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Pauline Kaldas Pauline Kaldas, born in Egypt, immigrated with her parents to the United States in 1969, at the age of eight. She is the author of Egyptian Compass, a collection of poetry, and Letters from Cairo, a travel memoir, and the coeditor of Dinarzad’s Children: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Fiction. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Phoebe, Borderlands, The Poetry of Arab Women, Cultural Activisms, and The Space between Our Footsteps. She was also awarded a fellowship in fiction from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. She holds a Ph.D. from Binghamton University and teaches literature and creative writing at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. Bird Lessons “You will find it in the soup” the bowl with steam turning to clouds into shapes My friends cringe as they fish with their spoon net but no petals of flesh are caught only pilaf noodles that narrow on each end “We call them bird’s tongue because of the shape you will find them in the soup” Their eyes look down they had expected something exotic and would have preferred pink flesh but it is I who cringe we are not savages I am blind by pink tongues flapping in my broth pink tongues flapping in my broth they paddle to stay alive propel from one side to the other what if they jump and flap a slap across my face? I put 177 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 177 them in boiling broth expand them to their greatest potential they are noodles and I am obsessed with their name why should pasta tamer than alphabets have such a vicious name? the bird left with gaping hoarse beak put up your fists you phrase maker we have letters to settle I grew up with my grandmother putting them in my vegetable soup my mother in chicken soup and I in clear broth how dare you give a name with color shall giants cut my tongue to flavor their soup and do men who turn cannibal eat the round soft point you touch the tip of your nose with? what kind of tongue do the dead have thin flat or with zigzag cuts like my last lover? how to treat these noodles in my broth will they grow to giants lesan el asfour lesan tongue el of asfour bird a tiny bird forced to put in my soup explain to dinner guests what is in their bowls or when I send a stranger to shop no other translation and I am blind with birds flapping in my broth. Fraudulent Acts to be walking on the Nile corniche nostalgia bordered by sticky smog of polluted air to hail a cab, negotiate a fare hold the silent façade of being Egyptian who impersonates walking through a Nubian village people guess: “he’s Egyptian you’re Foreigner” the waiter in Falfela taking me for a European woman But once in Siwa a young man recognizes I am Coptic “it was your eyes” the first time I imagine my religion shadowed on my features like a palm tree carries its ripened yellow dates Maggie tells me Copts have big round eyes, small chins I search out faces decipher the lines that draw us 178 Pauline Kaldas 2CHARARA_pages_165-334.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:39 PM Page 178 At the spring fed pond near desert edge, where soon an Italian company will build a luxury hotel advertising the healing waters of Siwa, a young boy assures “Copts are bad and must die” taken to where there was a woman who found herself drowning in the water while carrying her child. desperate because the child had not been baptized and death was near, she said in the name of the father and son and baptized the child herself in the sea’s water. after she was rescued, she went to the church, but every time the priest lowered her child to the basin, the water dried up. three times this happened until the priest asked her if this child had ever been baptized before. the woman confessed and told him what had happened. and the priest said, God has accepted your baptism. having carried this story against so many doubts “So you’ll have to wear a veil” a breath to inhale to explain overlooking heads: anyone with uncovered hair now suspect likely to be Coptic taken for...


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