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


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Ramadan Day 29 – Is This The End, My Beautiful Friend? | Drunken Whispers

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