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They serve tap water
cleverly disguised by orange blossoms
in de Prague, just off Hamra Street,
just as Beirut conceals Sabra and Shatila
from bus lines and sewers
and tourist’s eyes.
This white coffee
tastes the way my mother smells.
For one second of self-deception,
I am in Washington,
boiling tomatoes for her achaar again.
I stumble onto the Corniche
avoiding men’s gazes,
their questions, “India? Pakistan? Amitabh Bachchan?”
I shift my hypocrite’s hijab,
look to the sea instead,
hoping I can take the Mediterranean
to bed tonight.
When you are a shape-shifter –
chameleon girl with no face
and limbs too flexible,
no single city will embrace you.
The streets and sign posts will always out you
as not their own; they won’t shout,
Welcome home, habibti!
Oh little ajnabiyyah,
the call to prayer is crackling
over the decrepit loudspeakers
but it’s not calling to you.
Sabra and Shatila: Palestinian refugee camp in place since 1948, site of a massacre committed in 1982 by the Lebanese Phalangist militia.
Habibti: My love, my dear (f.) Arabic
Ajnabiyyah: Foreigner, stranger (f.) Arabic