I Am Looking for You Here
We walk down Kedzie Street in Chicago
to al Salaam, all men in the restaurant
except for me, and order m’jadara and coffee.
I decorate the paper menu with words I know
in the Arabic alphabet. I can fit all of them
in the margins.
I drink the coffee until what remains
at the base of the mug is wet sand collected in a pail.
There is no word in Arabic for “consistency”.
The restaurant smells like allspice and parsley, and
if I stare deep into the wet coffee grounds to keep
my eyes from the windows—
the rain on the oak trees, and listen
to you speaking Arabic with the waiter,
I can imagine that I am in Tyre or Sidon or Beirut
and we have just been shopping
on Hamra Street or swimming in the Mediterranean,
like my dad used to. I ask what he remembers about Palestine.
I remember walking down the street in Haifa
with my sister Teresa, being chased
by a rooster. I don’t remember what
happened, how we got away. It’s like
being chased in a dream and you wake up
before you find out how it ends.
I tell him how last week I received
a letter from a stranger:
“We have the same last name.
Are we related?
My father was born in West Jerusalem,
fled to Jordan.”
I leave olives on my plate and
think about them being picked
from the same tree,
sent to different factories, packed in
separate jars, then finding their way
in another country to the same dish.
I remember my father screaming
at my mother;
Leave everything. We’re coming back.”
While we drove from Haifa to Beirut,
My father wore a fedora through the Jewish areas,
And through the Arab areas, he wore a fez,
My memories become dispossessed.
As I sift my fork through the rice,
I extract all the French out of his Arabic.
I try to make my memories switch places with his
so that my sister and I are shopping alone,
only we are not in a shopping center
in Indiana, we are on Ben Yehuda street
in Jerusalem and I am 11 and she is 7.
She has disappeared not into a shoe store
but in some outdoor market and my heart is the same,
everywhere--it races, takes off with her. I look for colors
first then her face among shawls and lowered eyes.
I stop to watch a preying mantis on a window,
then, as though it is relevant, allowed. My mind
wrongly allows me time to watch it traverse the glass.
Its spiny limbs slow my thoughts and then behind me I hear
roosters, and a blast. One first then the other.
And now looking for her is like watching the bulldozers
rolling over graves.
when there was shooting
we hid in the neighbor’s house.
In the inside room.
When I find my sister, back safely at my
dad's Arab restaurant in Indiana I am
11, and I do not call out, “Nushkur Allah.”
There is no word is Arabic for “to miss”,
like “to miss someone?” I ask.
So, what did you say when you were here
in America and you missed your mother?
In Arabic, we say, I am looking for you
here, but I can't find you.
The birthplace on his passport is
a place he has never heard of.
“We do not recognize Palestine,” they told him,
“in America.” His birthplace on his passport
is a place that is uninhabited.
There is no word in Arabic for “is”.
* * *
At the intersection of Lawrence and Kedzie
we stop in one of the small Arab shops
where we can buy labne and phone cards—
“Call from here to Egypt, 20 cents a minute.”
I keep my eyes on the shelves,
the jars of olives and grape leaves,
and listen to you speaking Arabic with the cashier,
and I imagine that I am in Jerusalem or Bethlehem,
that he never left, that we have just shared
mangoes from his neighbor’s tree
and this is the shop we come to every week,
that he knows the shopkeeper, and then,
“Dad, Which halawa should I buy?”—
it is my own voice, speaking English,
that brings me back here to Chicago,
just north of the suburb where I have come
to visit, Virginia to Illinois,
a modest distance.
They told me that when I was three,
I was at my grandmother’s house,
eight blocks away. Winding roads, not like here.
My mother heard me outside, calling her name.
I was three years old and I found my way back
through eight blocks of winding roads.
I found my way home. I don’t remember this, though.
It is only what I was told.