Monday, September 12, 2011

Poem for Monday and Post-Storm Great Falls

My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears
By Mohja Kahf

My grandmother puts her feet in the sink
        of the bathroom at Sears
to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,
because she has to pray in the store or miss
the mandatory prayer time for Muslims
She does it with great poise, balancing
herself with one plump matronly arm
against the automated hot-air hand dryer,
after having removed her support knee-highs
and laid them aside, folded in thirds,
and given me her purse and her packages to hold
so she can accomplish this august ritual
and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares

Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown
as they notice what my grandmother is doing,
an affront to American porcelain,
a contamination of American Standards
by something foreign and unhygienic
requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray
They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see
a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom

My grandmother, though she speaks no English,
catches their meaning and her look in the mirror says,
I have washed my feet over Iznik tile in Istanbul
with water from the world's ancient irrigation systems
I have washed my feet in the bathhouses of Damascus
over painted bowls imported from China
among the best families of Aleppo
And if you Americans knew anything
about civilization and cleanliness,
you'd make wider washbins, anyway

My grandmother knows one culture—the right one,

as do these matrons of the Middle West. For them,
my grandmother might as well have been squatting
in the mud over a rusty tin in vaguely tropical squalor,
Mexican or Middle Eastern, it doesn't matter which,
when she lifts her well-groomed foot and puts it over the edge.
"You can't do that," one of the women protests,
turning to me, "Tell her she can't do that."
"We wash our feet five times a day,"
my grandmother declares hotly in Arabic.
"My feet are cleaner than their sink.
Worried about their sink, are they? I
should worry about my feet!"
My grandmother nudges me, "Go on, tell them."

Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see
at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,
all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent
in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum
Even now my grandmother, not to be rushed,
is delicately drying her pumps with tissues from her purse
For my grandmother always wears well-turned pumps
that match her purse, I think in case someone
from one of the best families of Aleppo
should run into her—here, in front of the Kenmore display

I smile at the midwestern women
as if my grandmother has just said something lovely about them
and shrug at my grandmother as if they
had just apologized through me
No one is fooled, but I

hold the door open for everyone
and we all emerge on the sales floor
and lose ourselves in the great common ground
of housewares on markdown.


From Kahf's E-mails from Scheherazad, discovered via the Huffington Post.

I spent the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, like so many Americans, catching news clips and retrospectives during the breaks in football games. I don't like the fact that I've been pressured to feel guilty about this, particularly since the demands that I Pay Proper Attention came largely from the anchors and commentators of those events, all of whom have a financial interest in my guilt. I don't like the endless recitations of "Never Forget"; there is no chance that I will ever forget, nor, I imagine, that any adult American who was not living under a rock that day will ever forget, and I'm not comfortable with everything that goes along with that exhortation -- the fact that, at the time, the calls to remember were linked to demands for vengeance which led to a war that had nothing to do with the attacks and a growing police state mentality that has allowed censorship and restricted freedoms in the name of homeland security.

I can't muster what I've been told is the proper patriotic mood. I honor the survivors and the families of those who died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the people aboard UA Flight 93 who chose to save lives by giving up their own, and the first responders who were ready to do the same only to be disinvited from the festivities today and to find that in many cases they don't even have coverage for health care. It isn't that I don't feel for all the people directly and indirectly affected by the attacks, and it isn't that I don't believe many of us are suffering some form of PTSD related to the attacks. It's that I can't bear the hypocrisy of having it suggested by every hypemonger and profiteer and bigot that anyone who didn't spend the day in grief and rage must be a bad American.

Adam had a nice thing happen related to the day: a photo that he took of the Statue of Liberty and posted to deviantArt months ago was chosen as a Daily Deviation. He has gotten a lot of views not only for that photo, which he doesn't think is one of his best, but for others as well. We took him to Great Falls after lunch to see what the Potomac River looked like after all the rain dumped on the area by Hurricanes Irene and Lee -- it was impressively high, though safely within its banks, and the bridges to Olmsted Island were open though water was flowing swiftly beneath all of them. The little shells that usually wash up near the river were strewn throughout the woods of the island.

We got home in time to watch the Ravens win their season opener against the Steelers by a big margin, which was delightful, and then (even though I was trying to sort photos and not pay attention) we watched the Redskins surpass expectations and beat the Giants. After staying up late to watch the Michigan-Notre Dame game last night, I thought I would be footballed out, but the Jets-Cowboys game has actually been terrific and I guess the announcers are out of somber quotes about 9/11 to insert into their commentary because they're not even pretending to be interested in anything but penalty flags and turnovers and last-minute first downs.

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