Mama is a time-traveling word

Today’s selection is dedicated to my mother. I was once the five-year-old in this poem from Lhena Khalaf Tuffaha, an American poet of Palestinian, Jordanian, and Syrian heritage. I, too, wondered why my mom kept calling me “mom,” and felt mystified by language and everything encompassed in that magical word.



She asks: why do you say Mama
when you
call me?

Six o’clock and I am tired.
And making dinner right now.
An Arab with a five-year-old demanding
neat-and-tidy American answers.
I phone it in:
That’s just how Arabic works.

Translation is a complicated dance.
Mama is the word
that holds you in
even when you are walking around in the world
with your own name,
so that calling you to me
I discard the self and
respond to the name you gave me,
becoming the person you made me.

Mama is a time-traveling word,
a song to you and to my own mother,
so that whenever I reach out to you
she is there too.
And calling you I am once again
the daughter, tethered to her
just as I am
locked in this lifelong embrace
with you.

I call myself and my own mother and you
all three of us, in one breath.

from Water & Salt 

My body is an eternal motion outside itself.

The Syrian poet, translator, and essayist Adonis (1930-) was born to a small family of farmers in the Al Qassabin village and taught to read and memorize poems by his father. He is now one of the most celebrated living Arab poets–check out this fascinating article about his life.


I travel outside my body, and inside me there are continents
that I do not know. My body
is an eternal motion outside itself.
I don’t ask: From where? Or where were you? I ask, where do I go?
The sand looks at me and turns me into sand,
and the water looks at me and brothers me.

Truly, there is nothing to dusk but memory.