My Women are Tabla & Qanoun
by Nur Turkmani
I could swear I was born in Cairo,
breastfed from the Nile –
look at my blood when I dance to sha3bi music,
how it turns to river.
After reading Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace of Desire,
I wore blue eyeshadow & pink jalabiya & khilkhal.
I married five men like Fifi Abdo
& killed them all in my sleep
then stepped into a cabaret, down the corner,
to dance for the women my women,
you are tabla & qanoun
you are silver coins on my waist
you are black hair smelling of sunsilk shampoo
you are white tarboush & blue misbaha
on the hands of one khalto starting the dabkeh
& another praying to God. My women,
I count your 99 names under my breath
& dream of a city created in your image.
I know what you’ll tell me at midnight:
Cairo is not the same & they’ve closed up
the casinos. You’re right, a whole world,
it’s changing maybe for the worse maybe not
but yesterday, did we not dance
to Souad Hosny on the rooftop,
did you not see the young girls clap
for their newly wed friend?
Is Oum Kolthoum not bursting
from the camps & cab drivers —
have you heard Maryam Saleh’s song,
didn’t you just want to love to it?
Morning will come & we will stitch
rhinestones onto bras. You will hang
your purple underwear to dry & wink at me
like a secret right before the women,
our women, tickle you to curl your small finger
to migrating clouds, to move with them
like birds in flight.
Nur Turkmani is a Lebanese-Syrian researcher based in Beirut, focusing on economic development, gender dynamics, and uprisings in the Middle East. She is the Managing Editor of Rusted Radishes: Beirut Art and Literary Journal's website. Her poem "Body Parts" was a runner-up for the Barjeel Poetry Prize. She is currently working on a short story collection while studying creative writing at the University of Oxford.