Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fall, Fall, Fall

I looked down at her feet next to mine
The city below us
She clung on to me 
As if I were going to fall from atop the skyscraper
But I had already fallen
I had already fallen
Into her
Her arms
Her eyes
She is my net
But she still holds on

Friday, May 23, 2014

Unforgotten Romance

No, I haven’t forgotten that I’ve hurt you.
Just as I haven’t forgotten the time
You slid your hand onto mine in the movie theater once
And how that made me feel

Like electricity surging through me
Like warmth enveloping me
Like coming back home after years in the wilderness

No, I haven’t forgotten that I’ve disappointed you
Just as I haven’t forgotten
The time you looked at me with those eyes
As we hid away in your car in the desert
And how completely lost I was in them

I haven’t forgotten that
I would’ve had those feelings all those past years
And now I’m filled with regret
For letting go of it before I even caught it
For not seeing your love

And I haven’t forgotten how you saved me from my anger that night
You embraced me as the music filled our bodies
And your eyes shone brighter than the moon

I haven’t forgotten my failure to love you
My failure to be whole with you

But now
For fear of losing you again
For fear of wanting you more
Now I want to forget

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The High Cost of Growing Up

Last night I was reunited with friends I have not seen in a very long time.
It was a strange encounter, peppered with awkward conversations and moments of hilarity that brought back memories of an innocent time.
What struck me most though, is when a couple of those friends still assumed that I was in the same job I was almost 14 years ago! To me it was shocking, laughable almost, to think of, let alone comprehend.
I was so taken aback I didn’t know whether to take the question seriously or laugh it off.
Then I began to think, they were in the same jobs all this time, doing the same thing, going to the same places, seeing the same people… so that is the norm for them. It’s only fair for them to expect me to be where they had left me.
But since that job they were referring to, the one I decide to leave and go off to do my own thing. I have do so much. I’ve lived. I’ve traveled. Gone to places around the world. Lived abroad. Made friends. Lost friends. Discovered new places. Met hundreds of strangers from all walks of life. Worked a host of other jobs in a host of other fields.
And in all of that, they were static. Motionless. In the same position.
I couldn’t explain that to them, wouldn’t know where to have begun. To explain what I do, what I’ve been doing. They wouldn’t relate to it. They seem like they are from a foreign planet to me. Not strangers, but foreign.
But then I also though, well, they have things I don’t. They’ve settled down, married, they all have children. Homes to build, mouths to feed, jobs to keep. Is that what I ran away from? Is that what I want now?
Part of me was jealous because I couldn’t relate to what they were talking about most of the time. As they discusses seemingly grown up things, I remained silent and fiddled with my phone.
Am I still a lost and confused teenager trying to figure out my place in the world?
Would I have given up all of what I’ve experienced and seen over the past 14 years for it? My instant gut reaction is no, not ever.
But, as much as I try to fight it, part of me, a little deep corner in me, would have.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Am I Still Here!?

I’m leaning againt a pole, surrounded by a sea of beautiful people, listening to a haunting song by a man with a beard.
A woman with ginger hair is next to me, a large camera hugs her small waist.
I listen to the bearded man and  his voice is piercing and booming and at that moment something crashes over me. 
A sense of ultimate sadness and fulfillment.
A sense that I’m where I’m supposed to be even though I really don’t want to.
And tears stream down my face and I keep saying sorry to no one in particular.
Everybody is lost in the music.
The woman who I’ve only met twice before leans to me and we hold each other like estranged lovers reunited after a decade of being apart.
Like brothers reconciling.
Like friends forgiving each other.
Like finding that one sliver of hope and holding onto it with the life that is left in you.
In that moment I was broken and in that moment I was healing.
I brought all of these people together yet here I was standing by myself and feeling completely alone.
But the ginger-woman is still holding on to me and she tells me not to cry.
All I needed was the embrace.
That moment made me look back at what I had achieved and how far I’ve come. Sometimes it feels like I’ve come very far, others it seems that I am still standing still.
Have I ever done enough?
Have I even done the right things?
I’ve published books and I’ve traveled the world and I’ve started a grassroots arts movement and I’ve won awards and I’ve organized festivals and I’ve been selected for residencies and I’ve loved and lost and rose and fell and rose and fell again.
Am I still falling?
Or am I still in the process of rising?
Maybe I’m just floating…

Thursday, October 24, 2013


I am hiding
I am hiding from your reality
I am hiding from hour reality because it is my nightmare
I am hiding from your reality because it is full of social interaction and slime and employment
Your reality is made out of things such as love and religion and pancakes
It is frightening
I am hiding because pancakes have 247 calories
And I add maple syrup to everything
Like my car's engine and my burger patty

I am hiding
I am hiding from your love
I am hiding from your love because it is dirty
And it stains me with emotion
I am hiding from your love because it involves physical interaction and fluids and damp sheets

I am hiding
I am hiding from you
Come hide with me

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Days of Iowa

Days have been nothing but inconsistent blocks of time. Some long, some short. Some so vague they hardly existed. And now the clock ticks and all that remains are a few weeks, which can either last as long as a one night’s dream, or a song, or as long as they hours permit.

Iowa City is a town of beautiful demons. You see them scattered, darting, imposing, at times fleeting. They look at us with awe and disgust, us writers from another planet, us writers from across the borders.

