If only, you

If only you were patient
Strong

If only you knew how long
It would take
To make that change

If only…
You were different
Not so indifferent
Cared more
Less careless

You
Criticize, minimize
Cut down to size
You
Build obstacles in your mind

Stale thoughts
Tired tries

Walking tall, broken inside
Swaying to both sides
Unanchored

Undefied
Flowing on hours
Seconds, passing time
Missing past times

If only
You can turn over
A new leaf lies near

If only
You could grasp it

But you only
Let it glide by

Pondering its beauty
Amused at its closeness

Not knowing
Who it was meant for

You

If only you knew

*Amira Salah-Ahmed

Justice delayed, justice denied

Justice delayed
Justice denied
Justice waiting on the sidelines
Waiting to be called on to the field
And play a part in liberty
Waiting

Justice is not blind
It sees who’s been wronged
It knows who committed the crime

It’s you who ties the blindfold
You who puts justice on hold
Cannot reconcile the past with tomorrow
You choose not to see

But justice, it is clear
Burdened by your complicity
Its shrewd vision sharply skewed

And if we know justice
Can we not bring it to the fore?
Must we wait for it to be served?

Served by you it comes in drivels
Hardly enough to quench the thirst for truth
Drips of water for hungry souls
Instead of a flood to feed the bereaved

In your grip, justice is shackled
Chained to convenient lies
Hidden behind a veil of caged animals and murderers
Aging dictators and their loyal traitors

A smokescreen of comfort for the masses
While martyr’s mothers burn in restless nights
Not knowing which to fight – grief or negligence

Oh Lady Justice
Elusive, demure
Will not make the first move
Will not make it easy on you
Despite polite platitudes
And grandiose overtures

It sits, silently screaming
Watching you miss the point
Over and over and over

Waiting
Till you’re through bearing brutality
You
Afraid to speak
Numb to the voices of the weak

Justice – just is waiting
For you to want it enough
For passion to move you, to move

For anger to boil over the brim
Spill lava-like and melt your hardened conscience
To rouse you conscious
Keep you awake at night

Like the memory of a lost love
Close, but never near enough
Always out of grasp
Like the happiness of innocence
Gone brittle with time

Justice enjoys the chase
The thrill of the race for integrity
Once in your clutches like concrete
It crumbles to pieces
Slithers away to an urgent destination

Puts you on her road again
An eternal search
With no rescue in sight

No matter how right your case may be
Another injustice sits around the corner
Waiting for its soldiers
Cuz this world
Just is never
Just enough

*Amira Salah-Ahmed

Mind mines

A reinvention of words
A revelation of things
You never knew before
Rumblings inside your head
Listen

Careful as you tread
Uneven mental landscapes
Laced with mines
Buried in the past
Blast

Resurrected images rise
When least expected
Startling quiet corners
Havens creeping with shadows
Haunted

Buried years ago
Not enough dust here
To keep them down
Seeping like smoke
Upwards

Masked memories
Parading as dreams
Lurking inside your eyes
The future is there
Hidden

*Amira Salah-Ahmed

I am human, too

(On the occasion of International Women’s Day, I’m sharing a poem I wrote in August 2011 about the chronic sexual harassment Egyptian women have faced for years)

I see you every day
Walking down the street
I’d rather smile at you and say hello
But you inspire instant mistrust

I avert my eyes
Look everywhere but straight at you
It’s a weakness I confess

I’d rather walk with my head held high
Instead of looking at the pavement
It’s become so familiar

I cower to your looming threat
Yes, I am a coward at times
Though I’m known to be brave otherwise
One of the many things you steal

It’s funny that you don’t remember me

I am the mother that gave you birth
Sister of the same blood
Daughter of your father, too

The life line of creation
I am affection and passion
Patience and humility
Strength and resilience

A shoulder to lean on
A pat on the back
I am the sun that shines on you
I carry the future in my womb

I nurture the present
Keep the past in check
For all is I deserve respect
Woman

And if nothing else, I am human, too
Don’t you remember me?

