It’s early afternoon when you take

to the streets after school.

In this memory, your mother is home

smoothing the creases in your uniform

after sweeping the hen’s bloodied feathers

from the kitchen, waiting until you’re home

to crush the garlic for the mulukhiya leaves.

The block not too far from here always smells

of bodies – the small hamama cooing,

beak breaking from insistent pecking,

rabbits hanging by their hind legs,

skin taut and burning orange,

and your own body, stifled by cotton,

by the ash already starting to spit out

its grey teeth in your lungs,

smoking behind the market again, sun-bent

fingers twitching like dust trying to forget

how your mother was crying

of a dream in which the hand

of every person you ever loved

was reaching for you from a river

whose current surged, their fingers swelling

in the progress, palms barely recognizable,

African Tigerfish swarming again and again.

In this memory, you watch the children yell

at each other as the women clip shirts

to the clotheslines, clouded suds

touching your shoes as the butcher across

from you chops a leg, holds it down by its ankle

on the board, saving the feeble bits of wet fat,

pressing between two joints he can’t name

but knows how to crack apart in one breath,

the thought of which keeps the cigarette

still between your fingers, suddenly overthinking

the motion, hands hardening at the solemn fact

that any bone can whither, fracturing under

the proper tool and with the right wrist motion

no matter its name.  In this memory, you never

put the cigarette out,  it hangs from your hand,

insubstantial, as small as the space between

two bones, between two dusty lips left open.


Nadra Mabrouk is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry at New York University where she is a Goldwater Fellow.