Last night, on a patch of concrete
I read a poem.
My first ever poetry reading. It was at a community iftar in Kensington, a predominantly Bangladeshi immigrant neighborhood in Brooklyn. The event was organized by Brooklyn-based community organization Arts & Democracy, which sponsored a workshop series I partook in called Muslim Women Write The Body. We broke fast in the little plaza, situated between a mosque and a synagogue, and encircled by Desi-owned bodegas. It was attended by Shahana Hanif, the first Muslim woman elected to New York City council, along with leaders from the local Jewish community, who made sure every attendee had a warm meal in front of them to break their fast at sundown.
My stage fright quickly dissolved as I heard my words describing the beauty and pain of Palestine reverberate through the speakers and into the plaza. One of the reasons why I write is because I want others to feel and experience the Palestine that I love and mourn so deeply, the Palestine that’s nowhere to be seen in the media. And standing with that microphone, I felt like I was doing just that. After the reading, I was approached by a Palestinian mother and son, who had seen a flyer for the event and decided to join. We chatted - weaving in and out of Arabic - about their origins in Palestine and my time in Gaza. I love being in the presence of Palestinians; I am continuously provided a masterclass in how to honor memory.
I love that we weren’t in an exclusive venue. No tickets, no guest lists, no gatekeepers. We were practically on the street, standing on New York City concrete before a deeply rooted community, pausing every so often to let a grumbling city bus pass by. Our art became an extension of the world around us, an embodiment of our imaginations overlaid with reality. Gaza was like that too, street murals everywhere. After the May 2021 war, musicians performed on top of rubble.
The other artists who performed were Sumaya Teli (Kashmiri-British writer), Radhia Rahman (a Bangladeshi visual artist from Kensington itself), and Awestaa Zia (an Afghan-American poet who asked us to support Women For Afghan Women). Each of us used our mic time to uplift the identities and causes we champion. At times, the evening felt like a rally, an exercise in solidarity building, just as much of a showcase of our work.
The experience has me thinking about how we can do so much with so little. How a patch of concrete can become a gathering space for cultural expression, communal care, and artistry. How we can build connections, solidarity, and empathy with a set of carefully curated words. It felt so fitting for this gathering to happen under the awning of Ramadan. The ritual of fasting is a powerful reminder of how much abundance there is in living and consuming simply. A 14 hour fast swiftly reminds you that water is an oft-forgotten luxury. A light meal consumed in twenty minutes can satiate hours of hunger. Five minutes of prayer quells anxiousness and alters the course of your day.
Capitalism wants us to believe that freedom lies in having many. Ramadan reminds me that freedom lies in the embrace of having enough, or perhaps more importantly, being enough. It’s an awareness that I want to bring into my journey as a writer. To not be so hard on myself that I haven’t produced or written something large enough yet to be bound into a book. To not discount the little poems, the little essays that feel flimsy on their own. To realize that big, profound things are made up of small, consistent acts; that magic happens when you commit to showing up. A patch of concrete can be enough space to reimagine a better world.
I had grand plans for this essay to be a long, complex reflection on observing Ramadan interwoven with my start of yoga teacher training. I think I’ll hold onto that part for another day and just give this piece the space to breathe, the space to be enough. I want to hold space for myself to celebrate this little threshold I’ve walked through, and share my poem that momentarily echoed in the world. There is power in remembering to pause, and simply bearing witness to your own unfolding.
Memories of Here
“what is your father’s name? your father’s father’s name?”
it feels wrong to call him anything but dada. “abdelraheem,” i say. i’m not even sure that was his name. if you repeat anything long enough, it becomes truth. sliding a passport under bulletproof glass, my fingers strapped into a lie detector. criminality is my birthright.
i remember feeling car sick in Abu Rami’s Skoda. we were on our way to Erez, that patch of journey where i don’t get cell signal. these are the practicalities of occupation, in and out of connectedness.
this land is your land; this land is my land.
the unit economics of falafel say so much. singlehandedly reveal my ignorance. i know so little on how to transact.
the sky is different in Gaza. the sun melts in technicolor slow motion. the Mediterranean has its own magnetic field. the moon hangs low and heavy, even as a sliver it commands. no wonder we revere the crescent.
there are as many ways to wrap a hijab as there are to leave your lover.
my sandled feet get dusty from visiting the fruit stand. i learn to measure time by cycles of life and death. strawberries are a winter fruit. figs late summer.
the sidewalk ends and suddenly you have to traverse virgin land to harvest your bounty. i sit on the tub’s ledge and wash my feet.
the eyes of apple. i went there once to watch them watching us, but they were blinded by a car. one man’s art is another man’s parking lot.
condolences are a group activity. minarets call us to pray and call us to mourn. limestone homes shield us from summer while conspiring with winter.
an urdu speakers mouth is a slow cooker for arabic, melting harsh syllables into tender vibrations. the azaan blends into the landscape, i don’t notice it that often. does that make me settled in my surroundings? or an indictment of my frayed faith?
have you ever had your soul crushed by traffic? could there be a more glaring symbol of being collectively stuck? we could end this gridlock if we unified around a goal. otherwise, the headlines say we’re complicit in our victimhood.
gutted zucchini stuffed with spongy rice. sticky and dense it laps up the tomatoey sauce. grape leaves collapse dramatically, like breaking down a tent. morning campfires have no place in a desert.
the yellow-plated cabbie sends a voice note to the green-plated cabbie. he wants to make sure i am received safely on the other side of the barbed wire.
ajnabiyya bas asmaraniyya. she’s a foreigner, but her skin is brown.
shakl 3rabi. she looks like us.