because she always played us even
and recited to us both, whispered songs
from the Koran that I never knew were prayers
her Arabic accent so embarrassing
when Jehovah's Witness's dared knock
on a Muslim woman's door
but on those nights before bed while the moon
spilled its ancient blue ink and my brother and I
slid under our frayed superhero blankets,
her voice was elegant, like the wish-whish
of a wedding gown across an aisle or the ease
of a tea bag bleeding its brown leaves.
"Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem.
Al Hamdu lillaahi Rabbil-'Aalameen"
We watched her mouth, the roll of her tongue
that could crack seeds like pliers and still
soothe like a river.
"'Ar-Rahmanir-Raheem. Maaliki Yaumid Deen."
Her face was small, the size of my dad's fist,
but that was before we were old enough to know
that grape juice didn't leave those stains on her thighs.
"'Iyyaka na-budu wa iyyaka nasta-een."
These were her favorite lines. I could tell
by the creases her eyes made, shut so tight,
tears pooled in the cracks: "You alone [God]
do we worship and you alone [God]
do we seek for help."
This was my favorite line
because I knew what it meant:
"Show us the straight path."
I went dark, saw a freeway of crooked roads,
forked trails, and street signs on fire.
I refocused on my mother's high cheek bones
as she steered us toward the final lines.
"Siratal-lazeena 'an-'amta 'alai-him,
Ghairil maghdubi 'alai-him wa laddaalleen."
And then we all ended with, "Ameen,"
and shared a kiss, warm like the Turkish coffee
in whose grounds she predicted the future,
but who could predict this?
We were her two sons and she
was our Syrian princess, but the kingdom
was now a broken home, and we were all
that we had left.
Just let anyone try to tear us apart
drunk ex-husband, future wives
and she'll show you exactly what it's like to be in hell.
by Sam Pierstorff