Oh master of two worlds
The crescent moon has pulled your light on like shelter. Reclined now, I ask questions like: why, and is the sky really your home, and what if you had never made anyone at all. Today they wake us with the night still in full swing. We are rushed outside—a line of men ordered barefoot in the sand. Roaring voices announce we’re going on a field trip. I ask if the sand feels safe as it wraps itself around our ankles, toes. That pain in my chest, what is it. Where are we going. Roars and no answers. As our shadows sprawl across the desert the sand lifts slightly, reaches unknowingly. Gigantic hands slap plastic bags into our torsos like bullets. We are instructed to go inside and dress ourselves in the uniforms enclosed, told they have been fabricated for the occasion. Inside, I unfold the thick tracksuit, and unfold and unfold. I step into it as if about to inhabit a friendly beast. It is a yellowish-pink in the faint light. With daybreak we pour out of our quarters like a colony of pink ants. We pull the hoods over our shaved heads, certain it was a glitch in the design, but also glad to have shelter from the cold air. I have a heart. I have a feverish heart that only wants you, I sing. White, windowless buses stand waiting, and we climb into them unguided. Quietly we cling: onto the edges of our seats, the soles of our palms, the aftertastes of our short dreams. On the road into the city with us are other cages carrying other things. When we pull over, we are again surrounded by desert. From camps across the country the white buses arrive. Descending the tiny staircase we stand before three large pyramids. We spill and spill out. We form a large disc on the plateau—pink and full and silent. Soon the air show will begin.
Wet and wanting
I feed on you.
I take orders.
I smell myself from space.
I search for good notes, find: because you don’t love me, I go out and buy
a quarter kilo of cloves.
I draw disquiet into the light.
I sink into myself like a finger in a cave of honey.
I deny humidity.
I kill things too soon: hate the barely living.
I decide Salah is despicable for replacing murals of martyrs under the bridge.
I say No!
I become my hair.
I click my teeth against the window when it’s cold.
I make sure I am not dying.
I acknowledge I am good at editing myself.
I intend a messy shave.
I draw myself on a piece of paper and lay it under your pillow, plus an offering
of cloves and a tooth of glass.
I hide things in my mouth.
I file my voice under magic.
I don’t say a word.
The other side of everything
Okay I am a woman but don’t call me one. Definitely don’t map it. The voice thickens the longer you whisk it—that is what I know. A bulging body stands with its back to the camera, grey hair covering the head and neck and not an inch further. The body is slightly bent, as if mid-movement. There is a way of moving that doesn’t reveal the softness of your neck—that is what I aspire to. You touching me like some alien helps. Like something enclosed in something else. Did I mean: astronaut? Even those are often called spacemen or spacewomen. Just when you thought all the way up and out there we were free to fuck like clumps of cotton. Sometimes your voice is like a heavy rain—it grays and grays the longer you speak. Other evenings
it is like a morning whisper. I always sound like someone’s pussy. I put our voices in a pot and whisk, think: we are all just bodies. But we are asking each other questions like: what do I taste like, and, does it feel good when I touch you like I own you, and, does my filth draw or repel you? In some story, the body is dissolvable by spit: I do what I can with that. I take orders. I smell myself from space. When I show him MRI scans that are supposed to catch the reason for the pain in my legs but, I think, also catch my clitoris, my father winces. I would look again, but I too am busy wincing.
What does genre mean to you and how does it build/unbuild your work?
Four years ago, while getting an M.A. in journalism at Columbia University, I found a way to take a class in the writing program, and ended up in professor Alan Ziegler’s Short Prose Forms. It was listed as a “cross-genre” workshop. We read prose poems, fragments, short-short stories and brief essays by authors I would later become obsessed with—among them Ben Lerner, Anne Carson, and Kimiko Hahn. The class was incredibly transformative for me; it’s where I learned that if a piece of writing “works” (whatever “works” means) then it earns the right to look however it wants to look. Alan also helped me see that a text can traverse genres in the process of it being created, not just in its “final” form. He encouraged us to write without line-breaks and then insert them, or vice versa. I very rarely sit down with a form-intention; I want every piece to forge its own presence. I don’t feel sentenced to a genre. There’s something so freeing in that—and an excitement that comes with knowing every piece can be different. I often redact, expand and collapse, and generally play around with pieces before I decide that they “work.” Everything I write still goes in the Short Prose Forms folder I created in spring 2015.
Sara Elkamel is a journalist and poet, living between Cairo, Egypt and New York City. She holds an M.A. in arts and culture journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Guernica, Mada Masr, The Common, Winter Tangerine, and elsewhere.