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Rewa Zeinati

Small talk over breakfast


The secret ingredient: cumin. The main topic: the bodies of women. The main speakers: The pockets of men. The bodies of men. The pockets. Capitalism wears me down like new sandals on summer clearance. I give in. I get tired of hearing my own voice keep trying to give voice to my own voice. Capitalism teaches me that if you can’t stay young, stay small. I give in. Echoes of the main topic on repeat. The bodies. The pockets. The men. Do you see these mansions on Beech Daly? They’re owned by judges and surgeons. If you can’t stay young? Stay small.

A poem where I use the word Palestine in the classroom

(Beirut, 2018)


Take this body and consider it borrowed.


Keep it smooth, waxed, thinner than thin.

Keep it safe under layers of garment. Expose your


fingers. You need those to carry small things.

To stir a wooden ladle. To clip pegs on the laundry wire.


To open doors to visiting in-laws. Visiting out-laws.

Take this body and consider it sold.


Here, I teach young boys who grow up to marry their mothers. I teach girls who reject love from other girls. Petroleum is big these days. Some students major in Speech Therapy to teach others how to speak.


They complain that the Syrian refugees take their jobs. The Kurds beg for change on their city streets. They sell roses or maybe they steal them.


This is the poem where I use the word Palestine in the classroom.


after Adrienne Rich


Sometimes you meet an old man/ whose fist isn’t clenched blue-white/

whose hands you inherited clean/ short nails and hairy knuckles


an old man whose eyes look/ at you like maybe you are his only/

son/ but remembers how much/ you resemble his wife


stops midway between never stirring/ the rice and never washing a dish

but never asking for help either/ because this is the kind of thing


you’ll grow into anyway/all aprons and kitchens and children

You meet this old man// who left too young/ / to invent entire cities


from sand/ and lost every one of them/ to the shifting chance of visa stamps/

eye tests at airports and the lungs of air-conditioners


You spend your life memorizing all the questions/ you should never ask

about his past/ the home address of his original/ original map/


not because he will not answer/ but because you too/ prefer pretending. 

[Thanksgiving 2018 was Independence Day for one postcolonial nation]


the children build things in the play space near the open kitchen/ the mother bakes with rosemary/ the father sleeps/ the uncle receives a long distance phone call/ the aunt swallows her questions/ the cat attacks books and toys/ Christmas hats burn cedar shapes into the floor/ the grandparents prepare for sleep/ they age twice as fast/ remembering flight/ the forest fires die down/ the rain arrives too late/ the children imagine in the play space near the open kitchen/ the cat jumps off a shelf/ the father dreams of rosemary/ the uncle ends his phone call/the aunt picks up the cat/ a children’s book /Rahbani jazz in the background/ the game/ the cold coffee/ no one eats turkey today/ the marching band packs up/no one remembers it like in the school books /the politician loosens his tie/water remains short/the power is still out/ hunger breaks between each bite /of air and fire/ the same earth/ the same dirt/ we make dough/ we bake bread/ we give thanks/ we wait too long/ to call our parents.


Recipient of the 2019 Edward Stanley award for poetry, Rewa Zeinati is the author of the poetry chapbook, Bullets & Orchids, and the founder of the literary magazine, Sukoon. Her work can also be found in various journals and anthologies based in the US, UK, Australia, and Arab-speaking regions. Originally from Lebanon, she currently considers Metro Detroit her new home.

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