The Denied; Ask.

November 6th, 2010

I say, “we” as an American

Your squint captures brown eyes,

olive complexion

You ask,

but what is your origin?

I say, “it’s many places,”

You are not satisfied –

You want clean lines

Shaved answers.

I anticipate your disappointment,

Participate, begin.


I was born in a small town

in the heart of Illinois, USA,

in the old vaudeville town

where the old saying say,

“If it plays here, it plays everywhere.”

Made up of the average American,

5,000 Lebanese immigrants.

Home of Caterpillar, its life force –

Its tractors, incidentally,

scraping through the lands

of my new home by the Mediterranean

and further south in occupation.

Peoria ended 13 years ago, when

I became an adult by legal standards.

Drove the old Ford

to Chicago

Home of the Bears, the Blues,

The Windy City

ultimately unlearning Peoria.

City walls were much higher, much wider,

more solid

for this girl who was just

learning to hold her own,

to own what she didn’t know.

She grew a few inches each way –

a feather here, a tail there, a heavier head.


In Chicago is where I became a woman

By my own terms.


Rode in the backseat, straight out

of Chicago’s northwest side

Cried, peering out the window

At the old brown bungalows

knowing it was never

Going to be the same.

Mom and dad sent messages

from the front seat

“You’re going to be okay.”

To “Beirut,” my mother by my side

People wondered, “To know your roots?”

They ask me, Why is your Arabic broken?

I lived outside, I reply.

I’m working on it, I try.

And your accent?

Yes, yes, I’m Lebanese from the south.

Even though Beirut is my playhouse.

But your family name – it’s not Lebanese.

That’s true because it’s Palestinian.

My grandfather, the dekanji, the soap maker,

the businessman, the seafarer,

he gave me my name,

The realization of a past denied

By those denied,

My illegality in the Arab world,

and the cynical skeptical questions.

How can you call yourself an American? It is evil.

Look at what it has done to us!

How can you call yourself Lebanese?

Your father is Palestinian!

How can you call yourself Palestinian

when you don’t speak it, breathe it,

suffer like us?

Who are you with? You ask.

Who will you brandish your gun for? You ask.

Are you with us or against us? You ask.

I tell you I don’t believe in guns and bombs.

I tell you I cannot be absolute.

I tell you there is no purity, no truth.

I tell you, I believe in principles, not fighting men.

I tell you that I come from more places than one.

And still after all of this, you ask me, So where are you from?


19 Responses to “The Denied; Ask.”

  1. Tony D. says:

    A most powerful proclamation, Rima. I thought it was brilliant. It’s a voice I’m not accustomed to hearing, but I very much like it. It’s spare, lean, even confrontational in its confidence. It doesn’t embellish. It tells a true story, or one I can believe. Thanks for sharing. And all the best with your work.

  2. lens says:

    I love this. So beautiful, so many sharp and eloquent turns of phrase. I love this and I love you.

  3. Gary Bonikowski says:

    Very nice!
    You are growing up.
    Pretty soon, you will be as old as I am!

  4. Jessy says:

    So vivid, poignant, and descriptively beautiful. You capture the essence of just what it means to be Lebanese and of hybrid nationalities. Truly inspiring,heartfelt and above all, wonderfully written.

  5. rima says:

    Yes, Gary, but I can only wish to be as wise as you old man.

  6. rima says:

    Thank you Jessy! We hybrids do what we can :) Thanks for reading.

  7. rima says:

    Tony, your encouragement is highly valued :) Confrontational, yes. The source of this was just that. What do you mean about the voice? It sounds different than me? Hope you’re well Tony. We miss you and your poems in Beirut!

  8. rima says:

    Leenz, you’re beautiful! It makes me happy and assured that my fellow hybrid and dearest approves :) Love you!

  9. Katie says:

    What a lovely poem.
    Shaved answers are not your style, though you do say something precise and specific. Interesting fact about the caterpillar, and a strong image.

  10. rima says:

    Kate – Thanks first-ever writing partner/group. Love!

  11. Maria says:

    So beautiful, and so so true. Here’s to the hybrids!

  12. Elsa says:

    And that is why you should never stop writing!

  13. Zaki says:

    Thanks for publishing it! Up until now I’d only heard you deliver it… Shukran, Sitt Rima. Brava!

  14. angie says:

    love this.

  15. Simon says:

    So… where are you from?
    kidding.. :D
    a widely acclaimed book on the question of identity is the French book “Les Identités Meurtrières” by the Franco-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf (I think the English translation went under the name of “In the Name of Identity”)

  16. rima says:

    Thanks Simon – it’s actually “Deadly Identities” – our students at AUB are quite familiar with that text :) It’s a good one!

  17. George says:

    A moving piece.. One I can definitely relate to.
    Keep on writing!

  18. Anne says:


  19. Mira says:

    this is a great piece Rima! it really shows the conflict and very deep!
    Keep the good work !

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