Two Poems



The boat was loaded on a truck. The truck took me to the border. I was alone, hiding in the hull’s chine and emerged with a two-sided oar in my hands. At the checkpoint, hordes of refugees in riot control formation without the gear. They were asking the questions. ‘Who wrote this book?’ or ‘Where did this phrase first appear?’ To pass through I had to match quotes and author names to book titles. Sometimes the refugees got specific about characters or incidents. And if I answered one query correctly they released others like clay pigeons and my rifle quickly faltered. They seemed vituperative but eventually let me through once a look of shame had overwhelmed my fraudulent visage. They were well read. Their city was deserted. You were taking a bucket shower in a roofless thatch stall under the full gaze of stars and your matted hair was a raft. We said nothing as our lips simulated union before you panicked. ‘A monster’s coming,’ you said, ‘Speak, I implore you, now that you’re no longer a continent apart.’







‘I’ve never been,’ I said to my friend who’d just come back from there. ‘Oh you should definitely go,’ she said. ‘The original Palestine is in Illinois.’ She went on: ‘A pastor was driven out by Palestine’s people and it hurt him so badly he had to rename somewhere else after it. Or maybe it goes back to a 17th century Frenchman who traveled with his vision of milk and honey, or the nut who believed in dual seeding.’ ‘What’s that?’ I asked. ‘That’s when an egg is fertilised by two sperm,’ she said. ‘Is that even viable?’ I asked. ‘It is,’ she said, ‘on rare occasions, though there’s no guarantee the longevity of the resulting twins.’ She spoke like a scientist but really was a professor of the humanities at heart. ‘Viability,’ she added ‘depends on the critical degree of disproportionate defect distribution for a miracle to occur. If there is to be life, only one twin lives.’ That night we went to the movies looking for a good laugh. It was a Coen Brothers’ feature whose unheralded opening scene rattled off Palestine this, Palestine that and the other, it did the trick. We were granted the right to exist. It must have been then that my wallet slipped out of my jeans’ back pocket and under the seat. The next morning I went back to the theatre. With a flashlight that the manager had lent me I found the wallet unmoved. This was the second time in a year that I’d lost and retrieved this modern cause of sciatica in men. Months earlier it was at a lily pond I’d gone hiking to with the same previously mentioned friend. It was around twilight. Another woman, going in with her boyfriend as we were coming out, picked up the leather receptacle, put it in her little backpack, and weeks later texted me the photo of his kneeling and she standing with her right hand over her mouth, to thwart the small bird in her throat from bursting. If the bird escapes, the cord is severed and the heart plummets. She didn’t want the sight of joy caught in her teeth. He’d sat his phone camera on its pod and set it in lapse mode, she wrote in her text to me. I welled up. She was about to become a bride and my wallet was part of the proposal. This had made me a token of their bliss, though I wasn’t sure how her fiancé might feel about my intrusion, if he cares at all. ‘It’s a special wallet,’ I texted back. ‘It’s been with me for the better part of two decades since a good friend got it for me as a present.’ ‘He was from Ohio,’ I turned and said to my film mate who was listening to my story. ‘Ohio?’ she seemed surprised. ‘Yes,’ I replied quizzically. ‘There’s also a Palestine, Ohio,’ she said. ‘Barely anyone lives there anymore. All of them barely towns off country roads least travelled, serene out of time.’




Citizens of Everywhere is a project by the Centre for New and International Writing at the University of Liverpool. @CitizensofWhere #CitizensofEverywhere


is the author of three books of poetry and several volumes of poetry in translation from the Arabic. His new poetry collection Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2018.



Issue No. 11

Interview with Alice Oswald


October 2013

The Good Soldier


June 2015

Uneasy Lies the Head