Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week, Omar Sakr is the author of two acclaimed poetry collections, These Wild Houses and The Lost Arabs, which won the 2020 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry. His debut novel, Son of Sin, is out now. He performed this story, well this collection of poems at Melbourne Writers Festival. I keep trying to get Omar to write a story for Queerstories but every time he puts forward poetry and his writing is so spectacular that I say ‘sure, who needs to follow the format.’ Enjoy
Omar: So every time Maeve asks me to do one of these stories I always say no. Instead I say, I can read some poems. To which she usually says ‘alright, if you must, at least tell a story before hand.’
2017 was the time I called “The Year of Dick.” I had sworn off women, tired of it, over it and I was only going to date and hook up with men, which I did for several months. Things were looking up for me at the time. I had several events, the Emerging Writers Festival, I had a festival in Mexico the month after and then a dear friend of mine passed away the week of the Emerging Writers Festival and two days after that my father passed away and three days after that my uncle, his brother also passed away. It is a kind of absurdity the amount of grief that fell upon me that week. It’s something I won’t ever be able to articulate properly. I didn’t do the Emerging Writers Festival’s events. I did go to Mexico, that is the backstory of this poem. This is what happened when I got back. The poem is called “When the Veil Parts”.
We hooked up six weeks after the funeral.
That must be how long it took my departed father
to beg God for his son to fall in love with a woman. I never imagined a life like this, one in which I am happy, and knowing it has ruined the future.
We can only dwindle now. I try not to bother you with this foreshadowing. I watch movies. I earn small dollars. Count down the hours. Lap the block of decaying animals. Avoid the bees beginning their dizzy deliverance around helpless flowers.
I do not call my mother. I laugh eerily at whatever my brother sends me, in fact, as soon as I see
his name, humour wedgies my spine. I fuck you
on good days and bad. We argue about
the dishes. I use dildos to teach myself new raptures when I am alone. This has nothing to do with your womanhood, it is mine, a long handheld heaven because I haven’t met a man I trust enough to deliver me there, and this is one way we are both women. You ask me what this is about as I write it. Mandarins? I lie and taste citrus. I don’t know how to be anything other than queer and sad. I need to map a way out of this unexpected complication
and all I can think to say is ta’aburnee. We part sometimes, and you work and sleep as I do,
but these are false previews of absence, predicated on return. I no longer look at mandarins except
as an omen for loss. It’s not all bad news.
My father, God bless him, already proved that when life ends love enters.
So basically a couple months afterwards I met my current wife and a couple months after that I was at a residency in America and their internet blocked you from accessing porn. So that’s what this poem is about. It’s called “I Felt Like A Saint”.
The residency accommodated artists
for months at a time: a bedroom, a shower,
a kitchen, a studio, a haunting, snow.
Their internet smothered smut, tried
to keep me from being a slut. My love,
a world away, went hunting through archives for the sex I described.
I felt like a saint, she told me, three
or more steps removed from desire,
crowned by a light that can only come
from sinning in another’s place to know
their ache. For you, I will mouth a fantasy
halo, dribble, devour, suck. The law of balance demands I devil your holy;
instead, I do nothing. Watch magpies mating outside my window.
Well, the birds stood close, perhaps talking.
Unexpectedly, even magpies need love.
Never have I felt more perverse.
The space between us is full of bodies paused.
I jerk off just to feel normal again and to honour her labour, the diligent record of other people mourning
nude for the camera, all the little deaths.
Our screens stay dark, ecstatic portals.
You can be the patron of tribbing, I say.
I will be the song of absence.
Now press play on those men, please.
Yeah, she found me porn and recored it! Then sent it to me and I wrote a fucking poem about it ‘cos that’s what I do. Anyway, this poem is about watching TV, sort of but not really. It’s called “Runtime”.
One episode in I declare I would die for them. Any character
from my life is worth dying for when they’re on a screen. It’s so easy to love them there. I want Tia Kofi to rip-start a chainsaw in my heart I swear this sandwich is so good kill me. We’re dancing in a flood of light and my body won’t stop trying to find another way to close. Like any failed alchemist all I know is how to take a good thing and make of it a menace. This is what the world did with God & yes I am
the world & no, I won’t learn my lessons. I’m in the metaphor factory again fighting for my beard to be a beard and on the way out
this jalabiya becomes my eternal shroud. No, song. Today I’m going to run at the police barricades in a lip sync for my life. I’m tired
of mouthing what I must in order to survive. I’m going to run at
the gun after I kiss a faggot on the lips. I am the faggot on my lips and I am running toward a choice that is not inevitable. Doom feels so delicious on my skin. Don’t you love to shiver in the ending, isn’t it in the ending that we get to triumph, or is that only after tragedy?
In the after or before, tell me what’s waiting, is it a gun or parade?
I’m trying to cook up a revolution here, of course
the kitchen’s on fire. I can put it out or read the secret songs of smoke, but not both. I’m reading the earth with a sore melodious throat, watching the house sashay away to great acclaim in a little black dress. It was never my house, never my mind, never mine, but I own this dress believe me, I want to tear out the good pages of every book
and eat the cheap paper. The good pages will be those I land on, or
the ones without people. Fuck, I think I finally understand
the Romantics—& this is why I laugh stumbling hysterical free as I run & run toward the only certainty I know.