The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2022

All Issues
MAY 2022 Issue


The Migrant Poet Slaughters His Voice

One scorching summer
—warmer than the previous summer,
and cooler than the next—
the poet journeyed from the upper south
to the lower south.

He descended, and at the fringe of a rock,
slaughtered his voice. Just like that, calmly,
his narrow eyes squinting in distress.
He did not read Al-Fatiha, nor did he pledge
this sacrifice to Allah.

The poet was exasperated that his voice had become a metaphor;
he wanted to see the blood of his voice, its lard and flesh,
its lineage—to hear its chords vibrating
even if a single utterance would cost him his life.

In our language, he finds himself placing nouns before verbs,
tainted by the lyrical I, perhaps. He picks words
that had wilted until they turned to gold. Wiping away
the dust of the centuries, he plants them in small pots.
The poet thinks he can
heal the dumb, and revive the dead.

Meanwhile, in their language, he crosses mountains and oceans
leaving a talisman on every tree
to find his way back.

He hauls a mountain from the slopes of California,
and flings it into the Gulf of Mexico
before it floats, once again, atop an oil pipeline.

Every morning, I wake up to his voice;
I slam the window in its face, and go back to sleep.
I let him jumble the clocks, talk to me about the prose poem—
how it stands like a bare trunk, interrupting the horizon:
They have stolen our music

and nothing's left but the voice
that reaches me across time zones
afflicted with insomnia, burdened with beginnings,
stuck—like an eternal cry—
in the chasm of time.

My Body, My Vehicle

My body is my vehicle
I drive her like a reckless teen
She crashes into others, into sidewalks
She breaks red lights at the last second
As the Death Policeman shakes his head

Sometimes, I lose one of my features, a strand of hair, or an organ
And I find no spare parts in the junkyard
I lost my silver lips
And my grease-coated heart
And I lost my rotating hat
Then, my left hand
And with it, my peripheral vision

Like a Canadian man on Mondays
I start the engine softly and shovel the surrounding snow
I let her warm up and come alive
Regain her senses
For no vehicle rises from bed
Ready to face the street

In the room, I let her roam
Every time an idea struggles for air
She scratches with her unkempt nails
The wooden floors, waiting for language
Until it unfurls, easing the crisis

What do I do with this vehicle of mine?
I cannot park her, abandon her anywhere!
When I go shopping, my wheels shatter
The glossy ceramic floors
And when I go to the beach
She sinks her teeth into the sand

Small and dark complected and broken
Her windows are an almanac of winds
And her voice falters at rush hour

Cigarette of Light

What do I sleep for today?
I part his ribcage open in my dream;
I swim through it like a fish, drying its tears.

He says:
Didn’t you hear that electronic pigeons
have overthrown the good old pigeons?!

Lodged in my soul
are thunderous sighs,
released by insomniac children.
Lodged in my soul
is a broken doorknob.

is to slip the light into your pockets,
and be on your way.


She sits at the kitchen table. The table was made for a man, a woman, and three children. The mother dangles a palm below her chin, and wishes the flowers on the drapes would not wilt. Her husband works long hours. The money goes only so far. The children long for someone to listen to their make-believe stories. In her mind, she has no one to talk to. She runs off every night, dressed as a clown, and stays up late speaking to the drifters in the main square of all the things that do not pretend to be happy. I will let no one extract the clown from me, she says.


Mona Kareem

Mona Kareem is the author of three poetry collections and three book-length translations. Her work has been translated into Farsi, Turkish, French, English, Spanish, Dutch, and German.

Sara Elkamel

Sara Elkamel is a poet and journalist living between Cairo and NYC. She is the author of the chapbook “Field of No Justice” (African Poetry Book Fund & Akashic Books, 2021).


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2022

All Issues