals.

My selfish worries about graduation, about looking for a job, about my aloneness, about my family, about my friend’s health, about my love life, and last but not least, my unconquerable soul, gave way to my prayers.

I could not deny this end, nor put it off.

It is simple, yet it is not easy.

I knew of course that the time would end.

But saying it, even it being it itself as I wrote, did not allow me to imagine it, to predict it.

I do however, cherish this end.




Claudia Emerson insisted in the bookstore that she gift me a book of her poetry. She knew that I had plans for the copy I’d won my second day in Sewanee. She sent her husband to buy the book for me.


For Once

By Claudia Emerson (from her collection Secure the Shadows)


I had many times walked past it: crowded

Stand of mixed woods where a field used to be,


self-ordained survivors of a place

Having gone unnoticed long enough


for them to volunteer: maples, scrub pines,

some cedars – a blood beech leaved even


in winter, little remarkable either

for ruin or beauty. And then something, in there,


caused me to pause, sounds a wakeful house

can make – the restlessness of a slumberous


body shifting in bed, the strike of a match,

foot doubtful on a stair, kindling catching,


water from a spigot, fatwood hiss.

Or all of it the acoustics of emptiness—


needles of ice ticking on abandoned glass,

a porch swing’s chained keening. But it was habit


to find the familiar in that shifting architecture,

its trueness not finally in the measure


and level of some human past, or possible,

but in that present quickening—wind-cast


shadows of sound and soundlessness, unseen,

unknowable, and, for once, enough.







Thank you for reading my blog. I’m not sure whether I’ll post for Eid as tomorrow I drive to Murfreesboro and then come back to listen to my Sewanee teacher Randall Kenan read, a handsome man with eyes that fire.


If you’ve been reading my blog (and I knew about it), please know that I’ve kept you in my prayers. I did it very specific, just like in the Secret, so the blessings of my fast should adhere to you. I’m so serious.


My Gloria writes me that she likes to look at my face and my eyes. Her operation is set for the 29th. I have so many things to say to her, so here’s my beginning:


I am with you even when I am not with you.


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Eid Mubarak!

This is us beginning.




Got a favorite of my Ramadan Journal Entries?  Let me know!  2013 and 2014 are all online.  You may wish to access by following links I’ve provided, or scroll haphazardly.  Please feel free to leave me comments.  I love them.

Some of my favorite Ramadan Journal posts listed below in eight different places w/ links!  😉

1.) 2013, Introduction, my first Ramadan Journal Entry

2.) 2013, Eid

3.) 2014, Fast Brain

4.) 2014, Sgt. Lonely’s Queer Club Band

5.) 2014, My Mother in the Summertime

6.) 2013, Ramadan Day 9

7. 2013, Ramadan Day 11

8.) 2014, Journey South


Ramadan Day 28 – Post-Memory Human

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(I’m pictured center-right.)


It’s a murder of crows and a memory of elephants. – from trivia night.


Over two hundred writers sit in a room. They flip the pages this way and that. I fall asleep thinking of the ocean.


Who was I to think that fasting would become easier and easier in the last few days?


It has not. Instead, I am tired and weak and inside my head are pokey thoughts. Somehow, the peace is louder than my little demons. It’s not that the demons no longer exist.


To fast is to take a risk. To take a risk is the spiritual journey. How afraid I am of falling.


Mary Jo Salter began her talk today about post-humanism. This is a subject close to my heart. We may soon begin, she said, to feel nostalgic about our nostalgia. Honey, I’m already there. The imperfection of human memory is the well-spring of human creativity, she argued. Getting things wrong is human.


She asked us at the end of the talk combining artificial intelligence and Shakespeare – “And if you prick us do we not bleed?” Afterward, I approached her and confided that the story I submitted for this workshop (I AM RITA) suggests a morality that robots cannot replace or truly enhance human nature. I asked her did you mean that the robots do not bleed when they are cut? What a wonderful question, she said. Interesting, but I think you could take it both ways. I meant that we bleed, which makes us more human than the robots. (paraphrase of Salter’s lecture).


I am so pockmarked by kindness that my skin is no longer smooth, or cruel.


The cicadas are a robust choir. One woman said that in the rainforest of Costa Rica, there are so many that you can feel their pee in the jungle. They remind Frenchie of Twelve Years a Slave. I hate them! she says. We are walking, not so deep in the woods when she takes out a flashlight and shines it on a man walking in front of us. Excuse me, sir, Excuse me, she says, deepening her voice. Cut it out, I say nervously. Well, this is how cops do it, she explains. We giggle, and the man it turns out is a friend.


I find that I cannot remember things, so instead I try to meditate. Every time I meditate I fall asleep. It’s the sound of the ocean again. How I wish to dive into the water. I dreamt. In my cupped palms was an infinite teardrop that became the ocean.


Although I smile a lot, it always hurts to realize that I’ve met that 1% immune to my smile. I smile through that too.

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We sit around a table telling ghost stories. I marvel at the realization that I’m not the only one who’s lost a parent who isn’t ready to die. People are angry, Frenchie points out. They don’t want to go.


I get to the Inn for Iftar but they’ve run out of food. I can make you a burger the server says. Please, can I have two? Two? he looks shocked. The other is for second dinner, I say. Of course, and ask me for anything else you need.  Here on this Episcopal campus of Sewanee, I have been treated with such kindness for my fast.  I am very grateful to carry home the second burger.


