“T.S. Eliot in the Time of Trashfire” by Jess Rizkallah

Jess Rizkallah


a white poet once told me that no one cares about my politics or experiences.
we all start writing too early. we should only be roving eyeballs,
our writing stilted on cones & rods. no teeth. all lips to the ass of the canon.

just see and you must never be seen.

so i consider all this sand & wonder if it makes me seen or unseen.
probably depends on the gaze. i consider the deep bruise stretched over the sky.
i see armageddon taking a nap. peach pits scattered from when we’ve dared
but dared too late. piled so high they blot out the sun. now, a useless reservoir
of cyanide.

here we are: the world a trashfire illuminating the floors of silent seas,
their silences an aftermath of miscalculation

now, this negative space where once there were two roaches
trapped under a glass & the whole world watched.

and no one asks about them anymore             they’re out of sight, biding
their time & nutrients             so we made memes
we leaned into the nuclear apocalypse             we coped

this just in: tonight’s debate comes at you LIVE from the
inflamed taste bud like a thunderdome on the collective tongue
of the republic, breath held, face turned skyward
the clouds all shaped like drones.

and not to get political but the brown kids pulled out of the rubble
in your newsfeed are complex beings with lives & memories that aren’t yet
or soon will be their bodies, but they look like my cousins
after a beach day, their skin covered in the haze of glass that woke up sand
their blood rising to their cheeks but not breaking skin
so you see, that’s where the resemblance ends, until of course
they open their mouths, say something right to left
about wanting to go home

i can’t rightfully call it home but last time i went to beirut’s coastline,
i slipped on rocks still covered in oil from a rig israeli jets burst like a cyst
on the city’s jawline, i fell into a shadow thrown from an echo under the waves
i fell into a silence by the sea             i was a tongue sliding over
the gum of a toothless mouth                         of which we have successfully
ripped out the tracking devices &       the teeth they lived inside of
but now everything all at once is screaming even when its not screaming even
when its breath held, its head turned skyward
there are things i can’t unfeel

Poets Respond
October 30, 2016


Jess Rizkallah: “This poem was written in response to the current presidential election, while I was studying TS Eliot in class and thinking about all the things white poets tell me I can and can’t do. As an Arab-American, sometimes I forget how the rest of the world views the Middle East. And then I am reminded.” (website)

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