my 11 year old sister is on fire

my 11 year old sister
is on fire

she sits at her desk
and dreams up

of lies to tell her friends
then she

lies in bed and wonders
what it is like

to kiss boys, she tries to
shut the talk shows

in the other room out along with
her mother's soft crying

she trys to memorize lines
so she can write

her poetry the next day
she is a little girl

who has overheard a secret about her
sister and who is now too scared to

close her eyes

she calls
me late

saturday and asks me if it is
true, says ruba, i can't

believe you
i'm on fire


i feel so real

i'm downtown
walking with
my sister

and we stop beside
this old building
and she tells
me about her new years

she tells me she
snorted heroin
with her boyfriend

i don't listen
don't want to listen

cause i'm too busy
starin at the
yellow paint
splattered at the side
of the building

sayin i feel so real

my daddy's shakin something awful

And my daddy's hands are shakin something awful as he lights up his seventeenth cigarette.

Oh my daddy's shakin something awful sittin in my rocking chair, picking his head up off the ground. Crazy baby, crazy daddy, what's wrong? You look so sad, so mad.

Yeah, they look at my daddy at work like they don't speak his language. I can't talk honey. I just can't talk.

Yeah, he knows he's got to get himself together but ever since his little girl with the name that means night walked out, he's fallen apart.

Crazy baby, it can't be that hard. We're all sitting here around you. We love you.

He picks up his tea. Then puts it down. He says it makes him nauseous.

And his hands are shaking somethin awful.

How long will you be sitting there daddy. In the darkness. Will you let me know if there's anything I can do? Daddy, I'm worried. I think about you late at night. I have to get up and open the windows because I can't breathe. Daddy, I lie in bed and stare at my white ceiling, watch the car lights flicker and make metaphors on my walls. I'm thinking about you. I know you're up. I know you can't sleep.

Listen. I know you forget. My mamma knows there's something wrong. You're gettin really hard to be with and you wonder why you feel so down. So low, hung, old. My mamma, she talks about her furniture, her floors, you don't listen, you're off somewhere.

She knows and she's afraid.

You're living at the bottom of the well. You thought when you were orphaned at seven living on your own in the mosque, yeah you thought those tough days were over.

You can't bear to look in the mirror. Daddy, your heart isn't as weak as you think. They fixed it up, remember?

Oh and my daddy's hands are shakin something awful as his worries combine and collide and perform skits. We're your daughters, we're tough. Nothing bad's gonna happen. I'll take care of her, even though we aren't talking. It's okay. I know. It's okay.

Come on crazy daddy. Don't stop running. You say, baby, don't tell anyone but I've gone to see a therapist.

Baby, we're arabs, they don't speak our language.

Our blood, yeah it's a different color, my daddy with the accent and the olive skin. My daddy who people can't bear to look into his black eyes. Yeah, an arab. He'll skin you alive if you wrong his daughters. He was raised on the streets. He don't speak your language.

Baby, I've gone to see a therapist.

Over dinner he tells me this. I ask him if he's told my kid sister, he shakes his head. He shakes his head. She's his favorite. We all know I've tried. That I keep trying.

Daddy, why are you going?

He doesn't say. He just passes me a note. What the therapist wrote. Clinical depression. And then it's got the words must be assessed underlined.

I stare at my french fries.

The doctor said no more smoking. It's gonna kill you. He said he would try to quit. But then things happened you know. You know how things happen.

Baby, I'm not complete without my daughters. I tell him we're right here. He shakes his head no. He says we're his life. And now he's got nothing. Tells me he doesn't like coming home to the white walls. Tells me we have to be around him. Daddy -- no, he can't bear it. He can't bear it anymore.

And my daddy's hands are shakin something awful as he lights up his eighteenth cigarette, leans his head back on my rocking chair and starts to tell me to hold on tight, he's going to miss me when I go away. He's remembering his days in syria. Telling me of the time he fell on this nail and it got jammed in his knee and had nowhere to go. Telling me how he used to draw maps of canada on his walls back in the mosque.

Crazy daddy, he's shaking something awful, I don't speak his language. And he don't speak mine.

Ruba Nadda

Copyright © Ruba Nadda
June 1998

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Copyright © 1998 A Small Garlic Press. All rights reserved.
Created 1998/4/28. Updated last on 2000/7/17.