I see despise in your eyes
Leering, jeering lustful glares
Unjustified

Even if my arms are bare
Or covered from head to toe
Walking tall and clicking my heals
Or shuffling along in slippered feet

I am here
I am present
I exist

Though your gropes kill little parts of me
I can die a little each day
But I’m back tomorrow on these same streets
Ready to fight, again

I exist
I am present
I am here
Where I’ve always been

Don’t you remember me?

Where is the precious stone?
Where do you draw the line?
You were the brother I looked to in years gone by

Why have I run so far from where you stand?
Stagnant.
Catch up, evolve

Time is moving
I grow stronger, louder and more powerful
And you?
Your weakness rings through every taunt

And now I’ve found my voice
No, I will not keep it down
Listen to my mighty ruckus
Suffer the consequences of your advances

Stare at me, I will stare you down
With my beautifully lined eyes
And my glossy lips?
They can spew profanities, too

I’ll scream at you
Until your remember me

*Amira Salah-Ahmed

I Didn’t Know

(On February 11, 2011, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as the president of Egypt and the country burst at the seams with a sense of victory and boundless potential. After celebrating all night with friends, I got home the morning of February 12 and immediately started writing this poem about the 18 days of protests. Feeling relieved and elated, I couldn’t stop crying. We had won. One year later, it’s hard to admit, I spoke too soon. We celebrated too soon. Still, this is how I felt then.)

I didn’t know I could dream
Surrendered to this nightmare long ago
I thought I was all alone
Visualized a future I couldn’t own
Walked on a borrowed land
Feeling disloyal and jaded

I didn’t know freedom

Out of the fray and out in the cold
Felt odd to bump into you on this road
Couldn’t smile or look you in the eye
I didn’t know you were me all along
Didn’t think one day we would write this song

I cried for you and felt your pain
My helpless tears wanted to protect you
Wanted to hold your hand
I didn’t see you reaching out, for me

I didn’t know freedom was near

I was always afraid
Slept with dictators in my head
They told me we were different
That we couldn’t understand

They put us in classes
You looked down as I looked up
They widened rifts and deepened valleys
Frustrated, we ran in circles
Looking out for number one, me me and me

You I never knew, you I never looked to
We were never meant to meet in the street
We were not supposed to stand
Shoulder-to-shoulder on this brave bridge

Never allowed to bathe
In the sunlight of this nation
While shouting in the square: Liberation!

I didn’t know freedom would come so soon

They once blew up our sacred unity
But here we birthed harmony
And crossed the crescent with hope
Played music to prayers’ call

We were meant to be on opposite sides
Pitted against the other, daggers ready to pounce
I thought I needed to protect myself
I didn’t know you would die for me
Gave up your life so I could be free

We walked through the toxic air
Marched through floods of water
And we met on the other side
Scattered at first but then solidified

I didn’t know freedom could be so fatal

Wait, but I knew you all along
I knew we were millions-strong
I knew we could roar
Shake this throne to its core
I saw this in a dream
Not knowing it could be real

They knew if we gathered here
Our weight would topple the regime
Our bond would break barricades of fear
Fists would shatter their false security
Chants would put them in a trance

I didn’t know freedom would come so fast

We weren’t supposed to meet this way
I didn’t know it’s us they should fear
You weren’t supposed to die here
I didn’t know how loud we could scream
Enough to pierce their deafened ears

Riddled with rubber bullets, made us stronger
Beaten with batons toughened our stride
Revolution brewing in our minds
Strength in numbers against the tide
And we grew and sprawled this nation wide

Dotting the Nile, conquering the square
Man next to woman
Laughing and praying, dancing and singing
Our positive vibes reverberating

I didn’t know freedom would sound so grand

The battle medieval we fought victorious
Fortified front lines, from the trenches we rise
Storms of rocks and molotovs
Bullets ricocheting off innocent lives

A parade of camel hooves trampling over hearts
Weapons swinging from horseback
Armed with unity against the attack
And we fell and crawled
Blood sprawled over the city

Anger boiling in every home
Made believers out of the self-righteous
And naysayers sang a new tune
Millions on the wavelength of truth

We unmasked the enemy, defeated they ran
Come back with more, they didn’t dare
Beaming with resilience, triumph was ours
Huddled in camps to pass the darkest hours

When the sun rose and we flooded the streets
The earth rumbled beneath our feet
Strategizing ways to scare us away
Brought more of us together every day

Who knew freedom would bring us here?

