These poems tend to revolve around the theme of nationhood and culture, exploring the in between spaces that so many of us, as children of immigrants and people of colour, inhabit. In an effort to understand ourselves we layer more identities onto our experience, but "trans" and "queer" are Western words. And besides, what is the Middle East east of? Yasir has lived in Britain almost their whole life, and these poems are a way of questioning what that's given them, if anything, and what they've had to give up in return.
Ugly is the Dawn
Ugly is the dawn in bed with the morning breath of somebody you don't know. Ugly is the feeling. Ugly is the knot hard thought that sinks from the bottom of your brain to the top of you heart. Ugly is its seething.
Ugly is the dawn – pink, orange, sleepless, ready to be made full of mistakes. Unfolding your body like a question. Unsticking your stomach from the pain you swallowed. Unpicking your heart to find a gentler one.
Ugly is the dawn, a long string of new days, then new days like fairy lights over the horizon. Ugly is the gap between now and the future. The knowledge of change. What comes after. The soft unknown. The danger.
The gentle song
of birds and laughter,
of screeching foxes who make their loneliness an aria,
begging the moon for an answer,
and in return, get birds and laughter.
Ugly is the dawn, held open like palms, acting the invitation. Ugly is the morning breath of somebody you'll get to know. Ugly are the moths who headbutt the window. The sound of cars like waves. A cat's lost ear. Life limping on. The soft unknown. The nature.
If the sky is a blanket,
you tugging its corners into morning,
me into night,
then the ocean doesn't seem so wide to me.
Underneath its fabric, together
we make a day.
Come find me by the Sun
Gosh, isn't the night a gorgeous thing?
The stars like a city in the sky,
the moon its beating heart.
If I hung this moment between them,
your old dreams, my ambition
and made a new constellation for you to remember me by,
would you try?
Don't worry, though, if one day you reach up and find
you forget which light was yours, which is mine,
I have a backup plan in mind.
I'll just float further on,
I'll be waiting by the sun,
so come find me.
Take a left by the first star you see
and carry on til morning.
I'll be there warming
My hands on a sunspot, my heart
with the thought of your arrival.
Whether you forget your light or not
I'll just be proud of your survival.
So come find me by the sun,
find my hand in yours,
tell me how you've been,
and hold me.
I'm sure, somewhere out there
something still remains.
Under my skin, in the atmosphere,
is not just a memory
as long as it's shared.
I tracked the moon across the sky
from humble origins to its peak,
then back down behind the trees
and as it settled into twigs and leaves
it turned to ask if what I'd seen
had been worth the loss of dreamless sleep.
“Well,” I said, “sleep would be nice,
but rest is lost on me tonight.
See, I was born in '95,
“learned myself as the twin towers died,
as the markets crashed,
as they bombed Palestine.
“So now I wonder if what I'll find
beyond my youth is a greater fire,
my heart in pieces
My fear, divine.
“So when they come for me and mine,
I want to know that this little life
has been worth enough to make someone smile.
“Tonight, all I want to see
is something brighter than where I am,
where we'll be,
never let that weakness go.
When your ribcage
starts to grow,
darkens the sky
around that beating sun,
you protect yourself
and the dawn,
from biting cold
and the beauty of snow.
and in time,
I don't think it's an accident that a lot of my writing and my writing in general is about belonging. I don't know how much you relate, but I like to think of home as a gentle thing, a place where you can belong. And I say that in kind of an abstract way, cos I'm not really sure if I've found a home yet. I just have this idea of what it should be. A place where I can really inhabit myself, where I can sit and be still, where I can invite silence and not be terrified of it.
So I've been trying to find a home. And it makes me think of family, crossing oceans from one country to another, escaping men or poverty, or war. The storm of bombs, rubble where there were houses, and then arriving in a place where the masses are so hostile to the difference of you. Which points out the foreign bend to your words and colours you separate. Because you are. You don't belong. I wonder if I inherited that.
Cos brick and plaster, wood and glass, they give me shelter and warmth and light. They give me privacy sometimes, and the last snow of the year doesn't reach me unless I want it to. But they don't quite give me a home.
