I just want to write as a poem.
my head feels heavy with words.
they don’t fall into my hands like they used to like the dreams in which i lose my voice
on the porch
i watch the snowflakes fall and i understand
i dream about swimming pools, about floating,
i’m gorging myself on all the worlds i can’t have.
i train my brain not to think, keep my hands busy,
tie my hair like a noose.
and i’m writing to write,
focusing on the feeling of my fingers moving on the keyboard,
each button, each letter,
the choreography of a poem.
home is a woundan introduction
Over the past couple of years I have discovered that most of my poetry is about contact and miscommunication. Contact as in touch as in collisions as in reaching out. Miscommunication because of the languages I live in (Arabic and English) and the different corners of the world I call home (Abu Dhabi, Cairo, and Chicago). I write to process and bring together and fragment and sculpt the home I’ve built out of the poems; a home that transcends language and geographical locations. My poems are vignettes; pinholes for my readers to peer through, to experience the life of the displaced, the foreigner, the nonimmigrant alien.
The untranslatability of my name, my tongue, and my home have become my obsessions. I write poem after poem about the stuttering and stumbling of being bilingual, of remembering the strangest words in my mother tongue and forgetting the most important. The way my bilingualism moves and weaves when allowed and becomes its own language, dance, music, the root of my poetry.
Writing about naming, coming home, leaving home, my mother tongue, and my mother’s tongue comes with the pitfalls of translation and accessibility. I grapple with questions about the responsibility of the reader and the writer and the emotional labor of translating not just language but also experiences. I also question who I want the intended audience to be. I carry a whole world inside me; moving back and forth between languages, listening to the music of my split tongue and living with the homesickness that is its side effect.
My poetry is all mistranslations and misinterpretations. It’s a voice strangled with need. It’s home when home is here and the other side of the world and everything that I am and everything I have yet to be. It’s an uncomfortable marriage between Arabic and English. It’s the only story I know.
Rabha Ashry is Egyptian, from Abu Dhabi, and based in Chicago. A New York University Abu Dhabi graduate, she has recently completed an MFA in Writing at School of the Arts Institute of Chicago. She spends a lot of time scribbling short poems in her notebook on the train. She writes about exile, the diaspora, and living between languages. She speaks to her roommate’s cats in Arabic because she knows they speak Arabic too.