I continue to be obsessed with all the poets, not the kind that knows exactly who they are, but the kind that’s borrowed a hat someone left behind on a chair. They’re convinced they should return it. Poetry flits somewhere in the woods with the cicadas. I’m convinced I should borrow Frenchie’s flashlight.


Why is it so hard to write when tomorrow is the last day of the fast?


I intend to drive to Nashville, Tennessee for Eid prayer in someone else’s rental car. But that is a story I intend to save. Perhaps I am saving all my good stories. I’d like to believe that is truth.  But is it?


I contributed next to nothing to my trivia team. We had to go into town to the bar because Rebel’s Roost burned down. That’s the name of the regular bar for the conference every year. Yep. I didn’t wish to drink there.


I made one contribution tonight to my team. We did not win. Of course, I’d say we won in spirit. I guessed a title the trivia game’s designer said, “is very, very hard. I don’t think anybody will guess it.”  I think we should put the word [here] in brackets before will and after anybody.


Name this opening passage. Thank you Sol Q. Garda for telling me once that this was the most beautiful opening line in the English language.  After which, I re-read this passage.


We cannot remember much until we live moment in which we tell ourselves: remember this.


“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”


Scroll down further for the author/title.



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Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Ramadan Day 26 – Allah in Tennessee

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(Fine Dining with Allah, Sewanee 2014)

That night, before I walk with Billy, before I encounter Bats for the second time, before I listen to the Irish music playing at the pub and go to several readings, I eat by myself while the staff clears the table. Everyone else is already at the reading, which always start around Iftar. Every bite in the company of Allah fills me with such joy that I’m glad to be alone. I don’t feel alone. I don’t feel desperate. I feel as if Love herself has sat next to me and prepared a plate.


“Fasting is to be just with yourself and others.” – Tariq Ramadan


Have you ever tried writing about your real life? Billy asks.

Billy is unusual looking, colorless eyelashes, and a drawl so deep that I don’t blink as I wait for his story to finish. I’m so grateful to have him entrust his stories to me. He’s from Kentucky. There’s something vulnerable about him. He cares about the words he’s letting out.

I don’t tell him that I’m writing this journal. Or that I’m fasting. But, Yes, I do it all the time, I say. Usually, though, I change the facts, I joke.

There’s this story I want to write, Billy says. I can’t write it because people think it’s so unbelievable. He tells me about his friends – people in that group they’re just together, you know. We’ve been together our whole lives. There’s even one of them steals, and everybody knows it. Nobody says anything either.

Real life can be the darndest thing, I mention to Billy. We write it, and nobody believes it because in stories we’re expected to find meaning. When these things happen in real life, we didn’t create the meaning. We don’t expect it to make sense, so it feels okay to have remarkable coincidences. In a story, the author has to make all the choices.

Yeah, exactly! Billy says. We smile at each other.

I am grateful that Billy slows his gait as we amble along, full of breath and thoughts.

I read what you wrote me today about my story, he says. I really appreciated your comments.

Thank you, Billy, I say. What I’m really thanking him for is the stories he’s sharing about his life. He’s making me think about his South, about how every corner I’ve turned I’ve been met with graciousness, and in a few moments, with appalling rudeness. About how even his close group is friends is filled with dichotomy. How when you get to know someone you can’t feel however you felt before. The extremes are replaced by complexity.

The South fills my heart with its beat. Everything feels closer to the surface here, as if the heart is without skin. It feels as if I’m taking some giant risk by being here and continuing my fast, although in truth, all the staff and the couple people I’ve entrusted with the fact that I’m observing Ramadan, have been nothing short of a gift.

It’s after 8PM, and everybody else has gone to the reading. I’m at the Sewanee Inn eating. The night is full of buzzing and a desperate energy. People at a conference get to a point where they need to make connections. The loneliness is palpable because we come to these places to do exactly that, and also because most writers are lonely.



I go up to this guy, Bats. My first night here, Bat and another guy locked themselves out and pounded on the glass door at 3AM, startling me, yelling for me to let them in. I didn’t know if they were with the writing conference. I decided to let them in for fear that if I didn’t there would be a bigger scene later. They didn’t introduce themselves after I let them in. They weren’t nice about it. Their biceps were bigger than my head, the result of relentless workouts. The one with his head shaved stared at me, and they stumbled around the lobby area where I was working alone before disappearing down a hallway. I felt frightened by their presences, so foreign to me, but I went back to writing.

My brain sounded a light. I was suspicious, remembering that I’m in Klan territory, and the shaved skull. I’m not sure this is going to turn out okay. The next day, my conference buddy Frenchie hears about the incident. That’s not okay. You need to tell the dorm monitor, she says. Also, it woke me up, all the pounding – it was loud.

“You know,” I say to Bats after sitting in the lobby with him and several others for an hour, “you came in here wasted the other night after you locked yourself out. I’m the one that let you in. I gotta’ say you startled me. Do you remember this?”

“Did I?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say.

“Oh wait. Yeah, I’m so sorry. You can see I’m not that kind of guy. I’ve got to stop drinking like that. I’m usually really nice when I’m drunk. I can only have a couple drinks. Got to check myself. Oh, and yeah, my buddy, his head is shaved, is that why you were startled? Yeah, sorry sorry.” Bats keeps rolling his eyes downward as if he’s trying to look at himself. He can’t see through my eyes, but he is realizing something. We both feel it, and the tension pushes up against us. Bats is scared that I’m judging him.

