I Come From the Borderlands

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

-Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

baby picture 2a

I wrote these for a prompt I assigned my creative writing class this spring.  I don’t often write poetry, but somehow the medium seemed right this time — a form just fluid and fragmented enough to allow something to be said about identity.  

They were an attempt to name some of the threads which most strongly define me — most strongly influence my story. Threads that don’t always overlap. In the words of Whitman, these are some of my “multitudes.”  

Borderland Child

I come from summers at the ocean –
from the hot sand, and the bright sun,
from bathing suits, and rough
grains between my toes.
Sea glass, and the rhythm of the waves –
the cocooned quiet of a towel’s warm embrace.
Breathing in, and out. Too many
stories in my head.

I come from the desert. From the scorpions
pinned in glass. From the rolling of the dunes,
from the brittle desert rose. From the barnoose,
and the camel’s soft step, and the Berber
marks across a kohl-lined face. From the
crimson cloth and the gold and silver clasps. From the
tea, both sweet and bitter, served with mint
on a sizzling day.

I come from the bougainvillea vines.
From the jasmine blooming
on a summer’s night. From the quiet
of the sheltered courtyard. From the movement
of the sun and shade. From cool tiles
against smooth feet. From the blue
and the green, and the couscous bowl, and the
henna tinged fingers, reaching
to draw red-soaked khubz through
the marka broth.

I come from cross-legged meals, and wild
chickens roaming the street. From sun-
flecked barley, and poppy-strewn fields, and sheep
slaughtered for the feasting of the eiid.
From rusty machines in overgrown lots,
from unfinished houses, and neighborhood
dares, and the thudding feet
of chasing

I come from pigtails, and school
uniforms, and the unnamed
desires for pencil cases and sticker books, and a few
cents to spend on an afternoon snack.
I come from Arabic letters, and flowing French
verbs. From a too-heavy
backpack, and childhood alliances
turned into war. From the letters for
i-c-e c-r-e-a-m
and a-e-r-o-p-l-a-n-e –

from the sound of propellers,
from the taste of goodbye.

I come from the travel,
and the going.

From the remembering,
and the missing.

I come from the nomad,
and the bedou –
from the people
who will not be named.

I come from the land
of mosaic floors –
from the broken turned beautiful.
From the shards of color
piercing my skin.

I come from the not-here,
and the not-yet.
From the longing,
and not
the having.
From the faith,
and not
the sight.

I come from the borderlands –
from the spaces


Um el Dunia

I come from
the city—

from the over-
crowded taxi cabs,
and the blaring
conversation of too-
loud horns.

From an absence
of clouds,
and of stars,
and of blue—

from the grime
streaked sky and the soot
lined walls.

From twenty-million
sleepless bodies,
and the screeching
cats and the alley
dogs and the crunch
of a cockroach under
bare feet.

I come from apartments
in the sky—
from buildings
that move, from
concrete, and earth-
quakes and thirteen
floors to fall.

I come from foul
and tamia—the blandness
of beans and the
comfort of food.
From strange new
sounds, from speak Arabic!,
from ghawaga,
from refuse packed
beneath my feet.

I come from the green
of the Nile,
from the rainbow
sea, from the brown
of the desert,
from the Pharaonic kings—

I come from a place
I lived for one fourth of
my life—

a place that was never



I come from
the North.

From cups of coffee,
and Minnesota nice—
from stoic faces, Baptist
churches, and Sunday

I come from farmers,
from pastors,
from a long line of teachers—

(For the life of the mind
               is a good life, my children.)

from libraries, historians,
and from books, books, books, books.

* * *

For my inheritance:
thoughts and ideas and a tradition
of faith. Of marriages
forged of prayer,
not convenience—
of tennis balls and
Boston Terriers and
little boys
in thick glasses.
Parkinson’s disease
and hospital rooms
and a Jeddi who
sang even when he couldn’t

* * *

I come from PhDs
and dissertations and long
hours in the Bod. From the silence
of learning and from dinner-
table debates. From the blue art
book in the kitchen
and the Pieta in Rome. From West
End theatre and Les Mis every night.
I come from ballet classes—
from point and flex and
point and flex
and plie—
from too tall
and so many boys.
I come from beards
and basketball—
from Vikings, and warriors,
and the epic tales
of mythic kings.

* * *

I come from Lamentations.
From wakeful nights and desperate
dreams—from brokenness
and woundedness
and a God who heals all.
But not always


6 thoughts on “I Come From the Borderlands

  1. Dearest Karith,
    No words of eloquence from me but just to say how thankful I am for you. I’m thankful to have had the privilege of being in your world and sharing it with you in a small way when you were small. But that small way was not so small, for it taught me so much about other peoples and lands about which I knew nothing, but of which and of whom I learned much through you and your family. Jedi and I came away from those visits with a love for those our family loved in the land so far from us. We were so grateful for the hospitality of those who opened hearts and homes to our loved ones. That has had powerful significance ever since those visits in shaping how we see people in far away lands, how we pray and long for peace for and in all countries, how we sorrow for those who suffer…
    And I am forever grateful for the times with you when you came to our world. The world where I thought you belonged and were just absent from for a time, but the world with which you didn’t identify. That’s been hard for us also as it has always felt like a disconnect that shouldn’t be. I can’t express myself eloquently as you do, but your COMING was like our being bathed in joy and was only hindered by your leaving which left us feeling bereft. The only way we could accept what was and is is knowing it was of God. Any hardship, any loss is covered by His grace, and we rejoice over the wonderful life He has given us all, planted on this earth for His purposes with a glorious future awaiting us which He has promised, planned and secured and where we shall never feel we don’t belong and where we will not have to say good-bye again – FOREVER.
    Forgive my disjointed stream of consciousness. Thanks for your writing.
    Love you forever –
    Mema and Jedi

    • Love you, Mema. And so, so thankful for you and Jedi, and the heritage you bestowed upon each of us grandchildren — a heritage of faith, family, and scholarship. Of thinking, loving, and living deeply.

      • Just remember dear heart that you may return to the North any time for there is enough love here for you that will melt the snow, or at least make it tolerable. After all, it is only one season of four and hold a beauty all its own! 🙂 Love you the whole world! Mema

  2. Pingback: An Outsider, Wanna-be Poet’s Advice to Herself About How to Write Poetry – Under the Mercy

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