The world from my grandmother’s lap seemed brighter


In the ebony of my eyes and the caramel of my skin,

My grandmother’s smile is pressed firm—

Her brown locks brush across my cheeks and she holds me tight,

Whispering untold secrets into my ears.

We share smiles that bridge time and make history—

I find myself folded into the depths and crevices of these smiles,

Wrapped up safe in 7aboba’s toob and her secrets.

She smells like fresh lemonade and white lilies and sandaliya, all at once.

She feels like home and sounds like comfort,

And looks so much like me.

Our eyes are shaped like almonds, but carry different stories:

Hers carry depth, having seen so much—

While mine have barely learned to recognize life.

But in our eyes there is a shared legacy,

And one day I will carry my son’s daughter,

Having seen as much as 7aboba did.

For now I am content to find comfort in her embrace,

In the familiar hands that hold me close,

Fingers stained with henna and just as strong as they are beautiful.






Like the drops of dew that

Have come to take residence

On her hollowed cheeks

The raindrops splattering

Over the umbrella of her

Broken thoughts


They sting, and she does nothing

To wipe them away. Instead she

Clutches onto a hope

That the past will be wiped

From her mind,

With the salt of her memories

And the novelty of new pain

That comes in the deluge

From an equally unhappy sky

In Memory of Sayed-Ahmed Abdalraheem. Husband. Brother. Father. Grandfather. Uncle. Friend

July 6, 2014

You were a father figure to all; your gracious goodwill and charming personality cultivated in your heart an everlasting affection and a warm and welcoming smile to friend and family member alike. There’s a reason the term is “grand” father. The tasks you completed in your lifetime, the help you willingly offered others, the hospitality you showed to those who needed it—were nothing less than grand. Everyone who spoke of you recalled with nostalgic reminiscence the way you opened the doors of your home to strangers and family, the way you put aside your own needs to please your family and your children.

Your best traits—and you had nothing but the best of traits—were passed on to your sons and daughter. You had the qualities of a leader and the heart of the strongest believer. I have seen these qualities mirrored in my own father, who has always taught me to lead, not follow. I know without a doubt that he got that attitude from you; you, who spoke your opinion aloud to those whom you thought needed to hear it; you, who would stop at nothing to right a wrong. You, who stood at the head of the table at my first birthday, smiling from ear to ear, with a love that radiated far brighter than the candles in the cake. I thank God that Baba had a knack for photography, and that he documented what seems like every second of my infancy. Today I went back and I looked at these pictures, these memories of a time to which I sometimes wish I could return. I looked at these pictures and I realized how lucky I was to grow up in your arms, to learn your name and hold your hand, to be counted among the many who can say that they were spoiled and loved by Sayed Ahmed Abdalraheem.

I will not say that your passing is easy, Jiddo. It isn’t. I don’t think even you realized the love and admiration and respect I had—and still have, and will always have—for you. You have given me the courage to stand up tall and speak my mind, like you. To be generous and put the needs of others before my own, like you. To lead and be strong, and to lend that strength when those around us can’t bear the burdens that life often sees fit to hand us. Like you. I am proud to say that I want to be just like you, for you were an exemplary role model. What strikes me the most is that you did what you did, not out of a sense of duty or because you felt you needed to fulfill an obligation, but because it was within your nature to do good. You were always prepared to sacrifice your needs for the sake of something greater, and I pray that someday God will grant me the same wisdom.

In the end, the heart that you nurtured so well could not withstand the love that you allowed to grow within it. And my heart, like yours, can only take so much. But I will stay strong, for you. I will keep going through the pictures, and I’ll share the cherished memories I have of you with Ahmed, Lena and Rayan, who don’t have as many recollections of you as they would like to have. I have not cried the last of my tears, but I have hope that your legacy will travel through the generations, insha’Allah, so that your death will not have been in vain. We will all strive to accomplish what you were able to achieve in your lifetime, and may Allah give us the strength and the willpower to live long, healthy and productive lives, so that one day, I can tell my children about their late great-grandfather. I’ll show them the pictures, and I’ll pass on your stories, and as we laugh and cry and recall the past, we will all keep praying to Allah (SWT), to allow us to be just like you.