“What workshop are you in?” I ask him.

Bats is excited to talk about writing, goes over to where he was seated and returns with a book called Corpus Christi about Texas. “Have you read this? It’s one of my favorites.”

Over the next few hours, Bats continued to apologize, and he is sheepishly grinning each time I see him. I feel bad for Bats, but I don’t feel bad that I protected myself. I don’t apologize to Bats because he upset me.

Instead, I accept his apology. I hope Bats and I both feel better about that night. I move on. This is a thing I’m doing that isn’t always easy. It’s still awkward, but maybe now it will be better.


Saima couldn’t have known when she sent me one of Tariq Ramadan’s daily videos how much it would mean to me today. I will share it with you because it’s beautiful.



I hit a wall. Perhaps it’s because Ramadan tips me toward introversion, but I’m exhausted. A lovely young Chinese American poet, one of a scarce handful of people of color at the conference, told me that I looked exhausted. Another poet told me: do you. It’s very white, and sometimes on the two coasts, I’ve forgotten the rest of America.


Here, I am learning how small I feel in the face of it, but also how wherever I go, there are always Friends. Nobody knows anything about this country, I realize. Everybody’s worried – even the people who I always think have so much power – they’re wondering if I judge them. They’re wondering if I like them. It’s an odd thought, filled with turbulence.


I excused myself from activities in the early evening, and instead I skyped with my Qur’an study group.

Rasta is there, happy to see me, which warms my heart. Farraj is facilitating. We read the Sura of Maryam. Pelé calls her a badass for having a baby alone.  We talk about parents and control.

I nod, but the video chat  is shoddy so it’s an unreceived nod.   Then, Pelé stuns me with what she quotes, discussing this Surah.

“I’m still auditioning for my family’s love. You know, I still hold out this kind of thing where they’ll be nicer if I play along. …Guys, it’s tough. Most of us…you wrestle with your family your whole life. People who don’t, I think that’s like the most blessed resource in the world. Because the rest of us are caught in a dynamic that doesn’t always leave much room for you to be compassionate to yourself.” Junot Díaz

What does this mean to all of you? I ask the crew.

What does it mean to you? Rasta asks me.

I don’t know, I say.

What I don’t say is that I’m worried because I’m compassionate to myself.  I wonder if that’s only happened because I stopped auditioning for my mother’s love. Did I miss the change? I wonder.

I used to go to all the try-out’s, especially if my parents knew about it.

Now I feel afraid to tell Pelé, and Rasta, and Farraj that I’m the most blessed person in the world.

What if I lose that too?


I am blessed, I think, as I eat dinner alone.

I am blessed to be here in the South: where I feel totally alone and isolated, where there seems to be no context for my family, the family that would give anything to keep me from harm, the family that can’t stop me from harming myself, where I feel like a minority rather than a person of color, where the only bravery I have is not because of the courage of my friends, but because Allah operates in me when I have neither the energy nor the strength to operate for myself.

Here is where I miss home, because I am not there.

My compassion is infinite suddenly,

I am not stretched, but disappeared

within love.

Here I am with Allah:


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Ramadan Day 25 – Childhood Home



“Where can a story end? If it arrives from nowhere.” – BH Fairchild




My father went to our backyard

when I was nine and said, both hands

round his waist, let’s build a

pond. Would you like that Serena?




How many miles are you from home?

Can you count distance by the quarters

left behind in a phone booth? Or pages?

Can you count clouds, silkworms, and

mulberry leaves, and in two weeks

mourn the passing of hundreds?




Somewhere back there I hold one thought

the only thing that ever belonged to me

was the way the sun glinted golden off

the yellow wallpaper, gilding my tears,

Splotchy was dead, that comfort of knees

being in bed, pillow, able to run my hands

along multi-grained speckles of wall.




We dug the trenches pretending we were

at war and acted as if the narrows were

bunkers, but when he turned the faucet

on, the water rushing from the green hose,

salad bowls our buckets and whistled

while we worked, acting as if dwarves, not

children, our slip-and-slide castle, he coated

the sides with glaze. It looked finished and like

a pale yellowed worm with cracks in it, but

to me, in my dotted swimsuit, it was childhood.




I confess that I’m unlike many writers I know.

I write nearly every story, every poem

in varied locales, sometimes draped over

a couch, sometimes butt-boned on a bench,

I wrote a poem once in full view of a bridge

in Prospect Park that saw me

and did not move.




Jill McCorkle gave a craft talk today –


“If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.”


The sound of a mother’s voice, notwithstanding

the relationship you have with your mother, is

a sound imprinted for all your life; she hears

the interstate and the ocean, remembers a boy

who curled for a nap in the dark hearing the

background noise of the register in his parent’s

Chinese restaurant comfort him, tied to the beginning

Seamus Heaney’s local roads, her daughter watched

television in her womb, and taken aback, she believes.


“We don’t see the connecting filament until

the sparks appear and we wonder where it comes

from. Are you more like a skunk or a turtle?”




I’m making friends with a writer at Sewanee:

I’ll call her Frenchie from Washington, for short.

