Semantics

When the census came,

      they called us Caucasian.

When we went to school,

     they called us Arabs.

When we met the Arabs,

     they called us Catholics.

When Athenos brand started making hummus,

     they called us Greek

and when we made spanakopita on Christmas,

     we called it sabanegh.

When we made Moroccan couscous,

     we called it Israeli

And when the towers fell, we were Americans.

And when the towers fell, we were afraid.

When we were asked at the airport,

     we were Lebanese.

And when the people who asked us were Lebanese,

     we feigned the accent all the way to our respective gates.

When the war began, we were Syrians.

I have been Syrian for three years, since I heard a girl of three

washed up on a tepid Turkish shore like a cold cup of coffee,

     reciting the Lord’s prayer in her Levantine tongue.

When churches burned and the Copts bled,

     we were Egyptian for decades.

When my cousin was born with maple-colored curls,

     we called her blonde

and when we wanted boyfriends and girlfriends,

     our parents called us Americans

and when they passed the history test and swore on the Bible,

we called our parents Americans.

When the forefathers founded a new homeland,

     they called the people who lived there Indians

They fashioned some stars, and they called it America

After the massacres, they called them Native Americans

After our massacres, no one called us Native Israelis.

When we elected a Black man president, we called it progress.

We don’t hate anybody,

     my mother always said,

What we hate is being called terrorists as we tend the nativity

What we hate is being erased from Google maps

What we hate is by any other name, still called genocide.

Aren’t we all Palestinian?

In the way we are all lonely and nationless when we are dead

     reduced to bodies, to be swallowed up by the earth ?

In America, indigenous people were confined to reservations until 1924

In America they still call it the Department of Indian affairs

In America they’ve called it Gaza, the West Bank, the Palestinian territories

On Google maps they don’t call it anything at all

When my grandmother is asked where she is from,

she answers in broken English

Betlehem, where Jesus born!

I stand to correct her.

She is from Palestine, where your Jesus was born,

where your Jesus walked, where our children are

     blown up with phosphorus.

She is from Palestine, land of Mahmoud Darwish, Turkish coffee,

     and the freshest falafel you will ever taste.

Say it for the middle school teacher who made a point

of mispronouncing my last name: Palestine.

Say it for the U.S. census that calls us white: Palestine.

Say it for the stuttering newscaster: Palestine.

Say it for the bumbling history professor: Palestine.

Say it for the Biblically challenged: Palestine.

Say it for the little child born in a manger: Palestine.

Say it for the people in the back row: Palestine.

Say it for the people in the front row: Palestine.

Say it and say it again and again, the letters

becoming softer in your mouth.

falasteen, ya bladi

When my grandmother is tired, it sounds like a swallow

fluttering outward from her throat

 

 

 

 

Jessica Abughattas earned her MFA at Antioch University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Muzzle Magazine, BOAAT, Thrush Poetry Journal, The Journal, Literary Hub, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles.