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Fayetteville as in Fate

Fayetteville as in Fate

When I first moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas
I soon learned to say it Fay’tteville, as in fate
I came into town the American way,
the immigrant way, the upwardly mobile
bedouin trekking across the highway
I moved here from New Jersey and I like it just fine,
although I do miss belligerent store clerks
and being able to rent Abi Fawq el-Shagara
at the Egyptian video/ pizzeria/ travel agency/
check cashing service/ grocery store
I miss being able to practice my Urdu with random gas station attendants,
although once a random Wal-Mart associate here told me “Shukran”
and turned out to have known the Nile
That’s fate

It is Fay’tteville as in fate:
There is Cherokee and Choctaw here,
around the rims of people’s eyes
There is Spain and France left in the names of things
There is Wild West and Old South here
Sometimes the music of the Ozarks
spills down the mountainside
and it is green and brown, and I think I hear it

I hear people pick “poke” here
and my family memory stirs with people
who picked the wild herbs, the khibbezé, of other mountains
Whole populations of seed sowers and herb knowers
Some of them from Damascus, Syria, and some of them from Fayetteville, Arkansas, meet
in my head like the walls of the Red Sea crashing together
I roll dizzily toward them
like the bowling ball of a very bad bowler
I mix metaphors among them
like a reckless cook throwing things into a pot
hoping they don’t explode when they touch each other,
hoping they don’t turn bitter when the heat rises

Their names and their languages are wildly different
and they believe vile and improbable things about each other
But see the turn of wrist when a woman from here
or a woman from there kneads dough
Although the bread will be twisted
into different shapes for the baking,
the hands move with a similar knowledge
See how a farmer takes up a handful of dirt
This one wears a sirwal and that one wears overalls,
but the open hand with the dirt in its creases
makes a map both can read

But who will coax them close enough to know this?
Darling, it is poetry
Darling, I am a poet
It is my fate
like this, like this, to kiss
the creases around the eyes and the eyes
that they may recognize one another:

  May their children e-mail one another and not bomb one another
May they download each other’s mother’s bread recipes
May they sell yams and yogurts to each other at a conscionable profit
May they learn each other’s tongues and put words into each other’s mouths

Say Amen
Say Ameen
Say it, say it

©1995 Mohja Kahf. Reprinted with permission of the University Press of Florida.


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