poetry// the Nile

I want to go back to the Nile.
I was there before, but that feels like eons ago.
I want to go back to the Nile.

I have always loved rivers and running water, and so, I want to go back and witness its glory for myself again.

It has been too long. I can barely remember the smell of Sudanese air and the dusty streets of Khartoum. I barely remember my uncle’s home that I stayed in that he has now moved from. If I go back it will no longer be mine to visit. I barely remember my beautiful aunt teaching me to make Kisra over a hot iron plate, her signing the recipe to me because we never spoke the same language. I barely remember her hair and her house and its court yard. But she has passed away now and so if I go back she will no longer be mine to visit. Things have changed as cousins have married and my uncle has married and babies have been born and I don’t know their names. I want to go back to the Nile. I want to take off my shoes and let my toes remember that earth forever. That beautiful country is a home of mine, and I have long been separated from it, a family tree whose branches have stretched so far that they are on the cusp of an epic shatter unless I can find the strength to climb back up its oaky surface.

Sometimes it feels like my father doesn’t understand how lost I am. He thinks that holding his hand is enough if his other holds onto the Nile but I want to know it for myself. He tells me I do. But I don’t. He doesn’t understand how it is so easy for him to walk back home and how I have to sprout wings and learn to fly and burn my tongue to the ground and learn how to speak again to taste the air the way he does. It is simple for him. He can morph. He can be a man and Muslim and black and American and not contradict himself. He can transform back into a Sudanese boy in a heartbeat, a kaaf to a gaa and he is in his own body once again.

My body has been splintered since the beginning, since my very birth I have been trying to figure out who I am, in-between his immigrant story and my mother’s conversion tale, in-between his quiet whispers about the Prophet as my thirty fourth grandfather and my maternal grandma’s trip to unearth our enslaved ancestor’s tombs stones. I speak one language that is neither my mother’s nor my father’s–it can be mistaken for one and never a substitute for the other.

I am asked to be Sudanese but yet I can barely remember Sudan and we eat her food but once a year and I am asked to be an American woman as they squint at me in my light and tawny skin, my thick, course hair tucked neatly away and furrow their brows when I sit with the black kids at the lunch table. And at the masjid there is not lunch table just the desi kids and the Arab kids and the Sudanese kids and I am not invited to sit with any of them. And in the bathroom when everyone is fussing in the mirror I stare at myself and wish I could be at the shore of the Nile once more, this time with the right words in my mouth and a camera in my hand and I will record this and write poetry about the water and my family and the women my father forgets I do not remember.

And that’s just it isn’t it. I have two trees to tend to, two trees to unravel and heal and decipher and record. One whose roots crisscross America and wriggle across Europe. And another tree, who drinks from the Nile and bathes in the Nubian sun and whose leaves cast shadows over Arabia. Two trees bending and stretching and defying what it means to have a local ecosystem, dragged and pulled out of their natural habitat and forced to grow on strange and new soil. And here I am, clinging to their branches, little brown girl caught between DeCuir and HagMagid, dangling between lost East African culture and stolen West African ritual. My home speaks English but my father’s bookcases whisper back in Arabic. The kitchen walls fossilize the laughter and the stories and silently witness the pain. They never warn you about the pain. How much it hurts to be from somewhere and not remember it. To not be able to speak to it. To arrive in a homeland and feel like a stranger and a tourist and an intruder who can only speak a colonizer’s language.

I need to go back to the Nile.

I need to let my tears mix with the water and take a bus up to my father’s village and I need to see it all again and hold onto it, and hear her in her own breath and not ask for a translation. I want to know what the Nile has to say to me. I want to hear her in my own ears and never forget her in my heart.

I want to go back to Africa.
To my mother’s motherland
and my father’s hometown
and be able to say that
it is mine too
and mine because I
kissed it and
loved it and
laughed with it
all on my own.

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