“i can’t help but feel like an occupied entity being queer being arab being survivor means my body is a valley of so many shadows” – George Abraham.
It was at an AWP17 reading where I was first introduced to George Abraham’s fierce poems. As I watched Abraham unpack his writing, I was in awe at the beauty of his words, as well as the raw and unflinching honesty he presented to audience members. Months after AWP17, Abraham published Al Youm, a chapbook that places the queer, Palestinian body at center. Weaving together issues of displacement, inherited trauma, and sexual assault, Al Youm interrogates what it means to exist in a body that is “irrelevant in all political scenarios” (15). Through Al Youm, Abraham exposes the violence that has taken place in Palestine, embodying a history “written in ash and rubble” (46).
Throughout Al Youm, the theme of erasure is threaded, creating a statement against censorship and the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. When Abraham writes, “even when the land was ours / it wasn’t / (
this is how i feel about my body sometimes)” he fuses the personal and the political, tracing how and why an occupied country and an occupied body are oftentimes the same (lines 54-56). In the poem “Song of Ash” our speaker mourns Palestinian victims, then asks “where were your tears / & hashtags when the fire spread / to the West Bank? when Gaza caught fire / Again? & in August? & in 2014? & in 2008?” (lines 20-23). These searing and vulnerable words unmask the ways in which silence is a form of violence, something our speaker grapples with throughout Al Youm.
As Al Youm calls back to Arab culture and heritage, a sense of displacement haunts the speaker. The poem “Ghazal of Ash” reads, “My people carry another sunrise on their backs; / Bear the ashes of two diasporas on their backs” (lines 1-2). The lack of home and country throughout Al Youm forces our speaker to question the circumstances that make him American. The very first poem, “photographs not taken” introduces this idea: “so where’s home for you? / falls out of a stranger’s mouth” (lines 40-41). This concept is later revisited in the poem “Inheritance,” where our speaker attempts to understand what kind of identity he is to occupy: “sido is forced out of his home at age 20. hence, mama is born in america. hence, i am american” (lines 41-42). What I admire about Al Youm is that it doesn’t attempt to reach a resolution. Instead, it documents the traumas and asks the necessary questions.
Al Youm is a brave and crucial chapbook. These are daring poems that heal as much as they hurt and expose us to the beauty and trauma of language.
View my interview with Abraham here.
Buy Al Youm here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about The Atlas Review: “The Atlas Review was founded in 2012 as a way to combat the institutional weight of the literary community. All submissions are vetted anonymously, allowing the work to stand above names, associates, and credentials. We believe that the strongest work will (and must) innately carry the most important elements of identity, elements that go beyond 75 word bios or accolades. Our work is who we are in the world.”*