Omar SakrOmar J Sakr is an Arab Australian poet whose work has appeared in Meanjin, Overland, Cordite Poetry Review, and Tincture Journal, among others. His poems have been translated and published in Arab, and he has been shortlisted for the Judith Wright Poetry Prize as well as the ACU Poetry Prize.


Dear Mama

Don’t preach to me, mama, don’t tell me stories
about some holy book or other, about angels, demons and jinn –
I’ve already learned too well the religion of your fists.
My body has drummed its song, the gospel choir of bruises
so often it knows no other, and at night I still mumble
the chorus: sharp gasps interspersed with bass, with low moans.
Your god is capricious, strikes without reason – some days
(the days you had gear, I later knew) you’d smile and order us pizza
and we’d sit in the smoky temple of the lounge while your silver screen
apostles entertained us, spat & bled & fucked & loved & died
for us. Those days were best. Others were Nails-On-Chalkboard,
a kind of screaming at the edge of hearing – your cheekbones, jaw,
elbow, everything was knife sharp and cut against the air
even though your teeth were set, lips locked prison-tight.
Like tinnitus, I knew only I could hear it but I swear
your body screeched in warning those mornings, and we learned
to read your augurs in cigarette smoke, the signs prophesying pain
if we didn’t become paragons of stillness and silence. Later, you
told me you saw my treacherous father in me even as a boy,
that you hated the sight of my face, the reminder
that his sins were burned too clearly in my skin.

I remember the day the locksmith came, his confusion, then pity,
when he asked ‘you want the lock outside his door?’ He hesitated
but took your petty cash reward to seal my cage. If only
you knew how I made that cell my world, so expansive and free –
hundreds of books, each one a key. How could you think
walls would contain me? I ought to thank you, dear mama,
for the prayers I memorized, for the blessing of hunger, the urge
for independence you sang into my bones, percussion-deep,
and the need to travel, to roam across the lands and seas and discover
all that can be seen. I ought to thank you, dear mama, for your piousness,
for showing me the cruelty and beauty of God and godlessness
all at once, for teaching me that holiness is no more
than moments shared with those you love whether bonded by blood
or not. Especially not. I ought to thank you dear mama, but I can’t.
The mosque is empty, and I’m all outta prayers.