What Jill said about those childhood memories

really sinking in, this part of our brain that

instinctively comforts us – I spend so much time

worrying about how my kids will wake up,

what will they smell? what will they see?

Frenchie’s eyes round the bend toward the West.




Even after Splotchy, the koi (mine), eaten by

raccoons, as were my sister’s and brother’s

fish, I reminisced for him, how alive his tail

water flipped in droplets swished the surface,

the bob of his mouth, nibbled fingers, how

he hid underneath the water lily, waved a slow

back and forth, waiting for me to come or go.




Overheard from Jill McCorkle:


Stanley Kunitz once said, “The remarkable thing that

I feel despite the aging of the body…of my body

is that the spirit remains young. It is the same spirit

I remember living with as a child.”


Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain”

– “They is. They is. They is.”


Like a skunk that when it gets angry, sprays its words

Or like a turtle, do you hide your words?


If you keep asking my mother for her address,

she will give you her childhood home.




Our cat Christina would stealthy and poise

in a flash biting golden fur on her belly, one

ear cocked for the cry of mee-mee, which

meant food, one eye cocked toward the koi

pond lined in flagstone, my father’s hands

lined with the fine dust of shale, bricked

piece by piece, the way his heart fit like

the odd kitchen tile, snugged in that

final space, dinner, my mother’s voice.






Ramadan Day 24 – Journey South



The bus to the Sewanee Writers Conference in Tennessee is freezing, and I fall asleep, numb. I stumble out of that sleep when rain drops down on the bus. All sides chattering, the rain is making conversation. In the air, millions of white men are clearing the chairs. Tell me it’s gonna be ok, I say.





At the lectern tonight, reading her poems, Claudia Emerson doesn’t look like I thought she would. Her hair is nearly gone. Her smile is brighter than her Pulitzer. I cannot see her eyes behind her glasses.


For the last four days, I have offered up duas because I could not write. Writing is my dua this early into the late, late night.


I couldn’t write because there is a heavy press against my heart. My friend Gloria writes me with news. She doesn’t tell me she has cancer. She tells me she will have surgery and then chemo. What she means to say, I think, is don’t worry about me. Don’t fear. Don’t fret. I will survive.


A lover once told me that it insulted her when I worried about her. You’re sending negative energy into the world. Don’t do that. Instead, think about the positive.


I think about the missing schoolgirls in Nigeria. Is it odd that I think about them every time during the last week when the Palestinian dead are announced? Is it odd that every third thought is about the U.S. deporting undocumented people, refugees? Is the center of pain moving so that it can link to the center of everything? Oh, Allah, how we spin in no direction.


Claudia Emerson is the first reader, and I am not familiar with her poems.  She reads one called Chain, Chain, Chain riffing off Aretha Franklin. The deep well that words can be, she says. Metastasis, she says. When I heard that the tumor had metastasized, I found myself looking at the word. It means to move, to shift. Nobody wants to feel that their brain has been shifted.


Less than two weeks ago another friend forwarded me a letter. Her mother’s treatment is beating back the cancer. When I first read the words, I didn’t believe it. Happiness is unrecognizable.


My father withered under his treatment, the sun baking the dandelion until it sought a cooler place. A decade, until all that was left was flame and bone. I burned with tears at his funeral, and the casket wood burned my hands. Was it raining that day too? I don’t remember.


I’ve always had a thing for words. I pluck them from the word tree. It grows wild and looms over me. We should have had that thing pruned years ago, my mother says, or cut down. Now it is too late, and it’s dangerous. What if it falls on the house?


Dear Allah, help me quit. You know what. Because I want to live a little bit longer than I used to think I did.


How are you doing today? I text Gloria. She’s watching the Godfather. Her body is uncomfortable, her stomach distended. Give me your 5 sentence opinion about Israel and Palestine, she texts. I write 5 sentences at a bus stop between a writing group and Iftar. One sentence includes genocide. It will not be enough to simply stop what is happening now, I think to myself.  We can never return to zero, no matter how hard we are trying.


Before someone tells you they have cancer, you act like they don’t.


Gloria once told me that it’s important to take a break from the serious things, from the processing, and to make talk about daily things.  Don’t spend your time focusing on the problems.  Just live your life.


I’m taking a walk now, Gloria writes.


Claudia Emerson says she has a new idea about teaching poetry from being treated at a teaching hospital. She enjoyed the attention of all those students asking the same thing, wearing their new coats. Why should the study of poetry be less rigorous than medicine? She pounds one fist on the lectern. She wanted to buy everyone in her workshop a stethoscope, but they were too expensive.


I am ready to laugh.


List five gratitudes:


Allah, for my life, my friends’ lives.


Allah, for every moment during which I felt safe to cry.


Allah, for Ramadan and the fast.


Allah, for my family.


Allah, for the way the words shift and change under the tree canopy, up here on the wooden bench, your butt falling between the slats, the way the window is filled entirely with green, the rain here is lush, different than in Brooklyn where it all falls from a giant air conditioner in the sky, no chorus of cicadas. I’m traveling in between. You offer me two spaces —

Gloria –- here is, once where I was sad.

The other room full of hope due South.



Without rain, the poet Mia X said, there can be no rainbows.



the way a snake slips past

its discarded mouth into another year

or knowing nothing of a year

into time itself.

-overheard from Claudia Emerson

Days 18 & 19 – The Poets

Today Poets fed me.


