Parental Diaspora

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 yallah

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

the capital

and from the capital 

she is.  


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

they left 

not        as refugees or displaced persons. 

they’ve lived      here 

longer than        there

and sometimes 

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 

was disrespectful. 


they left expecting to return 

and see their streets unchanged, 

the neighbor’s children        not yet grown, 

their towns and villages       not sectarianized

the question 

“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, 

right here.

              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. 


Fatima Hassan

Fatima Hassan is a first-generation, Iraqi-American, multi-hyphenated woman with a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Michigan. Alongside attempts at writing poetry and experimenting with Arabic calligraphy, she also tries to dedicate her time toward alleviating health disparities faced by underrepresented groups, particularly within diaspora communities.

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