Poems by Joanna Chen

In Which She Dreams of Fame

I see fire, charred buses and
it makes me smile.
I dream of fame,
lie awake nights,
my sister breathing evenly beside me
in the mean bed.
Through the dark

I see men lined up against
a wall. My brother,
my cousins.  I see roadblocks,
guns at intersections,
alleys through Bir Naballah,
orange blossom wafting,
shards of glass on the street.

I shuffle to work every day,
notebook in hand, head down
(Ramallah weeps for its dead children,
may there be better days ahead, Inshallah)
avoiding the hustle of the street,
sidestepping the garbage piling up,
animals stripped of their skins hanging from metal hooks

missing nothing, documenting
the fear on people’s faces,
the funerals revisited on the 8 o’clock news.
I never miss one, I suck it all up,
breathe the stench of grief.  Let it churn
around my intestines,  let it catch
on the knots where I can’t make it

right,  can’t digest  any more.  Rumor
has it those jundiim soldiers are sniffing
around again,  coming to pick up another
one.  I know who they are.  I’ve seen
the shebab hunched on street corners
but they never see me, sallow-skinned,
sour-faced.  Easier that way.


The Plot

I will pluck you out of your bedroom like a hair
on my chin.
I will walk you out of your house,
calling goodbye to mother, father, sister,
smiling as you shut the door,
imagining how it will be.

I will be waiting for you on Wednesday.
I’ll dream about you.
OK. Love you.
Love you too.

I have been drawing you towards me
for months with words that make you
sweat in your bed at night.
I’m not what you’d call pretty,
more like plain.

I’m 169 cm. Brown eyes, black hair.
I’m 174cm. Black hair, blue eyes.

There are no mirrors
in my bedroom, no bottles of perfume or
lacy clothes. I get dressed in the dark.
You chickened out last week, said you were sick.
Mummy’s boy all cozy at home while I
shiver under the covers.
You made me mad, after all I have done but I bit
back my anger.  You didn’t call. I am sad.

You are on the bus now, blue eyes staring
out of the window, familiar territory left
behind as you speed towards me.

You don’t know how much
I am waiting for this day. 

Joanna Chen was born in the U.K. and graduated from the Shaindy Rudoff Creative Writing Program at Bar-Ilan University. She worked as a journalist at Newsweek‘s Middle East Bureau and also published world reports on the subject of women’s issues in Marie Claire. Joanna has contributed to the BBC World Service’s Women’s Hour, World Have Your Say, Outlook and others.  Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals, most recently in Poet Lore.



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