Dinah kept me company as I waited for the bus. On the way to the bus stop, Dinah remembered that she had made a surplus of lentils. We rushed back to her place and made a plate for me to bring to Iftar.


Bahar, a dear VONA friend worked with me later in the afternoon and made a dish for me to bring to Qur’an study – marinating the tomatoes in herbs, oil, and garlic, adding fresh basil to the pasta dish. We didn’t speak about much, but we made time to discuss the sadness of this most recent killing of Palestinians by Israelis. You only have to be human to think this is wrong, Bahar said.


I arrived in Manhattan anxious and a bit nervous about my first Qur’an study with relative strangers, laden with food, my mind unable to hold on to either horror or kindness.




The other day as the air cooled in the breeze of Jersey City and opera singers delivered their librettos in the open air market next to Grove Street, I wished that I could capture the anticipation and sheer joy I felt.


After having basically messed up Monday with my high school summer students and almost breaking my fast on Wednesday to try considering how best to be present for my students in Newark, I decided to learn from my earlier mistakes and to see what a little faith in Allah could do.


Despite the fact that I may have been weaving a little in the classroom, and the students continued to challenge me, I stayed with the fast.


It was an inauspicious start. (At one point I said to the students that they may as well use the restroom at the beginning of class rather than in the middle, and half of the class got up and went to the bathroom. I didn’t have the energy to stop them. But, they all returned…eventually.)


One student, I’ll just call him Beeswax, has not done any of his readings. I give him catch-up work while I have a discussion with the other students about the readings. Beeswax raises his hand several times in the class to ask interruptive questions about whether he can have a tissue, whether something counts as a paragraph, but I’m determined to teach him too.


I’ve been telling Beeswax that he’s smart (which he is), and that I want him to pass. Beeswax reminds me of me – he has a problem with authority. He performs rebellion a lot more noisily than I do or did (no eye rolls from my friends, please.) Unlike me, however, he wasn’t given every educational opportunity in life. He looks dubious when I compliment him, as if I’m lying out of my teeth.

In my classroom, Beeswax finds himself in a corner. He’s on the verge of not passing. I know he wants to pass, so he slogs through and tries to answer the questions. Eventually, Beeswax raises his hand and tells me it’s too much work and that he has another question (which is likely to be about going to the bathroom again). I say to him before he leaves to the bathroom: do the work because everybody else had to do this much work to pass. It’s not fair! He complains.


I tell him to do his work and for every assignment he does in class, I will modify his assignment for the weekend. Show me you’re learning, I say.


Beeswax comes up to me and gives me his hand at the end of class. Ms. Lin, he says, you are a fair teacher, and you were fair to me, and I’m going to do all the assignments so I can pass the class. I’ve been behaving every class.


You weren’t behaving the past classes, I say.

But, I’ve been behaving now, he says.




So there I was on a bench at Grove Street, hungry, listening to the music, happy with my progress in my class, about to have dinner with T, dear friend and mentor.


I continue to appreciate how T shows me how to be a better person through her own actions, as well as a better writer. Tonight was no exception.


Walking to the restaurant, we ran into her neighbor on the street. The next thing I know, we’re hanging out and having drinks in her apartment. I’m eyeing the clock so I can take a swig of my smoothie.


This neighbor has two lovely kids, one of whom stood next to me as T and the neighbor discussed the injustices toward Black boys in the system. How do you feel about this? I ask him. He looks at me seriously and says, I’ve heard this before. I like videogames.


He showed me how to get cool new skins on his videogame avatar. Later, T’s neighbor told me she loved my hair because it sticks straight up and that my hair was just freedom. T builds community in her neighborhood, and that is just another one of the qualities I adore about her.


Eventually, over dinner, T mentioned to me that I’m not a good judge of character. This remark was addressing the praises I’d sung of a person who, admittedly, is a bit of a self-serving character and not nearly as wonderful as I thought. I won’t use the precise terms, but the gist of T’s remarks was that I give people a pass because I think they’re oppressed, or that they’ve had a shitty deal in life because of systemic injustice. Or, to put it more bluntly, I’m sometimes accepting of poor behavior or even bad characters – I’m taken in.


Initially, my argument was that I used to be a Public Defender and successful complex multi-party negotiator, and I (and my colleagues) used to prize my intuition and instinct. I could read people, their sincerity, their intent, and sometimes intuit their thoughts even before they spoke. When did I lose a step?


Something’s changed. What was wrong with me now?


I saw Dinah the next day, and she pointed out: it’s not that you have poor instincts, it’s that you don’t trust them. Maybe, I wasn’t fighting for power the same way that I used to fight for it. I wasn’t using my instincts for a clear goal. Instead, I was using them for something else, and now I wanted to err on the side of generosity.


For an attorney, suspicion and analysis are key spaces. For a healer, it is important to contextualize situation. Art heals us, and in some ways I’m invested now in seeing the layers of pain and hurt that most people carry, because I don’t have a side anymore.


I want, more than anything, to be a poet. Someone who can care deeply about the love and hope in everything, and everyone, but I also think the path to becoming a poet is to see the world with honesty.


But if I’m avoiding difficult understandings people, which I’ve come to the conclusion I’m doing, then what is it that I’m afraid I’ll find?