So I've been trying to find a home. And since I was a kid I've been stringing sentences together, knitting these fantasies out of words as if I could bleed myself into them. Hold them above my head and use them as shelter from the rain. And, when that doesn't work, I do the same thing, but I perform it. Snatch people away from their lives and into my stories. I like looking into the camera's eye and making it feel like I'm speaking to you. I like finding friends in words. Latin letters. Sharp edges.
And I think that might be part of it. For me, home is an escape, it's the perfect place to be away, and I've been so focused on running from the cause of my wounds I've barely taken the time to heal them. But I wonder, isn't that what a home is supposed to be? Escaping is necessary, it's an act of survival. Can't I have a place to escape to? And if I can't find it, can I make it?
So I've been trying to make a home. Glue the disparate pieces of my life together and understand them as a whole. I can make it here, in the midst of a bunch of people I don't know, here in my bedroom, here in the words I speak. It can be in the walk I take when the sun is shining, in the people who love me. My friends, my family, my community, all cauterizing the wounds history left me. And that's not all it can be, but I can make it more.
Until I get there, I'll make home the journey and the destination. I'll make it in the inbetween spaces, in every footstep, in my patience. And who knows. I have a dream where one day I look around, I'm with someone I love with their feet up on the sofa, there's a dog, the day feels softer. And I realise that I'm comfortable. That I'm home.
But, you know, until then, here's another poem.
Back in the Sea
Back in the sea,
some ancestor was a sculptor,
some relative existed as phone calls and missives
sent from the waves
so their name could be carried by air,
Back in the sea,
a house still sits between the coral and fish,
hollowed out by the bombs
and left there to sing
to the memory of our land,
the truth of what they did.
we still carry the remains
of our home in our breath,
passed down to you
so the weight can be shared.
birth gives you a weight to shoulder.
Back in the sea,
when your khal was in hospital,
three arms out of commission
the rest kept still by the knowledge
of something they saw
and we didn't...
when you Khal was in hospital
I took your Maba's tentacle
and said we could hold each other when the water didn't.
If they exported their war from the land to the waves
then there must be none left where they came.
So we came.
But back in the sea,
my legs tugged the current,
I had my family close,
I kept the ocean as playmate,
rather than penpal,
We were kept soft by the water
and cradled by sand
and all eight legs
would trickle beauty across the seabed,
Back in the sea,
I had my language and land
but we are the people of stories
and they can never take that.
I told her to sew me a nation
and she asked me to find linen.
So I walked my sword along the trade route paths,
stole merchant cloth, dyed a third with blood,
took a third to the sea to soak up its blue
and left a third clean white for future use.
And then she said she had no thread,
so I turned to the forest where the natives lived,
burned their homes and, as the children fled,
captured the spiders that scuttled past
and took their gossamer for our flag.
And then she said it would need to wave,
so I chased the mountains, claimed their mines
had them hollowed out to belch smoke and grime,
made them forge the pole to bear our pride,
with blistered hands,
with screams and cries.
And then she said it was ready to fly,
that the country I'd built could float on fire.
So I told her that I'd brave hell to lead,
and she asked me if the devil could do a good deed.
I've been collecting handfuls of English letters
and though they fall like rain, the wider weather
is in Arabic.
But at least English has sharp edges and sticks to my skin,
Arabic just slips,
So I've been putting stories together,
passed down from hand to hand like heirloooms
and in them ghost hands shape words with the khobiz
and there's life in the streets of a memory I've inherited
and I can't quite understand any of it.
Cos Google had to tell me in English
that footsteps worked your town into a different
that I'd been imagining a family I've never met
And life in a language I didn't get
Because I made memories in a different alphabet.
But at least I remember your books
and your smile
and how the sun made a halo of your hair.
When you extended your hand in arthritic blessing
and fed me English so I'd swallow Arabic.
And for once, I'm upset I don't even have
borders to remember you by.
But for you, I'll remember
"Rami Yasir is a writer, illustrator and youth worker based in Manchester. They are the winner of the National Poetry Day 2019 #SpeakYourTruth competition, with work published in a few magazines, a couple of books, and dotting the internet. Their work focuses on race, body, culture, and tech. They're very good. You should book them."
You can find out more about their work on Twitter or Instagram.
Instagram | @RamiYasir
Twitter | @YasirRami