Issue 14 · Fall 2014
If I had a baby I’d name it Eduvigis. This was a grandmother I never knew. I would raise this child on onions and mint. When she would cry I would cut the onion in half and hold it to her forehead and wipe the tears with the mint leaves. Eduvigis’ brother was named Hielpoli. After Heliopolis? Meaning Eye of the Sun, seat of the deity Atum, who evolved from mound and sea and bore his god siblings, Shu and Tefnut, into existence. When Shu and Tefnut dove into the surrounding waters to explore the darkness, they disappeared, and Atum sent a messenger to find them. Upon their return, Atum shed tears of joy which became the first human beings. One of Heliopolis’ ancient obelisks still stands in the Cairene district of Al-Matariyyah where the tree of the Virgin Mary once sheltered the Holy Family.
We came from the desert. I dreamt Palestine was the surface of the moon. Families would swim in the steaming craters. The wind blew dust into our hair and we sat on wire chairs for hours. Later, we walked along the abandoned beach, surveying some rusted debris that had washed ashore and I found a quarter in the sand. Two children played at the wall. The wall looked like an ocean growing into the sky.
The dust in the air is choking them. With their faces on the ground it looks as if they are vomiting dirt. The stars push down onto the earth. Rocks climb into their shoes. They pour out sand and roots. The desert jumps onto their backs as they sleep.
On a sheet of transparency paper, the artist pours a mound of sand. The paper is illuminated and projected onto a wall. The hand pushes the sand into hills and sweeps it into the sky. He takes a brush and makes a boy, and then a girl, flying a kite. Birds in the sky. The hand sprinkles more sand and the hill drifts into the beach, swirls the children into the waves of the sea. The kite becomes a grove of trees, and a small stream of sand becomes the boy again, now a man, sitting under the tree, playing a flute. Birds in the sky become sheep with wings. The beach is swept into the ocean and then there is a boat, and the man is fishing on the boat. Fish in the sky. The hand folds the sand into a swaddling cloth around the face of a baby. The flying fish a mobile. In two swift movements the artist’s arm fashions the mother’s hijab, her shoulder, and the profile of her face. One smiling eye. Then everything before her is erased. A new stream of sand is poured; two little circles with wings. Two little eyes and a smile. He saddens the mother’s eye and pours a tear to fall from it. They are both swept away.
In the village, the women would swallow three cardamom pods after giving birth. This was said to delay the next pregnancy. But the remedy was not very dependable and often failed, and next year she would be pregnant again.
At the hospital, the doctor must ask these questions:
—How many times were you pregnant?
—How many children do you have?
Mothers are a continent. I press onto her fingernails to see if nails are dead or alive. Where are we when we’re not in our mothers’ wombs?
During the lunar eclipse, the village boils eggs. Sometimes they make red eggs, and yellow eggs. They put a red-skinned onion in the pot with the boiling water and the eggs come out red. And to make the yellow ones they boil yellow flowers. Then the neighbors all visit each other and smash their eggs together to see which are the strongest. The men and the sheiks go to the mosque and a canon is fired from the walls of ‘Akka. The eggs crack and the sheiks pray and the women cry, Our moon! A whale has eaten our moon!
Smoke came into the city. Mothers rubbed olive oil on their skin to soothe the burns. They were piled in boats and pushed out into the sea.
Others came. They swept the mortar shells from the streets and nailed mezuzot to the doorframes. Meanwhile, orphans in Tokyo and Warsaw were getting haircuts from nuns.
They will ask you about the property of orphans. Say, ‘Managing it in their best interests is best’. If you mix your property with theirs, they are your brothers…
I’m told my own family has land to return to. How much? No bigger than the dirt on the bottom of your shoe. I’m going to go live in that dirt, on the island.
This is your homeland beneath the soil. You are the raw red knees kneeling on the peas, you are your grandmother’s childhood. The whole world is stuck in your broomstick, and you, your grandmother, her youth, sweeps it to the curb.