It Means Something Different in Arabicby Saeed Jones
for Terrance Hayes
I come from ashes and leftover scraps abandoned.
The first song sung in a book of broken hymns
after all the candles have melted and hardened.
Once, I threw a towel over my head and pretended I was Mary.
My aunt told me that pretending was blasphemy. A burnt cross
was lit in my chest that day, but they say my name
first appeared in reluctantly opened love letters
flown in from Japan smelling like cherry blossoms. Sweet
and sick and begging to be taken back. I come
from hastily signed divorce papers. I believe all the stories
of who I was: Custody battles are where I learned to dance.
Before the fire, there was the empire, before the empire,
Aeneas flirted with Dido: He saw her in the crowd at a concert,
asked for her number, and was rejected. He saw her again
at a 7-11 and was rewarded for his persistence.
I come from a woman who believes luck
had nothing to do with it. They say I almost drowned
in a book of Greek mythology. My father saved me.
We are not sure why he decided to be a hero that day.
My mother doesn’t remember his act of heroism. He won’t forgive her
for forgetting. But let’s not talk about them, it will set my home on fire.
I come from cracked eggs cooked on a July sidewalk, from drive-bys
through the ruins of Graceland, where the heads of ex-wives hang
in embarrassment. I come running from the fingers of my family,
who adore the likeness of me, that doll I poke with pins
on holiday visits. Two pins in its stuffed chest means I wish
I was a prodigal son. Three pins means something different.
In Arabic “Saeed” means happy and fortunate. I will not refute
this claim, though I have double-checked its veracity.
I get that from my grandmother. Skepticism
is the only thing we have in common. On Mother’s Day
the whole way to Memphis I read lines from Medea.
None of this is true and all of it is real in a different language.
I come from nuns who left the church and got married. I come from
a lame imitation of Egypt. I come from the sperm that wasn’t
supposed to make it. I come bearing arms full of empty books.
Once, I told my father that I wanted a new father. He constructed
wax wings and left that same day. I come from a woman
who knows the temperature at which wax begins to melt.