Sudden reflection,
leaf-shadows cast on the shades
the night bus’ headlights

the dictionary
open on a Coran stand
notebook and pencils

three in the morning,
noise in the street, parch of thirst
glass of water, sleep

recedes as heart-beats,
decided jurors, pace in
with avid faces.



Bending down to gather the scattered Lego
Jan recalled a moment, another childhood,
scooping up a ball in a sunlit courtyard
before her name changed.

Who was she in consonants that her children
mispronounced, or did on the rare occasions
that they tried. Her grandmother used a pet name
almost forgotten.

Hidden child, perpetually a virgin,
learned to make love in an adopted language:
twelve years old, her mother tongue blushed though she her-
self was a mother.


… but in things

A zinc bucket with roses from last week
infused with sugar-water, fading fast.
The summer solstice is a fortnight past,
light on the cusp of evening is oblique.
A photocopied page in Arabic
graffitied with French/English pencil scrawl,
not a testimony, just a tale
that I can translate better than I speak.
Beside a blue placemat from Monoprix
Le Monde des Livres and the LRB,
an earthenware pitcher from Tripoli.
As in that shop bead-curtained from the street
the statement in a shaft of alien light
questions an object and its history.

Question an object and its history:
this dark red silk scarf, lightweight, lightly shirred,
whose tiny label says that it was made
in Halab. Ordinary luxury
to roam the ancient caravanserai
then everybody’s market, where I played
at haggling with a wisecracking, yes, almond-eyed
merchant of twenty whose job-skill was repartee,
and two girl students loitering near the stall
praised me for speaking Arabic at all.
You’ve read the same damn headlines. Ubi sunt
the multicoloured silks, the girl students?
The fourteenth-century wooden arcades
burned first. The boy, what choice on fire, what words?

Elsewhere on Critical Muslim: