Yalla! Chapter One - Exotic



There was a nurse from Denver
Whose man towered over her
Till a fall on the slopes
Left him bound in white ropes
Till her patient was also her lover.

There was a man named Sumo –
Each month an extra kilo. 
Though Hiromi seems quiet
She put him on a diet.
He takes orders from a size zero.

There was a math-loving Nigerian
In love with a sailing Norwegian.
Neighbour tactlessly asked,
“opposites so attract?”
Never minding that both were Olympian. 

There was a soldier in Tikrit
With a long-term Iraqi secret:
‘twas a promise he made
To a vivacious maid
With the war on, quite inappropriate.

There was a peasant in Dhaka
Whose passion was for a singer.
With a tear and a song
She awaits his return
From three tours a year, forever.

There was a guy from Formosa:
João, the Stupid Dreamer. 
His girl understood
Got him out of the ‘hood
Now she sells his paintings of water.

There was once a girl at court
So beautiful that it hurt -
In the distorted opinion 
Of one in a million
Who made her queen of Camelot.

There was a farmer from Baku
Who’d never said “I love you.”
When his wife saw the sack
So heavy on his back,
She lovingly replied “me too.”


Let’s fly! Let’s fly to the moon
Let’s fly over the mountains
Into a town nestled in the crack.
Let’s dine on exotic fare
From vines of olive and grape.
Who’ll wear the dress printed with
Tiny begonias and who’ll loaf
In shorts made first for surfers?
As we walk on cobblestone streets
In the center of the town
We launch, in tradition, love.

Let’s swim! Let’s feel what’s beneath
The stream – translucent and blue
And calm, secluded – it’s just right.
Let’s swim.  Take my hand we’ll wade
In and watch the fish glide by.
It’s said only fools rush in
The singing stream rings as we loaf
In a cove made for lovers. 
Verily, high on the scents – grass
And we – as the bright, feeding
Butterflies flutter.  Yes.  Love.

Let’s ride!  Let’s ride in that cart.
Let’s ride and watch the locals
Immersed in their world as you fill mine.
Let’s ride; who knows what we’ll find
Nearby?  Let’s have so much fun.
Life’s fine when down by the bridge
It’s raining flowers as we loaf,
Hide, and play cops and robbers.
As I hold on to what is mine
Divine, as we launch, I plead:
Never leave me.  Never leave.

Let’s fly!  Let’s soar high in joy.
Let’s swim through each other’s eyes
And dream up what forever might mean.
Let’s ride on nature’s humped back
And glide among monuments.
We find the stories of those
Who romanticized while we loaf
In ruins of ancient villas.
Showering flowers and advice
Sage, who loved with might and died –
They who know this game called love. 


His grandfather is as fit as Gebrselassie.
I taste from each plate slowly, like a first kiss. 
I dance with men – where are the women?
I dance with the women – no men in sight.

His grandfather is as fit as Gebrselassie,
As charming as Wentworth, as revered as Solomon.
A feast for the guest, with rich breads and saltah.
For exercise, we dance with jambiya knives.


I left my heart in a mafraj
On the middle floor
Of a house like every other house in the town.

The house is a block so square
On a bed so flat
That lies between two compact mountain ranges. 

A road leads to it from Tahrir Square,
Where boys of precocious courage strut
Bearing small daggers on their bellies.

I saw men kissing in the street
Then they smiled deep smiles and walked in step,
Brown suit jackets over their white robes.
The girls had skin so pale
When I danced with them
Inside the large hall
On the ground floor
Of that house like every other house in the town.

Since you haven’t seen these girls,
I’ll tell you that from their eyes to their hair
Is beauty worth fearing, lest it cause a war
That brings back jambiyas and Kalashnikovs into use
After being mere ornaments of fashion these dozen years. 

Put those ceremonial beads on your face.
You too – any woman – can become beautiful.
Let a Sana’ani woman put the kohl on your eyes;
Oh, arrest my heart!  Look at you!
The party is over.
There are stems of qat strewn around.
Girls, high on qat, are shielded again in black,
Ready for a stroll to the station. 

Will I find Nijmiya perched on a wall
her hair damaged and face radiant from exposure,
her limbs still strong and her heart still regal?
“No,” they reply, “Nijmiya is no longer a child,
But she is a woman now.”  I weep.
Certainly, tomorrow
I will see the other towns of Sheba
Each with a thousand copies of a splendid housing unit
Designed to perfection over a thousand years. 

In each town
I will stand on a roof, trembling with pleasure
When the spirits in the sights and the sounds whisper:
Stay, stay in this your primordial home. 

That first reunion with the winds
Carrying the sands from the brown mountains of South Arabia -
It was like falling deep in love.
It drew love songs from my lips and tears from my eyes.
Let me return to Yemen before the longing drives me mad.


You are, and you are,
And your folks – young and old – are
City dwellers in the
Catalan capital so provincial. 

Politicians and artists good,
Priests and executives bad
Dancers in daily carnival
Living with the parents.


Where Romans built
And sat in stone.
Where Greek men cooked
With silk road spices.

Where you live now
Forgetting so much –
So much blood beneath
Your city streets.

You’ve washed your hair
In essence-of-jasmine.
Behind you, damp hair
Reaches to your bra.

Your little hips roll
To an African drumbeat
On mp3s French,
Arab, and now Rai.

In twenty-five-oh-nine
When all share your race,
Homo median will tour
The Milky Way. 

Your man approaches.
He is a strong man:
Onions in his sweat
On his hairy chest.


On the beach your pain receded
As you drew near the sea and the crowds.
A hustler of thirty, searching,
You just lost your mojo. 

On the beach you stood before Allah.
This thing you crave – respectability –
Yonder child has, surely,
But never hustlers and thieves.

On the beach you shouted “why me?”
You killed your mother the day you were born –
The first, fair, beloved wife –
She would have sent you to school.

On the beach your stomach growled.
You ignored the tourist, worth instant hundred pounds
For a fellow countryman
Who gave hundred piasters.

On the beach your pride returned
True Son of Upper Egypt.  You survived
From homeless, illiterate child,
Via Cairo’s streets, to four languages.

On the beach you watched the sunset,
While pondering “respectability.”
What is Step One?  Step Two?
Proper trading.  Then a good wife.

On the beach you lay in slumber.
It was worth it pawning your friend’s phone
For a bus ticket
To Al-Iskandariya. 


You eat fillet.
I eat fish with
Only the scales missing.
Call that chicken? 
Where are her feet,
Head, neck, and gizzard?

You eat steak.
I like goat head in
A thousand little pieces.
Baa, dear white sheep,
Don’t remind me
Of your tasty tongue.

Next chapter: Nigeria
Previous: Yalla! Contents

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