Their empty rhetoric dashed our hopes
But no going home, he’ll leave, we won’t
Bring down the house, the people demand
Get out we said, don’t you understand?
Our strained voices drowned out this man

After years of tears and heavy hearts
One line, finally: He will depart
And the people, we cheered and started to fly
Our flags, elated, canvassed the skies
You are Egyptian, hold your head high

We run the streets now
We own this land
We bet on the future
And won it back
We’ll paint the cities
A fresh coat of life

I didn’t know freedom would come so soon
I didn’t know freedom could come at all
I didn’t know freedom…But now I do

*Amira Salah-Ahmed

Martyr, Unknown

(The December 2011 crackdown on the Cabinet sit-in left many dead. One of them unidentified. No ID, no phone, just a wedding band)

There is an unknown face
Sleeping in the cold
Waiting for a familiar hand
To hold warmth, one last time
To feel human
To feel life, one last time

Before resting in peace
He sleeps
Unidentified

We know how he died
Not how he lived
Who he laughed with
His first word, his first kiss

Did he choose to die?
Was he in your line of fire?
It might have been you
Maybe another time

If I could hear his mother’s cry
Would that shatter the anguish?
Could her tears cleanse his soul?
But she doesn’t know
She can’t pray
She can’t mourn

She doesn’t know he was shot
Cold-blooded in a darkened street
As a rain of Molotovs burned the sky
And a hail of rocks fractured skulls

Someone misses his voice, somewhere
Remembers the traces of his face
Someone needs to be loved, by him
Only him, only he knows how

But no one knows who he is
And all that’s left is this ring
A bond – broken, torn
A life, incomplete

Martyr, unknown
Longs to be seen, one last time
By someone with shared memories
With shared blood
Till then, he cannot rest
In peace
Even if we never forget

*Amira Salah-Ahmed

My Generation Called

My generation called
They said come to the streets
We’re standing on the corner of democracy
The road looks bleak but someone said the other side is paved with peace

My generation called
They said take my hand
I’ll lead you through this unknown land
Soon it will get dark and the path is unchartered, but walk with me

My generation called
Said they found the keys
That open the doors of tomorrow
Rusted still but once swung open, a rush of light

My generation called
They said don’t look back
Shake off the ghosts of the past
We’ll not make the same mistakes they did, or forget the fallen

My generation called
They bellowed brisk demands
Plucked emperors out of high towers
Robin Hooded treasures and fed them to the lions, turned gold to dust

My generation called
They said take a stand
Let your resonating voice stir the sand
Raise it high to rouse the masses and never let it settle, for less

My generation called
They said mark these words
You’ll want to repeat them over and over
A prophecy that topples the pharaohs of our divided worlds

My generation called
They said give us the truth
Hold hostage the devil of deception
Peel back the layered lies through to the last shred of misconception

My generation called
Said they’ve seen salvation
Fluttering around the wings of deprivation
Ready to pick us up when we fall apart, when we are too broken to fly

My generation called
Rang the bell of liberty
Resounded straight through those stubborn borders
Melting away falsified histories, a once united peninsula once again crystallized

My generation called
Said I see through your eyes
Borrowed your hands to draw the map of our times
I’ll survive with your patience, hoping prosperity spills over to the next generation

*Amira Salah-Ahmed

Elections, the morning after — it’s not funny

Waking up to jokes about how a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament will change Egypt was disconcerting to say the least.

Not only were they unfunny, the morning onslaught of BBM/Whatsapp messages, as well as Facebook and Twitter updates were also annoying and distasteful, creating more unnecessary fear and widening the rifts between different streams of Egypt’s society.

I believe that our pluralism itself protects societal and political spheres from monopolization by any one ideology. I may be proven wrong in the future, but there’s no reason to start off on this very wrong and crippled foot.

People are whipping themselves into a frightened frenzy, which shows weakness and, truly after all we’ve been through, it just adds insult to injury.

