Should You
Wish to Stay

Sharif S. Elmusa
We don't have bicycle lanes marked
by wine-red paint. Every day we stage
the grand opera. How things don't work
Perfection is as rare as rainfall or smallpox.

But we always keep humor,
that diligent rescue worker, on call.
The tourist, taken aback,
knotting his eyebrows, summons the waiter:
A mouse just crawled by the table.
Waiter: Oh, I'm sorry. Was it big or small?
Tourist: I guess it was small.
Waiter: Good. Then it wasn't one of ours. Ours are big.
Dinner resumes.
History moves on, a rickety cab,
zigzagging, chaotically, like ourselves,
on the banks of the subdued river,
without night lights,
the door opens only from the outside.

Still, don't let the reformer's fire burn
in your chest. The same man
who hogs your turn in the queue
with a glad heart walks you five blocks away
to the store you are looking for.
If the whistle of the rusty freight train
grates your ear, take it for what it is:
a politician's rhetoric
independent of the freight.
Listen and watch the mint leaf
floating the dark-red tea,
a village in a glass; watch our feet walk,
gingerly, the way the flesh doubts,
You may prize hard work, but only in rest
and repose can you sort out the tangled heart,
can you find happiness.

We are still made from the tears of Ra.
The spirits of unseen deities,
borne by the wind blowing from the desert,
coach us while we sleep in the demanding art
of dying well. But you are welcome to discover yourself.
The lavish, matter-of-fact sunlight
will save you further guidance.

--- From Inclined to Speak:
An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry
Hayan Charara
©2008 University of Arkansas Press
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