Love, Always


A Story in so Many Words: Airborne

She grips the balloon, letting the string dig into small fingers that strain with the effort of holding on. Her brows are knitted with unwavering concentration. A sudden wind wrenches the string from her hands, stinging pale skin. She watches the last reminder of her father drift to the heavens.


Here lie the roses by the sea

Drowned in the salt of memory

Forgotten, lost, their color gone

Now dim, though once they brightly shone

They tell a tale of boundless woe

Their stems are poisoned, have ceased to grow

The pink of promise, washed away

Their yellow tint now deadened gray

The reds have bled what red they had

The whites, no longer pure, but sad

The salt of oceans stings their pain

And leaves behind a lasting stain

Their petals shrivel up in fear

And beauty hides when love is near

Just as the heaving ship will sink

So too do these sick roses drink

Where even sunlight cannot reach

Finding the surface hard to breach

Neglected in a moment’s span

Tossed by a cruel and eager hand

Here lie the roses by the sea

Where hasty judgment set them free

Drowned in the salt of memory

Here lie the roses, in the sea  

“Another year, gone” (to quote Albus Dumbledore)

Time doesn’t measure itself. We turn for the breadth of a second and suddenly a new year is around the corner, our resolutions once again overlooked, our skeletons still in the proverbial closet. It’s hard to believe that winter is already rolling in fast, and we have scarecely had a chance to experience fall. I’m willing to guess that even the trees (which should be used to nature’s clockwork by now) have been taken by surprise. The gold and red and yellow tints of their leaves have faded to a depressing brown, and the squirrels are busy darting from tree to tree, collecting their acorn stash.

We can’t do anything to stop time, no matter how often we “turn back the clock” during Daylight Savings. Time is the elephant in the room everyone goes out of their way to avoid, in an effort to try and sneak out the door without waking the beast. Time is the factor than no one dares to factor in, the element working against us even when it seems as though it’s on our side. The catch, of course, is that there’s nothing we can do to outrun it. It’s constantly there, standing over our shoulders and breathing its seconds and minutes and hours down our necks. Mastering time means finding that thing, that one thing, that makes it worth the effort. If we find what it is that makes us happy, that puts us in our element, then time becomes an aspect of our lives that we forget—just as we forget about the nights of our childhood when we insisted that our mother stay with us until we fell asleep, or the way we used to sit with our grandfather and watch the sun set over the river, witnessing the melting of colors in a pool of translucent reflections.

Forgetting that time lingers forever over life’s shoulder doesn’t guarantee that we will put our best efforts into our work. In order to create the best possible version of our stories, our paintings, our sculptures, our research—whatever it may be that makes us feel like we have a purpose in this world—we need to follow in the footsteps of perseverance. No task is more difficult than convincing ourselves that we must keep pushing, keep writing, keep painting. Or, as Ron Carlson put it, in the case of the writer: “You have to stay in the room.” Leaving the keyboard, telling yourself that you’re just going to get another cup of coffee and be right back, is the easy (the coward’s) way out. Staying in front of that screen, typing away even when your fingers feel like they’re going to fall off–that takes discipline. Unconsciously, we feel that we’re fighting against a silent enemy, a formidable element that will try to crush our efforts. Without giving it a name, (because that would mean addressing its presence) we know that time is there, so we push through, and we write, and we paint, and we sculpt, and we research, not paying any attention to the clocks that read things like 3 am because time, after all, is irrelevant.

“Yellow Rose”


In the photograph I am 

No older than a year

Floral dress contrasting

Grandmother’s red dress

Clenched in a baby fist

Is a yellow rose

In full bloom, brushing 

A quivering chin. 

My eyes are black with wonder

Looking out past the lens

Past the rose

Past my father, who holds the camera

Lips parted in toothless awe,

I contemplate the blossoming

Of an unknown future