A couple weeks ago, I purchased my first copy of The Holy Qur’an translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. It’s just an English translation without the commentary and sadly, without the Arabic – I’ll get that later. I read through a few passages, but I was quickly overwhelmed.


I tried my time-tested technique for getting a sense of anthologies, as it were. And, I flipped blindly through the pages, looking at only the headers, until I could find something that was interesting.


This is from the Qur’an:


Sūrah 26 Ash-Shu’arā

The Poets


Section 11

217 And put thy trust in the Exalted in Might, the Merciful –

218 Who seeth thee standing forth (in prayer),

219 And thy movements among those who prostrate themselves,

220 For it is She who heareth and knoweth all things.

221 Shall I inform you, (O people), on whom it is that the evil ones descend?

222 They descend on every lying, wicked person,

223 (Into whose ears) they pour hearsay vanities, and most of them are liars.

224 And the Poets – it is those straying in Evil who follow them:




I felt like shutting the Book. What does Allah have against poets? I wondered.


225 Seest thou not that they wander distracted in every valley?


Ok, yeah, so they like to touch all the flowers…


226 And that they say what they practise not? –


I was clutching at my blankie and huffing right about now.


227 Except those who believe, work righteousness, engage much in the remembrance of Allah, and defend themselves only after they are unjustly attacked. And soon will the unjust assailants know what vicissitudes their affairs will take!


Okay, I thought, Allah definitely hates the poets. The phrase unjustly attacked rang through my mind. I felt attacked.


My instinct was to push away the Book and also to return to this passage. I didn’t know how to reconcile the words and their severity with the way I’d imagined poetics.




After I wrote a blog post on Day 15 “At The Table of Allah” – a dear, generous soul, let’s call him El Capitan, wrote me and said, Hi – I noticed that you were questioning whether to come to Qur’an study. I just want to make sure you know you were welcome. I wrote to El Capitan immediately and thanked him.


Note to self, I thought. Make it a point to go to queer Muslim Qur’an study. Stop being a wimp. After all, my biggest fear was that I’m not really a legit Muslim, that I’m not sure I ever want to be a legit Muslim. I didn’t want to appear foolish or stupid (silly, I know) by praying wrong or saying ignorant things that would appear disrespectful. I waited.


Tonight, I spent the day with Dinah then Bahar, then went to Qur’an study.


There were only a couple people there, Amelie and Rasta. Rasta and I had met before but have not had much by way of conversation. Amelie I was meeting for the first time. Often, there’s more people people. As we opened conversation awkwardly, with Amelie facilitating, we tossed the question around as to whether anyone had a passage.


I said no. (In the back of my mind I was thinking there’s that horrible one – of course.)


Rasta and Amelie were patient. They encouraged me to pick again. I hemmed and hawed, but somehow, I asked if we could discuss Sūrah 26 Ash-Shu’arā.


Just reading it, I got all hot again. What is this? Why are poets bad? They’re not bad! My thoughts ceased as Amelie and Rasta began reciting the Qur’an in Arabic. It felt so right. Their voices were angelic to me. Even if there was a stumble or quaver, it sounded, well, like poetry. Like song.


Amelie pursed her lips as we began discussion and looked thoughtful, flipping through the rather lengthy passage again and again. Rasta suggested that we read the footnotes/comments in the Abdullah Yusuf Ali version of the Qur’an.


3237. The Poets: to be read along with the exceptions mentioned in verse 227 below. Poetry and other arts are not in themselves evil, but may, on the contrary, be used in the service of religion and righteousness. But there is a danger that they may be prostituted for base purposes. If they are insincere (“they say what they do not”) or are divorced from actual life or its goodness or its serious purpose, they may become instruments of evil or futility. They then wander about without any set purpose, and seek the depths (valleys) of human folly rather than the heights of divine light.


As we were discussing my inability to critically examine real people, T gracefully weaved in her critique of a story I’d written.


In one of my stories, Lula (wow I almost just gave a fake name to my fictional character), one of the characters, has had a terrible life; she’s truly wounded by the immigration system, as well as being subjected to sexual abuse, and in order to heal herself, she seduces another character.


T called me out and said – the problem with your story is that Lula is doing this selfish thing, but the story is so sentimental that nobody, including the main character is being honest, about Lula’s behavior. I mean, if the characters aren’t honest that’s fine, but then the story has to be honest.


How would that happen, I asked T, if I’m writing about dishonest characters? Then I confessed – I know somebody who is a lot like Lula, and I love her in real life.


T told me: you could have at least one character be somewhat critical, or you could do it through the narrative voice. But, the real problem is that you the writer love these characters so much that you’re not willing to see them for who they really are. It shows in the story.


You know how a story gets flat. That’s because the writer isn’t willing to go to the hard emotional confrontation, the acceptance and struggle with what is really happening. Your story is so nostalgic because you are nostalgic.


An interpretation of a truth I’d heard from so many writers, including Junot Diaz, replayed itself in my mind. Every fucking flaw you have as a person shows up on the page.


I guess it’s true, I said to T.





With Amelie and Rasta, I struggled to justify this passage of the Qur’an, still feeling defensive. Amelie continued to read. We were quiet.



