I forgot to say goodbye to the kids.
I knelt into my weeping until my heart
broke me awake. My forehead
touched the floor. If dream is memory
I was captured in a van, incarcerated. I was
and wasn’t a leader. The prison
was a camp in the wilderness. Its warden
was kind. Unkindness came
from the rules, which came from behind
desert mountains. I didn’t say goodbye
to my kids. We were watching a soccer game
when it happened. My boyhood
team is a city’s that was steeped in shipping
slaves, but that’s long ago now. Two
of the goal scorers were Muslim.
One Senegalese, the other Turkish
who would have us believe he’s German.
I didn’t say goodbye to the kids.
I sobbed, I shook. I woke up with a dry face
and a cloven heart. I uttered the Arabic word
for it. There’s a world out there, people
no less beautiful than you are.
I stayed in bed for an hour, less water
with time. I recalled the moment
I no longer let my father touch me.
No more his little boy I parted
with a tenderness that wouldn’t
visit me the same again. I felt
his acceptance unaware he’d begun waiting
for mine. It was after lunch. We were
on the couch. He stroked my hair, neck,
and forearm. It felt good, then I felt older.
Slowly, I got up, walked away, his fingers
trailing the air of my wake. Both of us
wordless. I didn’t say goodbye to my kids.
There’s a world out there, people
who don’t ask me what I’m about to say.
You’re not time. I served with time
and you’re not it.

Fady Joudah's most recent poetry collection is Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance (Milkweed Editions, 2018). A Palestinian American physician, poet, and translator, he's a recipient of the Yale Series prize and a Guggenheim fellowship for poetry.

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