A car goes up in flames with thick smoke
encircling static air and I am counting
the dead, I am counting the dead as dust
pirouettes into skies washed orange and I am
calling out names of bodies that are not bodies anymore.
S, today your brother called me to tell me you
were gone. You have been missing for days and I
am unsure of what outcome would have kept you
alive under wreckage of spirit and desert sun,
julienned curve of light, my technicolor dreams
savage as you blinked burial and exhaled one last breath.
I remember Tahrir in the cruelty of first awakening,
sweet potatoes with smoke infused afterthought.
I remember the bodies falling, the subway station
submerged in tear gas with bolted doors and flailing
limbs reaching for a sky we could not see, reaching for
the vanishing silhouette of a father in the circumference
of snipers, reaching, even now, for the prison cell of
memory I do not want.
I looked for you in my sleep, S. I thought you were in
Frankfurt or maybe, finally, you moved to Bursa and
asked the ruins to marry you. I looked for you that summer
under the riverbank, looked for your eyelids and bones
raw with cumin-soaked silence at the bottom of the Rhine River.
In my dreams I am falling in and out of windmills looking
for your body. I thought I had found you buried beneath
seaweed and sewage, aluminum coils covering your back, left knee
cowered beneath coastline. Even the Nile stings scars it was
built to heal. Finally, I woke. Grief spears flood even now.
S, I remember the courtyard and the morgue, the vinegar
peppered on fingertips, the cringe of toxic waste in spray bottles
we used as ammunition. It feels like just yesterday we were on the
outskirts of the square, charting roads that swivel in dusk,
desperate for pharmacies open in the middle of the night,
begging men in white coats guarding overflowing
medicine counters for morphine, gas masks, vinegar.
Remember what you said when we scrubbed the residue of blood
from the courtyard of the morgue in Zeinhom? Do you remember, S?
You said that departed is not dead until you have seen the body.
I have not seen your body and I am too far for burial.
All I have is prayer. All I have is jolted recitals of al-fatiha,
the swinging rhythm of denial and mourning from afar.
Behind the structure of a pale grey rotting horizon
I saw the canyon wrapped in fog and said a prayer for your safety –
Ya Allah, please keep him hidden in half-shadows and out of prison.
If the vultures come for him in the middle of the night,
he will not survive. I know this because I barely survived too.
S, I know they stretched your body into a map and asked you
for answers you did not have. I know the scar your brother described
on your ribcage was actually a constellation of the lit end
of cigarettes seared onto skin.
I know they put you alone in that room stained with shit and blood.
I know they held your breath with sweaty hands, pushed your lips
to swallow air raw with death. I know you didn’t cry, my darling,
I know you didn’t cry … but you must have felt betrayed.
Departed is not dead until you have seen the body. I am searching
for you elsewhere, still waking to you elsewhere. Even if there is a body,
I have not seen it; maybe you are somewhere, somewhere, still breathing.
Maheen Hyder is a Pakistani writer who was raised between Saudi Arabia, Canada, Qatar, and Egypt. She is currently working on a full-length script for a theatre production that questions the morality of trauma in drone technology by bringing to the forefront the narratives of both victims and perpetrators of drone strikes in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Maheen lives in Toronto and is completing her residency in psychiatry emergency service, urgent care, and suicide intervention as a graduate student in social work.