As for the elections, there are still millions of votes to be won by any party or coalition, and numerous chances for “liberal” individual candidates to score big — unless of course the strategy is to sit idle and whine over the loss by Egypt’s liberals.

Sore losers joke, winners keep working harder and keep winning more. Focus and strategy is needed.

Moreover, people need to understand that there are differences in ideologies of the MB, Salafis, Al-Wasat, etc…lumping them all together as an “Islamist” front is fear-mongering similar to the Mubarak regime. I’d argue that they are actually in conflict with one another and will find it hard to reach consensus on many levels, thus vulnerable to self-destruction.

Scaring ourselves into a corner will mean further isolation and further inaction on part of the liberals. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot and creating a dynamic where there’s us and them, to whose benefit? The only times we’ve won are when we are able to unite (utopian, I know) or reach a compromise.

And if there are already rifts in society then why widen them further only to fall through the cracks ourselves?

You don’t think there are a million and one jokes to be made by the “Islamists” about the liberal lifestyle? Yet I haven’t seen a single one. How can we be so judgmental when inclusion, tolerance and acceptance are what we most need now?

The focus now is on the constitution, the economy, civilian rule, no military trials, and so much more…if we tear ourselves apart now, we’re screwed for life.

*Amira Salah-Ahmed

State of being: Revolution

(Inspired by the strength and resilience of Alaa Abd El Fattah and the people who know that we deserve better and do something about it regardless of the consequences. #FreeAlaa)

Revolution
A constant state of being
Defiance, being
Igniting resistance
Revolting
Affirming existence
Against the tide
Pushing
Being one, uniting
Being a flood
Standing on a thin line
With all your being
Breaking divides
Screaming
Piercing muted minds
Being victorious
Then – defeated
Delayed, undeterred
Being
Stronger than most
Strident
Shaking the core of earth
Willed, willing to give
Everything
Kicking in the door
Crazy? Visionary
Galvanizing millions
Chanting, dismantling systems
Then – alone
Detained, determined
Solitary strength
Still being, solid
Freedom
A state of mind
Never silent
Never still
Contagious passion
Spreading
Gaining momentum, again
Riling up anger
Waking up, again
A new machine, camouflaged
Same technique, repeat
Revolt, constantly

*Amira Salah-Ahmed

No SCAF: A poem

The gall
Redrawing all those red lines
Right after I washed the floor clean of fear

Swept away the residue of yesterday
Brushed off the dust of intimidation

You’ve connected the dots it seems
Using drops of precious blood still staining the streets

But unlike before, I see the red lines
And I cross them with ease

I jump on them, stomping my feat
Like the crack that broke your mother’s back
This too will break you

I’ll twirl on them like a ballerina
Balance
Sway to the right, then to the left
Tap on beat
Just as I please

Write over them with truth
That maims your chokehold on the masses
No longer am I suffocated by propriety

You are not my father
We are not your honorable children
We are powerful citizens

This is how you shall address me now
In your next communiqué, I want u to say
Oh ye miraculous force that toppled the giant
And when you summon me, I expect a red carpet

Recognize the might
And that patronizing tone
It sounds like you stole it from he — who shall remain without a name

I see your red line
And I raise you a red flag

The stakes are high
I’m calling your bluff
Your betting blind
I’ll force you to fold

How unwise
After all the work we’ve done
You think you can swoop in and eat the cake we baked?

Riling up fear of extremists and non-believers
All the same

A wheel of production, turning in its grave
Well just let it lie in peace

We will reinvent the circle of this life
Make it roll down the road we choose

Lest you be confused
This is a revolution of words
Of chants and screams
Our faith and dreams

Of accountability
So don’t count on your ability to strategize war
Tacticize, tribunalize

This is a different battlefield
Laced with mines of our making

It is you who should tip toe around our red line: dignity
Trip over yourself to cater to our needs
Instead of power tripping and back door deals

Instead of banging on battered backs
And violating the most intimate parts of me

A revolution, ready to birth life anew
Don’t you dare SCAF it up

We will draw on the walls
Lift the veil till it goes viral
And your red lines
Will be
Double crossed

*Amira Salah-Ahmed