The Language of the Body

By SARA ELKAMEL

Image of tents in a Bedouin-style camp at the Wadi Rum desert in southern Jordan

Tents in a Bedouin-style camp at the Wadi Rum desert in southern Jordan. Courtesy: Soraya Ghezelbash.

Wadi Rum, Jordan
for Yvonne

 

We pull the black of Rum over our eyes
like skin. God’s earth is vast, vast, vast—but by day

she wrapped her limbs around my limbs and drew
my air. I follow her into the dark, consider saying: Please,

I don’t know what you need—but all I see is red.
At the foot of the dunes I push her, soft as the sin

that tips the scale. I run away like a ghost, a demon, a silent drum
in the faultless dark. Not a quiver of light around my bones.

Sleep blinks in me like a lazy wind. Convinced our tent is blind,
I keep stealing water from Yvonne—and dried apricots and dates

and citronella for the bugs—but I feel guiltiest about water.
What angel would come to my funeral now

funeral now, funeral now, funeral now? I listen to her weep
and everything that has ever pushed time

stops pushing. The things that look like walls tire,
leave the desert open and cold.

Even as the mean sun yawns, Yvonne’s kalimba does not stop.
Every note a needle, needle, needle in my skin—

until the sand around me turns red, the hour turns red
and the moon itself—I think I see it turn red.

God’s earth is vast, but sometimes a body
finds itself alone on the dunes—a cancerous fist

inside her breast. I want, I want, I want
to hold my hands out like cups,

scoop the cancer from her chest,
and feed it to the sand.

 

 

Sara Elkamel is a poet and journalist living between her hometown, Cairo, and New York City. She holds an MA in arts journalism from Columbia University and is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at New York University. Elkamel’s poems have appeared in The Common, Michigan Quarterly Review, Four Way Review, The Boiler, Memorious, wildness, Nimrod International Journal, and as part of the anthologies Best New Poets 2020, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 3: Halal If You Hear Me, and 20.35 Africa: Vol. 2, among other publications. She was named a 2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar by The Adroit Journal, and a finalist in Narrative Magazine’s 30 Below Contest in the same year. Elkamel’s debut chapbook Field of No Justice will be published by the African Poetry Book Fund & Akashic Books in 2021.

The Language of the Body

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