by Sara Elkamel
after “Dreams of the Detainee” by Inji Efflatoun (1924-1989)
and “Music & Fear” by Mido Zuhair (1974-2020)
He pours water over the stones in my mind. In my fantasy, I pick up his instrument and play it better than he ever could. Instead I ask for a second cigarette, as he tells me about the diabetic poet who overdosed on sugar to escape rehab; losing his life. The night is a butcher, sang the poet. If night has a face I’ve never seen it. We run out of water when we need it most; I drink the coffee cold to rinse out the smoke. It is August again. Our bodies soak through the blue sheets like fish. We watch videos of the poet, curly-haired, shirt the color of dusk, reading at a coffee shop—though the words dissolve in cups of tea. August again. He likes to keep the house dark—I say nothing. I ask another question about the poet, desire perched over my body like an animal, nocturnal, obsessed with forbearance. The night has stolen my face. I am trying to sing but the voice is hoarse. I close my eyes to watch his hands. I am learning that the instrument, like the voice, sings in sentences. I find it difficult to begin. Difficult to finish. If there was a mirror I’d check if my own face was disfigured. Leaking like wax. In any case it is too dark to see. Too dark to dream in color. I mumble something about color. You know, when the oil was dry, the painter pulled the self-portrait off its frame and gave it to her jailer, who wrapped it around her ribs, and walked out into the light. Becoming a prisoner herself. I imitate the cats of this house. I think the house will vanish if I leave it. I pour turpentine over the memory of streets. Lay my head on his legs. Abate when he holds me. I am happy we’re not alone, that the bars we’re clutching, we’re clutching from the inside. Okay with our sentence. Do you want more light? Okay with darkness. There is a bed in his palms, which he strews with more tobacco. So I smoke the minutes I cannot hold. Behind bars, the painter looks sideways at the face of night, who the poet called a butcher. When it arrives behind the green shutters, I panic night will never leave us. When I leave, in a pink dress that does not belong to me, I sing the butcher’s song—and sing it well.