3238. Poetry and the fine arts which are to be commended are those which emanate from minds steeped in the Faith, which try to carry out in life the fine sentiments they express in their artistic work, aim at the glory of Allah rather than at self-glorification or the fulsome praise of women with feet of clay, and not (as in Jihād) attack anything except aggressive evil. In this sense a perfect artist should be a perfect woman. Perfection may not be attainable in this life, but it should be the aim of every woman, and especially of one who wishes to become a supreme artist, not only in technique but in spirit and essentials.



My mind summoned T. I told them immediately about our conversation the other day, eliding the irrelevant parts about my writing.


I know this is going to sound strange, but I was having this conversation the other day with this wonderful writer T. An artist must strive to be a better person. That we can only be as insightful a writer as we are a person. Maybe this is what the Qur’an means? That an artist must not shy away from her weaknesses. Instead, in our real lives we must become the Poets. We cannot write without confronting ourselves.


Rasta thanked me for what I’d said. You have such a good friend in T, she said.


What do you mean? I asked.

Somebody who will be honest with you and help you — doing this not to hurt you but to help you improve.


Amelie had been so considered. I already sensed that, like Rasta, she had deep wells of knowledge.


I see the arc now of the passage, she said, her voice emphatic. It begins with the Qur’an asserting itself as a holy text, but it ends with the Poets.


217 And put thy trust in the Exalted in Might, the Merciful –

218 Who seeth thee standing forth (in prayer),

219 And thy movements among those who prostate themselves,

220 For it is She who heareth and knoweth all things.


In Arabic, Amelie said, the word for heart literally means turning.

I don’t know how to translate this, she said.

But Imam Shafi’i the poet has a saying:

It was not called the heart except that it turns.


Amelie tells us that the Arabic word for heart is also the same root word for turn.



She’s only called woman cause of her forgetfulness,

and it is only called the heart cause it changes so rapidly

– Imam Shafi’i (translator unknown)




T, I confessed with such earnestness that it hurt me, I don’t think I can fix this story. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to be a better person? I’m not able to see and accept all the parts of the people in my life, especially the parts I don’t like. I don’t know if I can go there.


Try, she said. Struggle with this. Otherwise, your story will be flat. You can’t only write what appeals to you and not dig deeper.


A great writer must be a great person. They must have a personal encounter with what they’re writing.


The other night, I didn’t tell T that I was defending myself against my own judgment, against all the times I’ve been a poor judge of character. How I saw the good in other people, especially the people who treated me poorly. How I craved them, because they showed me the part of me I could accept. I tried for so many years to keep people away from the best parts of me. That was the part of me that I knew belonged to somebody else.


A true poet reflects their truths and examines their self and others full in the face.


At one point, T smiled at me and said, you can either keep doing the same things you’ve always done, T said, if you’re fine with how you are.


Or, you can change.





Ramadan Day 17 – Sgt. Lonely’s Queer Club Band


(Photos and Collage of Brick City Speaks! by Bryanna Tidmarsh)




Poet joke #1: How do poets say hello?

Answer: Hey, haven’t we metaphor?


On the PATH train platform at World Trade Center today, humming, on track to be early to work, the word unregenerate flashed up on the screen.


Unregenerate: not reforming or showing repentance; obstinately wrong or bad.


In the darkened room, hushed in heat and awe, as an audience member in Santa Ana, California, I listened to Cherríe Moraga and Adelina Anthony, and crew give a talk-back after Digging Up the Dirt, one of Cherríe’s play. I think about those kids that knew they were queer. I don’t mean this about only your sexual orientation, but that you were really, truly queer at a very young age.


A small kid in the back of the room raises her hand. She looks just like me.


She knew she was special.



Poet joke #2: What has 14 lines and upholds the current race and gender hierarchy?

Answer: A patriarchal sonnet!

by Dinah Fay



Thanks to Fast Brain (yes, ironically, slow brain), I did the unthinkable today. I missed an important obligation by half an hour, letting down an entire group of people. I’m too embarrassed to go into further detail. I failed, and that’s the best that can be said about the situation.


A half hour later, I received a phone call telling me that a job I really want could be mine.


Two hours after that, I was on the internet reading poet Safia Jama’s blog, laughing and constructing what I hoped would be a brief, but fitting tribute to her for a poetry reading I was co-hosting with Dinah for Brick City Speaks! in Newark.


Four hours and change, I was desperately trying to remember the given names of people I’ve known for the past year on the microphone. Hold your fast, a voice said. My hand trembled, but I did. In walked Anisa, a writer and friend who I’ve only recently met, who had said she’d be present and also that she would keep me company while I broke my fast. As I downed a smoothie that reminds me of the Don, I met Anisa’s eyes, and Dinah’s to the left of me, I felt a surge of love that lifted me.


There is a common wisdom about fasting for Ramadan. When you are fasting, what matters is only what is truly important. You don’t have the energy to care about anything else.


What was I doing while breaking this commitment? I was being consoled by T, a dear friend, teacher, and mentor. T said the following as I poured out my heart about the mistakes I’ve made lately:


Your best quality and your worst qualities are the same, you know? You’re the kind of person who’s been an activist your whole life. You love helping and being around oppressed peoples. But that also means that you are attracted to oppressed people, people who are suffering and have problems. But that’s not good for your love life.


All these years I’ve been falling in love with my broken self, in the hopes that I could heal her. I’m a walking cliché, a living testament to the fact that you can accomplish so much, even in your own small way you can make a difference, help people, be capable, competent, compassionate, and not believe that you are worthy of acceptance or love. You can become the very person that inspired you to change the world: the person who rejected you.


