my mother thinks trump is the dajjal
calls the non-arab men in my life “international”
she does not understand isis
because “prophet mohamed said
be mindful when eating garlic
so as not to harm others
so why does daesh think it is ok to kill people”
like her nephew at 19
right before christmas of ’14.
i tell her about a time i was turned down by a boy
because i wear hijab
she says “ohhh you mean the way that you do”
i say “no mama, i mean the fact that i do”
i overhear my father on work calls,
tossing in ya3nis and yallahs
too engrossed in the topic to realize
he’s using arabic.
i ask my coworker to hand me the linky
as we build ikea furniture
because that’s what baba calls allen keys.
she stares at me.
certain words i pause before using in public,
unsure of where i came to know the name.
is it another household-adopted term
lagumgies. rah rah. drun drun.
is it another mashup of arabeezy
shoo what’s up, that’s soo 3addi
is it another word iraq has borrowed
from our persian or turkish neighbors
that non-iraqi arabs won’t understand
sopa. sofreh. panka.
i’ve googled “joist” on more than one occasion
to confirm that it is a real word.
avoid saying the word for my coffee tumbler out loud
having to stop and distinguish “termos” from “thermos”
ma and ba’s verbal fondness of gentrification
when we walk down woodward avenue
is half the reason i don’t take them to detroit.
mama’s name has been misspelled on her credit card
for over a year
and she hadn’t noticed until i did.
about two weeks ago.
her name is 3asima
and from the capital
sometimes we watch 3arabi news specials on baghdad together.
during commercial breaks i express how i love seeing
iraqis document iraqis
how i think it is important that
brown folx are photographed by brown eyes.
tell them i read it in a poem once.
they shrug and keep watching.
it is not art to them.
it is not creative media to them.
it is watching their home land crumble.
it is watching the very streets they knew so well
lose touch, familiarity,
become more and more foreign.
they left those lands
not out of poverty or social strife
not from conflict or fear of safety
not as refugees or displaced persons.
they’ve lived here
longer than there
these are sources of pride for them.
pride i had to later unlearn
grasp that raf7a is
not a derogatory term,
rather an iraqi refugee camp in saudi.
so when mama quizzed us as kids,
asked us where imam hussein is buried,
and my sister, forgetting the answer,
she got sent to her room
for being disrespectful.
i had to unlearn that disrespect,
and recognize that a punishment itself
they left expecting to return
and see their streets unchanged,
the neighbor’s children not yet grown,
their towns and villages not sectarianized
“from where in baghdad?” not dangerous to answer.
now, over 30 years later, they visit
often, since they finally can.
baba tries to navigate his old streets of babylon
tells me to follow his lead
thinks i don’t notice when
we pass the same man selling walnuts
for the third time
as we make another wrong turn or when
the route clearly takes three times longer than it did
when my cousin led me there the day before.
and although i had memorized the way;
straight two blocks
right at the rubbled café
straight one block
left at the bridge,
i follow his lead
let him hang onto the little memories he has,
like the spot he used to kick back with classmates on study breaks,
on the tigris.
or maybe right there.
on on that part of the tigris.
he can’t tell.
saddam had since drained the marshes and
the folks between them
so the rivers look different as do
the folks between them.
that leblebi food cart wasn’t here back then
it’s throwing him off.
i grab two bowls
sit in the spot with him,
for old time’s sake.
we house-hop and city-hop within family,
ma and ba stumble in conversation
on words they cannot recall in arabic,
and instead fill in gaps with english.
our relatives parody their language
how it has taken fractures here and there
how they just place accents on english words
expecting it to go unnoticed
how i probably taught them that subliminally
how their arabic is slightly levantine-influenced
like when mama is shocked
by the 3aj2a of baghdad these days rather than the isdi7am
or when she asks for a pair of sha7ata rather than na3al
it’s amusing to them that my parents went
only to develop a lebnani tongue.
in these ways, when they visit “back home”
they are foreign to their motherland, experiencing
a hint of the neither-feels-like-home sentiment,
that i myself have known
perhaps not as well as i thought.
our tragic diasporas are
so beautifully different.