Lisa Suhair Majaj is author of Geographies of Light (Del Sol Press Poetry Prize winner) and co-editor of Intersections: Gender, Nation and Community in Arab Women's Novels (Syracuse University Press), Etel Adnan: Critical Essays on the Arab-American Writer and Artist (McFarland Publishing) and Going Global: The Transnational Reception of Third World Women Writers (Garland/Routledge). Her writing, which includes poetry, creative nonfiction, critical essays, children’s writing and more, has been translated into several languages. She has read at international venues including London's Poetry International. In 2015 she participated in the World Court of Women Against War in India. Her poetry was included in the 2016 exhibition Aftermath: The Fallout of War—America and the Middle East (Harn Museum of Art). She lives in Nicosia, Cyprus.
By Lisa Suhair MajajAdded: Thursday, July 3, 2014 / From "Geographies of Light" (Del Sol Press, 2009). Used with permission.
If they ask you what you are,
say Arab. If they flinch, don't react,
just remember your great-aunt's eyes.
If they ask you where you come from,
say Toledo. Detroit. Mission Viejo.
Fall Springs. Topeka. If they seem confused,
help them locate these places on a map,
then inquire casually, Where are you from?
Have you been here long? Do you like this country?
If they ask what you eat,
don't dissemble. If garlic is your secret friend,
admit it. Likewise, crab cakes.
If they say you're not American,
don't pull out your personal,
wallet-sized flag. Instead, recall
the Bill of Rights. Mention the Constitution.
Wear democracy like a favorite garment:
If they wave newspapers in your face and shout,
stay calm. Remember everything they never learned.
Offer to take them to the library.
If they ask you if you're white, say it depends.
Say no. Say maybe. If appropriate, inquire,
Have you always been white, or is it recent?
If you take to the streets in protest,
link hands with whomever is beside you.
Keep your eye on the colonizer's maps,
geography's twisted strands, the many colors
of struggle. No matter how far you've come, remember:
the starting line is always closer than you think.
If they ask how long you plan to stay, say forever.
Console them if they seem upset. Say, don't worry,
you'll get used to it. Say, we live here. How about you?