Here, there are no borders. Here, there are no limitations. Here, there are pools and each pool is of a different color. But still, they are all pools.

In Iowa City you drink and you dance and you love. Pretty much like anywhere else, right? Wrong. Here you do the living with a bunch of writers and poets, most confused, some amused.

It’s a funny thing, being part of a community of writers and poets. As one myself, I’ve never felt this odd sense of foreign belonging.

There’s constant chatter of literature, which I often find rather pertinacious. But every once in a while, you engage in a revelatory conversation that brings your own writing into prospective. And often, these happen when we are NOT discussing the “impact of the global novel” and the like.

I’ve asked myself many questions that I thought I will have the answers to here. All I ended up having is more questions. We are in this bubble and life is happening out there in the world.

And we convince ourselves that what we write will somehow save the world, one day, one word at a time. But that’s an overly romantic view.

A crazy person in a town full of crazy people will seem like a normal person.

This is what Iowa City is like for writers.

The clock ticks.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I'm lying on the floor staring at the ceiling
And it's not even a ceiling anymore

This is not a call to arms
Rather a question
As a misguided statement

I’m on my knees in my boxers
And the light burns

My book is sleeping in my bed
Its naked pages exposed

Words erotically ejaculating from my mind
My mind is unthinking
My mind is non-present

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why I Hate Writing

"I HATE writing."

That's not the kind of start you want to go with when you're speaking to a bunch of undergrad writers. But I didn't stop there.

"I hate writing as much as I hate reading!" I told them.

After the hesitant giggles subsided, I went on to explain to them what I meant.

I was giving a short talk to the students of the International Literature Class at the University of Iowa as part of my participation in the International Writing Program.

If a writer tells you that writing is a joy, know that they are lying. Writing is associated with misery and here's why:

When you're not writing, you are miserable.
When you are writing, you are not happy with what you're writing.
When you finish a piece, you find it horrible it is.
When you publish your work, you think of how you could've made it sound better.

Get the picture?

When it comes to reading, well. We were brought up associating reading with school textbooks and homework. Anyone who's gone through government schooling must've grown up hating books. We never explored the idea that reading can be for pleasure, and not just punishment.

At home, my parents had a big wall library full of all sorts of books on religions, politics, history and philosophy. My father kept insisting that I should read. The idea never appealed to me.  Later on in life, I discovered that I can read what I want, when I want, for nothing more than passing time.

Following the talk, a bunch of the students asked me about the short story 'The Red Hand' which they had read as part of their class. I was both honored and flattered by their comments, questions and responses.

Here are some of them:

"From the cryptic description of the Red Hand in the beginning, I was on the edge of my seat" - Matthew McLaughlin

"Your story intrigued me from the beginning. I thought that this story was a metaphor about our society and the way we look at inspiration," - Aubrey Davidson

"First of all, I must say I really enjoyed your short story, 'The Red Hand', as it was very good at hiding it was going to be a short horror story, instead opting for a more traditional mystery novella kind of feel," - Akira Mizobuchi

"Your story was so descriptive and realistic," - Erica Jennings

"Your story left me fixating on this idea of whether it's worse to know or not know," - Kelsey Chingren 

It was a real pleasure to speak to these bright young things and I was pleasure with the way they responded to my story and my talk.

I ended my speech by saying that the less we know, the more we discover. And it's that notion that kept me going as writer. I wanted to discover things for my self. My life was defined by NOT doing what I have been told to do.

Photos by Asma Nadia 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering to Forget: 9/11

My first visit to the United States of America was exactly two years before the horrific events of 9/11 in 2001. 

I had spent 3 weeks traveling across country as a journalist as part of a print journalism program for international journalists from around the world. We visited large cities and small towns and met amazing people.

But more importantly for me, it was my first real taste of the actual America, the one we grew up watching on television and it was my first time away from home for such a long time, away from family, all by myself.

I was standing in the newsroom at the paper I worked at when I saw the first images of 9/11. I dismissed it as a fluke incident, thinking one of those small planes or choppers somehow lost control and hit it. I wasn't prepared for the magnitude of what was happening.

Later that night when I was home with family, I was in total shock and utter confusion. My brain just couldn't process what my eyes were seeing. To this day, when I try to conjure up moments and images from that day, my mind fails. 

For years to follow, I would become paranoid about revisiting the States. After seeing the aftermath of 9/11 ripple across the ocean to reach the rest of the world. Just as Americans thought all of us Arabs/Muslims hated them, I was convinced that all Americans would hate us.

That was, of course, an absurd assumption, on both counts.

Today, on the 12th anniversary of that horrid day, I am here back in the United States of America, as the first from my country to be selected for the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, feeling oddly at home. 

People are people no matter where you go. They are not how politicians and religious figure describe them. They are not out there to destroy you, or steal your wealth, or take away your faith, or freedom. And more often than not, they'll be nice to you regardless of how you look.

They are just people, after all.

I read a column which argued if it was time for Americans to let go of 9/11, as the younger generations grow up, having no connection or memories of it. I was in my early 20s when it happened, so it'll always somehow be etched in the back of my mind, but my little nieces and nephews will grow up in a world where 9/11 is a historic event, not a memory.

What scares me is the notion that every generation, it seems, has to go through such a devastating event in history. Be it war, terrorist acts, invasions, natural disasters, revolutions. 

The one thing we mustn't forget, as time passes, is that we are all just people.