by Audrey El-Osta
Along Chapel St I endure many encounters
of young ladies well-read in Greer, ignorant of hooks,
who spy my features and ask me point blank;
Oh my god, how do you grow your eyebrows so thick?
I cannot help but reply in questioned truth:
How do you get your eyes so blue?
These young ladies well Presentable, educated by Methodists
at the finest of Academies, use feminism as a codeword
to pick and choose, mix and match
pieces of a culture, a life, like a jigsaw that is not theirs
So long as it fits into a cultural Zeitgeist
conforming to newly widened standards of beauty.
Ignore the “ugly” and idealise what is convenient:
this is the path to pretty.
Romanticise a boho, g*psy life of caravans and paisley skirts,
nomadic existences crossing separate cultures and civilisations:
this is the path to pretty.
Politicise a world unknown to you, liberate women
from their personal choices with your second-wave luxuries.
My anger boils me slowly over the years
I need to teach myself to remember my family,
what gives me authority.
When did I learn to forget?
My cousins don scarves,
some for modesty and some for fashion,
suckling at shisha like a child at a breast,
drawing sweet apple blossom into their chests,
one puff lasting as long as the songs, but never
daring to outlast the conversations
of our grandmothers inside.
We nibble at ladyfingers, breathe
white smoke of eastern fury through our noses
into our hands, fondled by fingers,
made fun shapes, cupped affectionately.
We rise from plastic outdoor dining chairs;
dancing dancing dancing.
rolling back and forth our bellies,
shaking our booties,
kicking our legs, throwing out our hands
saying “come to me, come,
we have made a home here for you,”
shimmying shoulders, smiling,
laughing with filial joy, this is what family is.
Family that connects the disconnected
to where they know they have come
from and taught themselves to forget.
I was taught to forget that I have Egyptian blood.
I was taught that pale skin, blue eyes and pronunciation
received by an absent Queen is inherently better
than what I have, what I am.
So, you cannot take this from me.
You, who have taught me shame and
self hatred, you who caused me to want
to bleach my olive green and gold skin
to fade into cloud-white paleness,
who made me want to cut into my nose, my flesh!
and grate away,
shave the cartilage and bone to a tiny upturned button,
so I may look like the princesses and fairies
drawn to look like you,
I gazed upon with young, hopeful eyes.
once upon a time, there was a little princess, and she
wanted nothing but to look the part
You cannot take this from me,
you who taught me that any allegiance
to the land of my grandparents is treacherous,
that any wish to speak the language
of their people to be disgusting,
tantamount to treason, warranting mutiny.
You cannot tease the smell of my lunch
and begin an illicit affair with a kebab Friday night,
when you’re pissed off your tits,
stumbling into the streets.
You cannot mock our accents, make fun of my name
and then butcher our words in the process
You do not deserve belly dance,
It is not your prop of sexual reclamation
for your porcelain, ivory carved body
when mine was considered far too subversive
to stand equal to yours on any platform.
You do not deserve shisha.
It does not belong to you, as you
eschew tobacco but make exceptions to suckle
on a wooden pipe, opening your mouth wide,
showing the boys from the suburbs just what magic
you can work with your tongue.
You have no right to the hijab,
or the burqa for your convenience,
they are not your political statements.
You have no right to the keffiyeh,
it is not your alternative accessory,
that you can plaster across your neck
like political stickers on your high school diary.
So don’t you dare try explain to me
what is happening in the Middle East,
because you barely understand the war
you have begun between us,
as you stare me down in the street.
Audrey El-Osta is a Melbourne based emerging writer. She studies a BA in linguistics at Monash University, is the Vice President of the Creative Writers Club, and has loved language passionately since childhood. She recently won the Youth Incentive Award for her poem Persephone, in the Poetry D’Amour Competition run by WA Poets, and has had two other poems published in their annual anthology. She aims to soon publish a collection of poetry, exploring sexuality, femininity, memories, and mental illness.