Place[meant] is a recurring series that explores identity beyond the geopolitical and physical parameters that have come to define our sense of place. From a train in Queens to the cuff of a bodily spell, the poems in this series navigate place as both material terrain and residual traces of one’s memory. Place[meant] delves into how migration, diaspora, borders, technologies of power and control, biopolitics, and historical violence shape our identities, the powers of which are anything but benign.
In Queens, a man asked,
Why do you call Upper Egyptians Upper
if they are south?
The Nile flows north and Africa does not end
where the Red Sea begins.
Have you ever seen Somalia from above?
It is the color of a baby’s arm reaching
for herself across a body of water
carved like my grandmother’s ceiling,
a European map filled with paint chipping,
cracks expanding like borders.
This is not where they belong.
In Mattawa’s poem, Egypt’s railroad
ends in Matrouh cutting off Salloum,
the last western city before entering
Libya—is it because of their accent?
I will never know. Arabs do not talk much
with outsiders. My father told me
they can see in the desert night
what we cannot see in daylight.
So I asked a Bedouin,
Why are there no eye doctors in this place?
T’le’eek mesh min hena
(you’re not from here, are you?)
Where the N Train Stops
Home is where
I told the landlord, “I won’t live with my parents; I’m only here to translate”
My tongue mispronounces my name.
The cool kids ask, “Yo, where the fuck you from?”
“Nah son, I meant what country you from.”
“Oh, oh you African? You just like us!”
5G, 1A, 3C, Eviction Notice, Third Floor, Apt 2
A social worker asked, “How do you afford that phone then?”
My father left us
Seeing the same cool kids sit in the back of the bus
so I loosened my belt and joined
I prayed no cops stood by the turnstile today
Free refills until we get thrown out
Watching Fat Joe licking the sole of his sneakers on MTV
Tooth-brushing my fresh Uptowns
Wearing white T-shirts the size of abayas but never wearing abayas
Where the N Train stops
Thinking Nas is Egyptian because I loved his music
My grandmother visits because the radiator keeps her warm in winter
Egypt is not what National Geographic says
And my mother tells me,
“Home is where my children are.”