drone footage of Homs, twenty sixteen by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Homs in the eighties / a honeymoon
my father in a striped shirt / the sleeves not yet
rolled up / my cousins / young & brown
all limbs / satellite dishes adorning rooftops
the yellow city spooled below them
my aunt’s hair in a sleek bouffant / ends curled
makeup pale & Parisian / bitlawah with ghee
& walnuts / unplucked olive trees swaying
on the far hills above the Asi / rebel river / city spine
my American mother’s nails gleaming red
on alternating rows of dark & light stone
my father / not yet a father / his hands eight years
from becoming mine / petting a young goat
& laughing as five faces drifted West
adjusting his French cuff sleeves

Homs / twenty sixteen / the house my father grew up in
once sat between these two matchbox buildings
now broken teeth / see the shell-gouged street
he used to play in / buckled floors stacked like decks
of playing cards / focus the eye on middle distance
missing years / clotheslines before they snapped
minarets not yet crumbled / things my father’s ghost
remembers that have not yet arrived
two births / a half decade of war
the naming of a child he will wish was a son

twenty eight years before his country rerouted itself
around this city / my father bestowed on me the name
of a white woman not born to that name
one Phyllis Lee Isley from Tulsa
even she exchanged this name for Jennifer Jones
because it promised glamour / because it promised joy
because Jennifer is the kind of name to which
a beautiful white woman should belong
Jones’s daughter would commit suicide long before my birth
try to understand the day my father named me
maybe he was trying to forget the dust of that arch
when it was whole / the lasting bruise of that plaza
when it was green / anyone who has lost a lover knows
it should be easy to forget the curve of a jaw / but it is not
a street once walked survives as phantom limb

the Asi runs north past miles of wrenched balconies
soot-wreathed satellite dishes / in sight of overturned armchairs
French beds / brass coffee trays / cracked porcelain
my father’s whole beloved shattered city / his children between
two things & nothing / his beloved West battering
this womb / biladna / & yes
the remembered future of violence is clear in his eyes
in this distant photograph / his face drifting
across the bahr ar-rum & the sea of darkness / this violence
has already bought & paid for his jawbone / his hands

Contributor Notes

Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar is a Syrian American writer whose work has appeared in The Paris Review Daily, The Saturday Evening Post, and elsewhere, and is the author of the novel The Map of Salt and Stars (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1 May 2018).