So many sharp edges in the mouth
and still we expect God’s name
to come out soft,
fall into His ears
like the scales of a living fish.
The man who loves me
speaks to me like a child.
The child is a boy.
When he names the boy I change
my voice. I narrow my lips.
What did you do today? he asks the boy.
I cleaned myself by myself;
I played in the vile paradise
I am on my knees filling holes
so maybe the mice would leave.
The smallest one
looked so handsome in the light.
The boy asks the man no questions.
It is not part of the game.
When I used to pray
near dawn I said God: give me a choice,
and choose for me.
When I was good I could tell
how to plan my day.
A woman who insisted on reading both my palms
told me when I was in my mother’s belly,
someone took my face
and buried it in the dirt.
It’s in your intestines, she said.
I did not think to ask: What?
Where I am from, they say
serenade the evil
you leave behind.
The Valley of the Whales houses the remains
of prehistoric whales. When you take me
we take pictures; I am bleeding like a child.
Look, the mammal’s teeth
are still so sharp!
It is said God likes women soft-spoken
on the occasion
of both childbirth and death.
I could try to bleed less if you want.
When I am not good
he speaks to me
just as I am.
Once I took care of the mouse
I no longer needed
to take out the trash.
My mother denies the palm reader.
You were safer than language
in my belly.
Don’t you think, she asks me,
You would be happier with a child?
So many sharp edges in the mouth;
I must learn
where to leave my tongue.
I will not tell her the woman
she does not believe knows Mama
was supposed to have four children.
The fourth is watching over from heaven.
That there is a difference
between it has not been here for days
and I have not seen it
pulls calm from me like a tooth.
It is said on the bridge we will all walk in the end,
a non-believer will find the name of God
has forgotten the tongue.
In my belly there’s a light that blinks
like the eyes of a rodent,
so suddenly hungry.
I have not been a child in years—
I do not need to be brave.
Serenading her intestines with God’s one
the boy sings like a girl.
Which pulls the evil close.
I love the man most
when I smell sleep on his tongue.
My own voice on my tongue.
I have not been a child in years.
When I close my eyes I am kissing
the back of an old woman’s neck.
*Note: The poem’s title borrows a line from the poem “What I See When I Stare Long Enough into Nothing” by Jeremy Michael Clark.
Sara Elkamel is a poet and journalist living between Cairo and NYC. She holds an MA in arts journalism from Columbia University and an MFA in poetry from New York University. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Magazine, The Yale Review, MQR, Four Way Review, The Cincinnati Review, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, Poetry London, Best New Poets 2020, Best of the Net 2020, among others. She is the author of the chapbook “Field of No Justice” (African Poetry Book Fund & Akashic Books, 2021).