the middle east is missing

wha do osama bin laden and i have in common?  saddam? qaddafi? mubarak? sharon?
peres? is kashmir? is asia? is persia? is europe? is iran? is jordan? is kurd? a
language? a religion? cuisine? borders on bordering? wha do you and i have in common?
red sea dead sea an empire syria iraq  say kurd say we were occupied
a people under siege of make xenophobia believe  drink and say, “zamzam.”

say we did it to ourselves.
say: complicit. i want to walk/ return maps speak to managers          of mapmakers
i’d like to see god’s atlas compare it to ours trace a new equator a river nile still running
upwards its own gravity joins scapegoat to scapegoat
in song: row row row your boat gently down a stream merrily merrily merrily life is but a

say je suis zidane, je suis egyptienne.

say it to a rhythm not a plot
a quality not a toxin
say dizzy without jury without trial ask           of us just us sing back lyric
dust off vulgar gaslight

say it in the colonizer’s tongue. call it the cradle of civilization say dunyah say la illahah
ila allah say jannah inscribe your history inside every barren closet you once
occupied say quickly here we are now entertain us/ cartographers agitate us
exact us           excise us

would you make a space for me? between zoot jute epoxy and a hard place somewhere
between vengeance and yolk next to the place you go to quake

ive brought my own pillow plus sleeping bag but now the letters have become cryptic i
cant tell if it is because of shyness or lack of interest when you look like me you
can say things no one will question or everyone will question you in june as a zygote in
uterus in excess

maybe it is a cry for help. maybe it is just a cry. say palestinian
say palestine
say syria
say syrian
say baby
say future
say mine
say yemen
say yemeni
say zay (like)
say hena (here)
say mine say ghost in context weep quietly then wail
so make a space for me in your mind.
make me a space
graph, transcribe. jaunt, wax, wane.
here is neruda. here is his book of questions.
here is mine. a quiz of sorts. this is the map i navigate by.

who you pulling from bricks? a baby? an arm? books? a ball? who’s is it? you ask
coaxing at gallons of quicksand absorbing and vying for joy, for protozoa

pray static pray jaw pray zoroastrian
pray xanax pray quickly borrow what you will from
god, from vagrancy, from vacancy

before i left i wrote: where you from? where you from? where you from? inside every
empty closet of the homes i once occupied. dont forget
where youre from, dont squint. zoom in. stow the box, lock the key. jump on.

we made a new map from breath from zone to zone we
moved, traveled, walked,           journeyed. there are many
who experience what we havent quote benefited from being unquote.

maybe a cry for help, maybe jus a cry. maybe a memory quivering of a juvenile
kingdom’s lie, maybe was a zealous royal
who unleashed sand and sphinx making borders die: in yellow,
blue, green, and red, orange and cream lines.

*   *   *

Marwa Helal is a poet and journalist. Her work has appeared in Apogee, Poets & Writers, The Offing, The Recluse, Winter Tangerine and elsewhere. She is the winner of BOMB Magazine’s Biennial 2016 Poetry Contest. Helal has been awarded fellowships from Brooklyn Poets and Cave Canem. @marwahelal on Twitter or

Readers are encouraged to submit 3–5 poems as a PDF to Wendy Xu for consideration at

Wendy Xu is the author of the poetry collections Phrasis (Fence, 2017), winner of the 2016 Ottoline Prize, and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013). The recipient of a Ruth...