I went to an Arabic poetry reading tonight. It was down the street at Little Morocco restaurant. There was a guitarist, an oud player, an English poet, and an Arabic poet. They recited poems from their compilation, Meena. The following poem is by a Palestinian-American poet named Ibtesam Barakat. It made me think about all the people who hear Arabic and don't think of love.
Alphabets of My Life
Because I am both Arab and American, a mother with two alphabets, and I must not love one more than the other if they are both to grow up and love each other, as I speak English I must make a seat in my voice for Arabic. Like children, these two languages love to sit in my lap at the same time and paw at me for attention.
On the line, Arabic moves from right to left, and English moves from left to right. On the line, at times, outside in the world, it is a line of fire. But inside of me, all of the time, it is a line where the two languages walk forth, toward each other, like a bride and her beloved, a family of 28 letters on one side, and a family of 26 on the other. They move with a quickening in their hearts.
West tells the East; East tells the West: I have missed you. Come sit by me. I do. I do. I do. Teach me more about yourself. And when death comes, it does not part us, for the alphabet lives, for in your beginning there was the word, and in my beginning the angel instructed that I must read: iqra. iqra. iqra. were the first words. The zero of the Arabic numerals is the ring of eternity.