What I Remember Most Growing Up

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."

"Ihdina-Ssirat al-Mustaqueem."

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

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