The Brick House

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Brick House

Cab drivers will greet you in English, no matter
how much you’ve practiced your guttural letters.
Your hair is blond and, like your accent, shows.

In English, the cabbie will state the cost
of your ride and drop you at your tutor’s house.
She is Palestinian but was born here;
her house here is not her home.

You only know one Arabic word for both house and home.
You do not linguistically differentiate.

For months you greet her “Peace upon the plural you.”
Later you learn that saying “hello” evokes the plural presence
of all her house and home, who are with her,
as you say in English, in spirit. That concept is untranslatable,
despite knowing the words “with you in spirit.”
You keep making this mistake:
one-for-one replacement.

When you speak Arabic, you write your translations in pencil,
so you can revise as you go.
Everything has its excess meanings.

In Arabic you use variations of the verb “prefer”
to answer the door, to pay, to say “go ahead.”
Your English doesn’t have a concept for a pen
being “private.” Ownership has different rules than you’re used to.

And English, despite its insistence on the constant presence of verbs,
finds it impossible to “mercy” someone.

But you still haven’t figured this out.
You still believe this language is a house,
that each word has its equal in size and weight and meaning,
that you can replace your ideas brick by brick.

As though you could simply substitute
the word for “house,” the word for “peace,”
the word for “God.”



  1. Oh, I can't even imagine trying to learn Arabic. What a challenge.
    Not even sure how describe how much I loved this post. Just thank you. Leaving here challenged...

    1. Thank you for your kind comment. I love languages, but especially Arabic. It's one of the things I miss most, living now in the U.S.

  2. Really liked "Your hair is blond and, like your accent, shows." - it evokes a vulnerability felt. Great to read this work. Thanks for sharing.

  3. This is so lovely. I'm so glad to have found your blog. I have lived in Africa and my husband in Palestine, and I find in this succinct little poem so many rich echos. In the distinction of house and home, a painful refugee our inability to "mercy" someone, something we English-speakers maybe lack...and this overall sense of the beauty/difficulty of connecting with folks across a language barrier. Wow. I just love this. Thanks for sharing!

    1. thank you for your kind comment! I am so happy to know it touched your heart.