Things I Didn't Know I Loved*

* If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in! Come in!

(Shel Silverstein)

August 28, 2006


Small Packages

"Good things come in small packages." - Japanese man

Yes, so I'm small. It's the first thing people comment on when they meet me/when they later describe me to the police artist. That, and lots of hair (on my head). I get: petite, tiny, little woman, wee (conveniently, also a play on my name) - I've even gotten 'teensy.' My friend La Boop, of forsooth fame – who, although a pain in the ass, is even funnier in person (which is why I keep her around) – is credited with the funniest description of me I've ever heard. It was a few years ago, and I was wondering out loud whether to get my hair cut. Her response: "Well, I love your hair, but sometimes it looks like you're growing on it."

As for the usual barrage of Cairo comments and catcalls, rather than fruity comparisons, mine always tend towards the 'soghayyar bass 7elw/bass zayy el 3asal' variety. I wonder what gives away my honey-sweetness? Is it the enraged flare of my nostrils, the murder in my eyes? E7taris man ektaraba min al ard*, asshole!

Small people are angry people. To wit:

Alexander the Great
Marquis de Sade
Woody Allen

There are many great things about being small, though:

1. You don't have the advantage of periscope vision when in the middle of large crowds of spectators (think concerts, car accidents, etc.) but you can usually - with the God-given gift of elbows - wriggle your way to the front of anything.

2. You don't take up much space: my ability to curl up comfortably on a single (cheap) seat on a plane, bus or train is a frequent source of amusement - I mean, AWE - to sundry travelling companions.

3. You never have to factor in height when choosing men.
(i.e. I like tall men, but taller women always bitch me out when I mention this so I keep my preferences quiet.)

I'm five foot one. Here is a children's poem by the weird and wonderful Shel Silverstein. It reminds me that there are others in five feet dire-r straits than myself.

One Inch Tall

If you were only one inch tall, you'd ride a worm to school.
The teardrop of a crying ant would be your swimming pool.
A crumb of cake would be a feast

And last you seven days at least,
A flea would be a frightening beast
If you were one inch tall.

If you were only one inch tall, you'd walk beneath the door,
And it would take about a month to get down to the store.
A bit of fluff would be your bed,
You'd swing upon a spider's thread,
And wear a thimble on your head
If you were one inch tall.

You'd surf across the kitchen sink upon a stick of gum.
You couldn't hug your mama, you'd just have to hug her thumb.
You'd run from people's feet in fright,
To move a pen would take all night,
(This poem took fourteen years to write
--'Cause I'm just one inch tall).

Shel Silverstein

*Arabic proverb, roughly translated: "Beware those close to the ground."

August 23, 2006


Sense and Sensuality

Today I blindfolded a near-stranger and passed aromatic spices under his nose. The room was silent, save for the shuffling of spices and this single-word exchange.

Me: Cumin
Him: Kamon
Me: Kyoo-min
Him: Cumin
Me: Yes

Me: Cardamom
Him: CardaMOOM
Me: CARDamom
Him: Cardamom

Me: Cinammon
Him: Cinabon
Me: *laughing* yes, that’s the name of the pastry chain. This is Cina-mmmmon
Him: Cinammon

Him: Uhh…cumin?
Me: Try again…
Him: Wait wait wait wait…cardamon!
Me: Yep! Carda-…?
Him: mom. Cardamom.

I am, among other things, an English teacher to adults; a great one, but often recklessly – unadvisedly – creative. I came up with this particular activity in a food-themed class with another group a while ago, with half the students “dispensing” and the other half “smelling”. It worked beautifully, but was an intense experience for all involved – I’d forgotten how intense. And now, here I was, trying it out in a one-to-one class, slowly realising my mistake. The room was hushed, thick with focus, and intimate – way too intimate.
Note to self: stick to the coursebook on occasion.

