the year of two thousand sixteen in signs
(1) There’s a sign
HANG THE REPIST
the small flame of our candle
simply melts white wax
as we walk streets
by painted temples
same as he did
when he took the child
she looking for rainbow puddles
friends to play with, no time for prayers
only just old enough to say
four years of coaxing consonants to say
I want to go home now.
Her fractured body found car park cold
family loudly told, we will find them we will.
(2) There’s a sign
THEY CAN’T KILL US ALL
of course they can almost
they killed almost an entire race before
erase any remaining marks on the whiteboard
never use permanent pen, you know this.
It’s not beyond imagination.
What is beyond imagination?
Perhaps suffocating on chroma
desperate for air like anticipatory drone bombs
held back by button-stuck sticky donut thumbs
belonging to the land of the free:
free to what free to mock free to jail
free to hate free to name free to fire
free to rape free to hit free to rob
free free free free free free free free
what does such a word mean when you exist on a Kill List longer than the Nile?
(3) There’s a sign
NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL
some people have
seen cracked clouds of boats above
skinned tails of mermaids
spoke to their babies through salt-mills
they must just want nice teeth.
A girl is born to a blanket of shrapnel
little mouth wailing that she is alive
a forest dries into safety deposit boxes
grocery shops cost a year’s salary
a year’s salary is sludged into drainpipes
the girl full of metal cannot grow, she goes.
There is one child left now, save him, go
lonely son go and take your place amongst
theft, murder, speeding, vandalism, arson
but be you, alive, heart beating
until I can impound you back to my arms.
(4) There’s a sign
JOURNALISM IS NOT A CRIME
as long as we say what you want us to say,
which is nothing that you haven’t already said.
Do you think words sleep scattered just for you
like culled lavender buds
lilac, fragrant, waiting?
We forge Morse codes for modernity
hoping no politician can decipher them
because to write plainly
is to compose a damp, square cell
or otherwise stab broken bulbs into our hands.
(5) There’s a sign
THAWRET EL GHALABA
literally, Revolution of the Poor
but we all know it hasn’t been that
when was it ever
even if it is their skin stretched on placards
even if it is their children who know a Frappuccino
is the same price as one month’s bread
but who cares anyway
cos they met a man who said with a firm hand
you can earn two fresh Frappuccinos in one day
just don’t tell anyone, especially not the General,
children should not have so much caffeine.
I mean your mother, don’t tell her.
This was a lie.
There’s not even a sign.
This poem was commissioned as part of the International Literature Showcase, an initiative by Writers’ Centre Norwich and the British Council to support UK writers.
This is part of a series of work responding to the theme Crossing Borders.
The Thing I Would Tell you, a new collection of writings on Muslim women edited by Sabrina Mahfouz, is available to pre-order via Amazon