Self-sabotage is not a path forward.


I am not alone. Many writers come from this place. My place. The place of the outsider. A person who rejects community and belonging because she’s never even belonged to herself. So forgive me, Allah, because I can’t stop extending my heart to my unregenerate soul.


T, I said, I don’t know how to let them go?

I don’t want to hurt them. I want them to feel loved.

Let them go in the way that is most loving to you, T said.




Poet joke #3: What do you call a high heel with one stressed and one unstressed syllable?

Answer: An iambic foot.

by Dinah Fay




The other day I wrote a post about hesitating to join a Qur’an study group. Within eight hours, a friend from the group wrote me a message stating that they had seen my blog, and they wanted me to know that I was welcome and invited to the group – that they hoped I would come.


An ex of mine once said, a soul mate (not banned from poetic use after all) once told me as she broke up with me, and before she married a man and had her first baby and then let me know that she’d never stopped loving me: you know what I hate most about you. You are so fucking loved. You are spoiled, and it’s annoying, because all you’ve ever been is surrounded by love. And I don’t have that. And I love this about you too.


Outside of the reading as the rain sizzled onto the pavement, and Bry held aloft a floral parasol and Melissa and I compared notes on how hard it is to find good pants in butch fashion, and Dana breezed in I proceeded to finish the final heel of a bad sentence. It runs along the lines that I don’t like to be vulnerable enough.


“That’s fucking bull-shit,” Melissa said, exhaling in a protective puff. “What the fuck?”

“Obviously, they don’t know you,” Dana said. “You’re basically one big broken heart. That’s not even a real statement.”

“I remember the first time we were in a class together,” Bry said, “and the first thing you said was about your insecurity. You were totally insecure.”



Meanwhile, one arm wet from the rain

my heart sang.


You just love being loved — my friend Sandra said recently as she scooped out a delicious spoonful of eggplant and bell peppers that she had made for dinner.  (Mind you, she’d made it for out of town guests, said I could come over and eat, and yeah most of it ended up in my gullet!)


And in the morning, on the PATH platform, before the concrete cut off the signal, I read Cleo’s message telling me that the bad day would get better. I believed her. I’ve never stopped believing her since that second time she got me off the kitchen floor.


The Doctor once said – has it ever occurred to you that you should have relationships and let yourself become vulnerable to people because you will need people in the times you struggle?


What am I protecting?


The first time I studied the Enneagram, I was asked to choose which was the stronger urge: to be strong or to be perfect. Please, I thought, let me be strong enough to survive trying to be perfect.


When I was in law school my first year, before I woke up from a daze, and a sun set behind my eyes, and I had this queer vision and led a delegation to Michigan because, as I told everybody, we’re fighting for affirmative action, and I think that this case, this situation, is going to be the one that decides this issue for us. (See Grutter v. Bollinger – didn’t exactly change the game, but it was a step in the right, as opposed to wrong, direction.)

To this day, a part of me believes that it is our lived experience that changes us most.


When – there is no when – before I ever felt I deserved to write, I was with a friend (Mustafa), and I was crying, and I said, Please don’t ever tell people this because it’s going to sound crazy, but I had this dream of becoming a writer, but then I just felt that God wanted me to use my creativity for something else. And I just keep asking for that to change because it feels like my heart is breaking.  But I can’t stop.


I didn’t save myself then. What makes me think I’m going to do it now?


Yet every word is richer for listening to that voice that could have been a demon, but also could have been Allah.


Sometimes, we don’t see much in our hazes. Everything is quiet.

You just want to be loved.


A friendly acquaintance I know asked me how I was doing today, on the steps of a building in Newark. I started to spin my tale of woe. She said, You need to stop. Just stop. Stop looking for love. I figure it’s a 50-50 chance, but looking doesn’t affect your chances. It’s one of those things you can’t control. You’ll only find it if you stop looking. Stop looking. It will only hurt you.




Poet Joke #4: What do you call two British men trapped between the pages?

Answer: A chap book.

(By Dinah Fay)




So you understand that this is a love story right?


What it was like to be up there tonight, fasting, having messed up most of the day, totally emo, yet still trading jokes with Dinah as a co-host.  She was present even though she had a day more difficult than most – the sheer genius of her jokes, all of which she’d been smart enough to write herself, while mine were from the Internet.


What it was like the first three times I fell in love, and then started realizing that every single day I’ve written in this Ramadan journal, another person (often a different person) has written me a note of appreciation or encouragement or love.


What a relief it was that words poured out.


What it was like to say in a night of prayer at the Mosque in the OC to Saimo and her mother that I wanted a prayer rug. To receive a prayer rug as an Eid present from the O’Husain’s.


What people don’t know about you, Debbie always said, is your incredible faith.


What it’s like to be so hurt by people that you don’t even care about yourself, and then climb up that mountain and look down. How you still love them as much as you did the first time your heart jumped.


What it’s like to forgive when you know there is absolutely no way, no human way, that you could ever forgive that.


And if I’m only one single queer heart out there in the Universe

then why is it that I look up

and see all these stars?


This is love.





Didn’t drop the secret


No use dropping it now


Yes Poet

I dreamed you


All these songs

And not one to go home with


*Words remembered (loosely) from a reading of Shorty Bon Bon by Willie Perdomo

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