[Kaushik’s friend Dina Omar, an anthropologist and poet, sent him a poem her father and her
Sawah is a crazed wanderer tormented by love in
vintage Egyptian movies starring Abdul Halem Hafez.
I watch these films on repeat sometimes to remember what
my mother looks like when quietly
singing ballads like sawah out-loud to herself,
head tilted back and eyes closed,
like she loved breathing in the scent of those songs.
Legend has it that Yumah and Yaba fell in love as kids.
They say, that Arab men in 1950s became more audacious
because of Gamal Abdel Nasser, and that my mother’s parents
were unimpressed and dumped buckets of water
on my father who dared to talk to his attractive neighbor
sitting outside her bedroom window.
The water was a tactic signaling:
vacate the premises and stop flirting with our daughter!
My parents stole glances at one another from porches,
theirs was a time and a love that meant locking eyes from afar
and hand full of incendiary conversations held promise,
sturdy enough to sustain each other and four children a few seasons
short of a lifetime, despite the world’s disapproval.
Dhair and Aysha’s first born son,
slung cigarette buds in bellbottoms,
and left his last born daughter with so many
Was he wisecracking and telling proverbs at eighteen with an afro?
When did he start memorizing numbers like a switchblade?
When I shift through the small stack of sepia colored pictures
of my father leaning on walls plastered with images of martyrs,
and playing cards with the shaabab
in the capital of our village Ramoun (Amo Farah’s backyard café).
I think to myself, Yaba was a cool cat,
and if I lived in 1960s Palestine,
we would totally be friends.
Elated on the phone one summer night in 1992
boasting to his sisters in Michigan about
the abundance of our California apricot tree
as ripe and sweet as back home
we hear our aunties moan on the speaker: we want some!
Well-versed in the idioms of farmers,
Yaba snaps to make sure we are paying attention and says:
bukra fi’il-mishmish (tomorrow is apricot season)
Early the next morning, Yaba wakes everyone up
and instructs us to pick every single piece of fruit off our tree,
as soon as the post-office opened he shipped
two over-packed boxes of apricots
addressed to his sisters in Ann Arbor.
The spring of 1994 was the first and only time I saw Yaba cry
we gathered around the T.V. to watch
our aunt Kawther’s wedding on videotape.
Locking arms and holding her elbow,
my father wept as he walked the bride out of our home
and into the arms of someone he believed was undeserving
of the sister he cherished so much.
I wonder if Yaba knew he would never walk
his three daughters out of the home he
hustled and toiled to build
across the Atlantic ocean and out of nothing.
Sometimes I wonder if the dead can see us.
Do they shake their heads in disappointment?
Or beam with pride?
Can they hear our prayers and cursing?
I wonder if my sisters know how lucky they are,
that my brother lived long enough to lock arms
with them on their wedding days.
The summer before my brother died in 2011
he sat with his son watching videotapes
of weddings and searching for glimpses of our father in them.
He said: look, one day you will be watching wedding tapes like this to see me
Sometimes I dream my brother and I are playing card games in
Amo Farah’s back yard with Yaba.
Other times I dream that it is my brother’s martyred face
plastered all over the walls Yaba leaned on as a teenager.
After Yaba died in 1998, many of us leaned on my brother—
who inherited Yaba’s over-ripe heart that fell off
its branches a few seasons short of tomorrow.
Perhaps this poem is a photograph
hidden away in a tin box that once held butter cookies.
Perhaps one day my brother’s daughter and son will shift through these poems and
imagine that they are picking fruit off a tree in California
together with me and their dad as kids,
excited to for the box of surprises and all that is not yet and
unbothered by death that will be awaiting us all on the horizon,
where memories of those who have passed becomes the sky
and unshipped letters to my brother becomes the earth.
– Dina Omar