It Means Something Different in Arabic
for Terrance Hayes
Once, I threw a towel over my head and pretended I was Mary.
My aunt told me that pretending was blasphemy. A burnt cross
lit in my chest that day, but they say my name
first appeared in reluctantly opened love letters
flown in from Japan smelling like cherry blossoms. Sweet
and sick and begging to be taken back. I come
from hastily signed divorce papers. I believe all the stories
of who I was: Custody battles are where I learned to dance.
Before the fire, there was the empire, before the empire,
Aeneas flirted with Dido: He saw her in the crowd at a concert,
asked for her number, and was rejected. He saw her again
at a 7-11 and was rewarded for his persistence.
I come from a woman who believes luck
had nothing to do with it. They say I almost drowned
in a book of Greek mythology. My father saved me.
We are not sure why he decided to be a hero that day.
My mother doesn’t remember his heroism. He won’t forgive her
for forgetting. But let’s not talk about them, it will set my home on fire.
I come from cracked eggs cooked on a July sidewalk, from drive-bys
through the ruins of Graceland, where the heads of ex-wives hang
in embarrassment. I come running from the fingers of my family,
who adore the likeness of me, that doll I poke with pins
on holiday visits. Two pins in its stuffed chest mean I wish
I were a prodigal son. Three pins mean something different.
In Arabic, “Saeed” means happy and fortunate. On Mother’s day
the whole way to Memphis I read lines from Medea.
None of this is true and all of it is real in a different language.
I come from the sperm that wasn’t
supposed to make it. I come bearing arms full of empty books.
Once, I told my father that I wanted a new father. He constructed
wax wings and left that same day. I come from a woman
who knows the temperature at which wax begins to melt.
To the Southern Dialect
I could not forgive you for blossoming
so easily, yellow tinged magnolia petals
stuffing my transplanted mouth.
I left you, snaggle tooth, under an overpass
in Memphis, drenched in your own drawl
without an umbrella. Turned my back,
pretending I didn’t hear Beale Street
calling after me. The North opened its door
like the gates of Hell, and I danced.
Paying no mind to shadows
who looked just like me, only less rhythmic,
I thought to myself: This is what beginning
feels like. A dentist without a license
in Greenwich Village said that for some pain
at the right price, he could scrape
the South out of my mouth. Three hundred
unsuccessful dollars later, I opted
for old fashioned forgetting.
The first sound to go was the lilt
of my grandmother’s voice. To distract
myself from the wailing phone, I started
gathering up the neglected endings
of my Southern words – the dropped g’s
drowned in glasses of sweet tea,
the d’s that dangled in mid-air like
black men hanging in oak trees.
I pasted these letters helter skelter
alongside pictures of places I had
never been to with names I still cannot
pronounce correctly. A collage
of the word endings the South
had denied me. And some nights,
I water my mouth with whiskey
and tongue the few magnolias left,
wondering if petals are waving
greetings or goodbye.
Obviously, I was meant to be a gazelle.
When grandpa growled at the dinner table, I wanted to leap into a sprint.
Gazelles did that sort of thing when startled. They leaped
into mid-air like sprung mousetraps, and then they were nothing
but brown blurs cutting across the plains.
Sometimes the gazelle in me would try to sprint in spite of myself,
but my bow legged and awkward bones kept me at a steady jog.
I would run back and forth across the backyard for hours.
This was Memphis. There were lions behind every oak and chain link fence.
One day, I was running around the backyard, alone as usual,
when a gun went off in the distance. The sound echoed off the house.
I stood in the middle of the yard, perfectly still,
still enough to blend into the grass. It was a rough neighborhood.
Guns seemed to be going off all the time.
When my grandma heard the shot, she rushed outside
and stopped on the porch. For a moment, she looked at me
as if I had been shot. I answered her stare by running off.
Saeed Jones recently graduated from Western Kentucky University with a bachelor’s in English Writing. He is currently pursuing an MFA at Rutgers University – Newark. His work has appeared in StorySouth, Barnwood, Umbrella, and Pomegranate. Feel free to check out his blog at calamityjones.wordpress.com.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);