Southern Accent

My father brags about his English over labneh
and zaytoun. His professor would cheer,
"This immigrant knows American
history better than you Americans!"
On Thanksgiving he fries okra, we eat
in the land of pines, green, murmuring, oily,
binti this country of abundance
is our country too
. I don't ask
about Special Order 15, the forty acres
ungranted, or if the Tuscarora tribe
washed their feet in the same river. He knows
the rites of pilgrimage—in Mecca
a cluster of strangers in white cloth, touching,
Hajar's desert lamentation;
but not of slaves
evaporating into cypress,
deep in the swamps, without trace.
I am told our prophets looked to the wild
for answers; absent fountain or angels,
Jesus refused empire on the limestone
peak. What seams are we made of?
A tendon of faith and escape.
Even Muhammad left Earth at one point.
Riding a steed into the seventh heaven,
to argue with God. There is no evidence
to prove the prophet left and returned in the night.
A freed slave is the first to call out the athan,
inventing a new kind of time—days rotate
parallel to prayer. To be Southern
is to carry a pall of secrets, warm sheets
of a bedroom, rose water in black
coffee, blood on the fourth violin
string. In this house of after
war, memory or myth unravel as amber
with the taste of sukar. I do not know
how to teach a pious man
about original sins. We follow
the echoes of Bilal,
facing the direction of the Sun,
slowly towards paradise.

Emma Goldman does not confuse love and marriage

Emma Goldman does not know my parents, who have engaged in the management of desires and implications for thirty years now. Quietly, consistently, the metronome of a washing machine. Emma Goldman would identify this as a marriage. My parents name it love. Emma Goldman says love does not live in the house of economic exchange. Not even in a duplex. The price of brides: forfeiture of teeth, your best years of moisture; far too high, she says. Love is something else. Mollusk, gaping. A mega kilowatt thermal light abundant past the calefaction Riot Orange scorching the mantle, molten to the point of chemical departure. At the hospital my father watches a new life push through the old canals of my mother. Is birth a marriage or is it love?
A difficult woman watches lovers sing in the kitchen. Outside, another lost summer bargaining with distant gases, the howling cicadas, and the hot wind.

Zaina Alsous is an editor at Scalawag magazine, a movement worker in South Florida, and the author of A Theory of Birds (University of Arkansas Press).