On September 10, 2001, I flew home from New York City. It was the last time I was in the city, and the last time I thought my marriage would survive. We had breakfast at a restaurant in Astoria before I took a bus to La Guardia. The air was blue, crisp -- there had been a clear shift in the weather that weekend, a sharp turn from summer into autumn.
On September 11, 2001, a slow scene of terror unfolded, claiming thousands of lives and transforming the global landscape. Cell phone circuits were jammed; I confirmed the safety of friends via text messages and email. Families unfolded, buildings bent. The sky was empty for days, as thin clouds floated unimpeded across a blue banner. It was eerie, dismaying.
Today, in remembering that moment when everything shifted, I think about the disorientation I experienced almost a decade ago when I first stepped foot in the Middle East and how inextricably linked my experiences there are to the events of September 2001. The heart at the heart of things:
My eyes trace the script
of Arabic as you grasp my arm and steer me
through Cairo’s scrolling traffic.
From above settles the call:
Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar.
Until language slips like desert wind
past minarets, until language sleeps,
there is no storm so tenuous
as the scrape of swirling sand,
this whirlwind of staccato words
strangely seasoned by Ramadan.
Language slips through desire, steaming like tea —
just after — alone in Mohandiseen,
when desire slips through language.
You hear my whispered voice:
Qalb (the heart that beats).
To love in a land without language
is to learn to live small in the world,
small and observant; wrapped and subdued
like prayer. To tug our sounds until we shake
each other's echoes. Until
exploding cinders glow in winter's gray,
glow in the hushed shhh of faith.