Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

The Prayer

 

 

I can close my eyes and sit back if I want to,

I can lean against my friends’ shoulders and eat as they’re eating, and drink from the bottle

being passed back and forth; I can lighten up, can’t I,

Christ, can’t I? There is another subject, in a minute

I’ll think of it. I will. And if you know it, help me.

Help me. Remind me why I’m here.

—Kim Addonizio, “Death Poem”

 

On Easter, after the egg-hunt, you’d eat honey-baked ham, macaroni and cheese, and sfeha, which your father would make from scratch, by stretching out individual pieces of dough and spreading on top the mixture of beef, onion, and tomato that he’d been cooking on the stove, perfuming the house with seven-spice and meat. After dinner, you’d watch The Last Temptation of Christ or Jesus Christ Superstar or some other movie that had “Christ” in the title and illustrated the mythological phoenix-like death and rebirth.

 

Your friend has died. It feels like his death echoes in everything: the book you’re reading, the class you’re taking, the drink you’re making. Was it accidental? Was it suicide? Everyone asks. Does it matter? you ask back. He had a daughter, he had a life, he was breathing, you say. You know they don’t mean anything by it, you know you’d probably ask the same thing if it was someone other than your friend. You understand how they are taken by your hostility. You hope they understand also.

 

A plaque hangs above the front door of your parents’ house, reading Allah in Arabic. But your father had never practiced salat until Teta died. You remember watching him at the funeral, standing in front with his brothers, stumbling over the steps. It was raining, the ground was soggy, but still he kneeled, placing his arms and forehead on the wet grass.

 

Somedays I’m trying so hard to hold myself together, to keep all the pieces of my life from falling apart, you say to your mother.

 

Find that black dress she bought you. You ask your partner to zip you. You begin to sob on the way to the funeral. You weep through the service, though you do not pray or kneel or read or sing with the rest of the congregation. You wonder if your friend would have liked the service; you don’t think he would. The sobs do not relent until you are back home. Nothing feels right. You read poetry. You read his book. You curl in a ball and sleep.

 

When Teta died, you were given the chance to see her one last time before burial. The women at the mosque had cleaned her body and wrapped her in white cotton; only her face would be exposed. You were twelve. You said no. You’ve regretted the decision ever since.

 

Robert Pinsky wrote a poem called “Dying.” Nothing to be said about it, and everything.

 

You were a child when she would read to you from a bible for children. You don’t remember many of the verses now, and you believe even less than remember, but when you recently went to your friend’s funeral, you surprise yourself, absent-mindedly reciting the Lord’s Prayer along with everyone else.

 

Two weeks later, another wave. How could so many polls be wrong? How could you have trusted your country? You feel betrayed. Go to sleep worrying about your family, the ones with prominent noses and stubborn hair; the ones whose bodies turn themselves toward Mecca. Go to sleep worried about your career, your rights to your body, your friends’ rights to their bodies and marriages and fairness. Go to sleep, but do not expect rest. The world is falling apart.

 

Griefs overlap like rivers running into one another. You cannot differentiate them. They become one. Their weight reminds you of the lead shield doctors made you wear as a child during x-rays.

 

What comfort is there to turn to? You drink your coffee, smoke some more, visit your plants and feel soothed by the life around you: bees vibrating the sweet almond, passionfruit above your head.

 

You dream about your grandfather’s body, the first dead body you ever saw. Christians are partial to wakes and viewing of the body, but it is not the same body. It is yellowed, the skin like old hardened plastic that has been stained by too much sun, too many Florida summers. There is no expression on the face; it is not peaceful, it is void. You did not cry until you saw his dead body, immediately incensed that his wife had done this to him, had degraded him. You better understand the Muslim ritual, where the body is not drained of its blood, refilled with toxic chemicals so that it can be artificially preserved for the benefit of the family.

 

Go to Target for plastic bags. Walk around the aisles, trying to find something to buy, something of solace. Shopping is so cathartic, you remember a friend saying once. Watch the people as they shop: the couple talking about TV prices, the young girl buying tampons, the grandmother searching for the right birthday card. Watch them like a kitten watches her mother, learning how to survive, get caught staring at them blankly. You will look away quickly, but you will not feel embarrassed.

 

You don’t remember the last time you saw your grandfather, don’t remember if it was cold or what it was that finally killed him, you only remember the relief that swept over you when your mother told you.

 

Call your father. You’re crying by the time he answers, though you didn’t mean to. Let the tears flow regardless. Like any good father, he lies to comfort you. He promises you nothing will change. The change of changes, closer or further away…

 

People try to cheer you. We’re a resilient country, we’ve gone through worse. Can you help that it only makes you more frustrated? You feel so angry lately. You feel so much lately. Everything is so loud and fast.

 

You dream about Chris twice. The first time, you are on the phone with someone you do not know, talking about him, saying all the same things you’ve said. The next night, you see his face. That’s all you can remember the next morning as you sit in your friend’s living room, telling her about the dream: just his face, right here in front of mine.

 

The last time you saw Teta, EMTs were pounding her chest while she lay on the cold terrazzo floor, hijab disheveled, breasts exposed.  You do not remember ever dreaming about her.

 

Today is a day when you want to feel all depths of sadness, but you can’t. Today is a day when you need to push through the pain because there are words to read, words to write. There are deadlines. Hold on just until you can fall apart. The holding-on, the waiting is the worst part.

 

Call your mother for comfort, and find that her words are slurred today. Get into an argument. Tell her you love her, you’ll call tomorrow. The next day, you’ll call, hoping she doesn’t answer.

 

The sun sets earlier now, and somehow this soothes you. Daylight creates pressure to feel good, to take off your sunglasses, smile at people, and chat in the elevator. It’s energy you don’t have.

 

The last time you saw Chris was two nights before he’d died. He was at your apartment, smoking cigarettes on your balcony. He was alive, alive, alive.

 

The girl at Whole Foods asks how you feel about the election results. She is younger than you, cute in the way that all twenty year olds are cute, with her natural hair a big round afro and bright pink nail-polish shining on the tips of her fingers. Tell her the truth, how you haven’t slept, haven’t eaten and couldn’t think of anything to eat except maybe a banana, which is why you’re here. She is surprised. Really? Just over the election? You want to apologize for what you know is to come, but instead, you say Yeah, just over the election.

Emily Jalloul is a Lebanese-American poet who earned her MFA from Florida International University. Her previous work has been published or is forthcoming in Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Gravel, Juked, Origins, The FEM, as well as others. She lives in Miami, Florida.