On my way home I remembered, years ago, going to a ‘attar (loose translation: apothecary) in Old Cairo, with someone who was then very special to me. I was bone-tired and didn’t want to be out, but he asked and I couldn’t resist him then. We were in search of the perfect perfume oil blend. I remember the ‘attar dabbing essential oils on the back of my hands, all along the pale vein-streaked skin inside my wrists, and up my inner arms. He was leaning in to sniff jasmine in the crook of my elbow, lavender in the flesh between my thumb and forefinger. We walked out of there after close to two hours, with a tiny bottle, in a drunken haze, heads spinning, nostrils tingling. I looked across at him, with this huge ridiculous dazed smile on his face and that look in his eyes; I must’ve looked the same. It’s not one of my favourite memories of us together – the perfume was for another woman – but definitely one of the most bittersweet.

Today, I got home from my class to this poem (I am not, in the eternal words of Dave Barry, making this up) in my inbox.

The Cinammon Peeler

'If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
--your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers...

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler's wife. Smell me.'

Michael Ondaatje

Some of my favourite smells:
strawberries; just-ground black pepper: good, earthy, pungent;
fresh wet mint leaves (their fragrance is fully released with moisture); minced garlic crackling in hot oil;
that sweet smoky smell of burnt candlewick just after a candle’s been blown out – reminds me of childhood birthday cakes.
And cinnamon, of course.

August 18, 2006


Being a boy

I have a male alter ago called William. Just a long-running joke among friends, with endless comic possibilities (start with 'Willy' and take it from there). Can't even remember how it started, and never really thought about it too closely: nope, no penis envy, I love being a woman.

Yesterday I watched a friend's little son (the friend being yet another one of those overworked, too-busy-making-his-fortune-to-be-a-father fathers) sitting in my dad's lap. They were getting along like a house on fire: their heads drawn close together, two conspirators chattering away, my dad answering the kid's unending stream of strange, curious-child questions in that gentle, random way of his. And I wondered if, instead of two feisty females, he might've liked to have had a boy.

The Little Mute Boy

The little boy was looking for his voice.
(The king of the crickets had it.)
In a drop of water
the little boy was looking for his voice.

I do not want it for speaking with;
I will make a ring of it
so that he may wear my silence
on his little finger

In a drop of water
the little boy was looking for his voice.

(The captive voice, far away,
put on a cricket's clothes.)

Federico García Lorca

August 08, 2006


Suheir Hammad

'Where has my language gone?
The poet searches for words to wrap around these times
Make them sense Make them pretty Make them useful'

from 'Beyond Words'

I went to see this girl/woman read in Cairo about two months ago.
I was blown away. I am rarely blown away.
Suheir Hammad is a Palestinian-American, born in Jordan and raised in Brooklyn. Above and beyond all that, an incredible poet and performer. (She's even won a Tony award for her work on a Broadway show, Def Poetry Jam). I'm tempted to call her a musician - her poems have such a strong beat to them, and she has such rhythm when she 'reads' ('raps' would be more accurate). Won't even try to do her justice - you can just watch her

Oh, did I mention that she's hot?

What I Will

I will not
dance to your war
drum. I will
not lend my soul nor
my bones to your war
drum. I will
not dance to your
beating. I know that beat.
It is lifeless. I know
intimately that skin
you are hitting. It
was alive once
hunted stolen
stretched. I will
not dance to your drummed
up war. I will not pop
spin beak for you. I
will not hate for you or
even hate you. I will
not kill for you. Especially
I will not die
for you. I will not mourn
the dead with murder nor
suicide. I will not side
with you nor dance to bombs
because everyone else is
dancing. Everyone can be
wrong. Life is a right not
collateral or casual. I
will not forget where
I come from. I
will craft my own drum. Gather my beloved
near and our chanting
will be dancing. Our
humming will be drumming. I
will not be played. I
will not lend my name
nor my rhythm to your
beat. I will dance
and resist and dance and
persist and dance. This heartbeat is louder than
death. Your war drum ain't
louder than this breath.

Suheir Hammad

Update Uno: Watch Suheir Hammad read 'First Writing Since' [Sept 11] at Def Poetry Jam here. Her words are harsher - less 'poetic', less abstract, more directly political and exacting - but her demeanor is more understated somehow . Muchas gracias, Os.

Update-at-Gunpoint Dos: Thanks to Booboo for combing the (eih?) Commonwealth of Canada for me for Suheir Hammad's latest poetry collection, 'Zaatar Diva'. (Sa7 kida?) Sorry - including CD!

August 04, 2006


The Waking

Sleep is my drug of choice.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke


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