A Poem for World Arabic Language Day

December 17, 2019

Alphabets of My Heart

Because I am from East and West
a mother with two alphabets
and I must not love one
more than the other
if they are to grow up
and love each other,
when I speak English
I make a seat in my voice
for Arabic.

Like children these two languages
love to sit in my lap
at the same time
and paw at me for attention . . .

On the line, Arabic moves
from right to left
and English moves
from left to right . . .

On the line, at times,
outside in the world
it is a line of fire . . .
But in my heart, all of the time,
it is a line where the two languages
walk forth toward each other –
a bride and her beloved . . .

a family of twenty-nine letters on one side,
and a family of twenty-six on the other . . .
They move with a quickening in their hearts . . .

West tells the East;
East tells the West;
I have missed you.
Come sit by me.
I do. I do. I do.
Teach me more about yourself.

And when death comes
it does not part us
for the alphabets live. . .
for in your beginning
there was the word
and in my beginning,
the angel instructed:
Iqra'; Iqra'; Iqra'
Read. Read. Read
were the first words.

The zero of the Arabic numerals
is the ring
of eternity . . .

Bilingual note: Iqra' is the first word of the Qur’an.

Editorial note: Today (December 18, 2019) is the United Nations’ World Arabic Language Day.

Photo by Matt Peyton

Ibtisam Barakat is a Palestinian-American poet, artist, and the author of award-winning books in English and Arabic, including Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood (FSG) and Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine (FSG/Macmillan). Her most recent book, The Lilac Girl, won the 2020 Sheikh Zayed Book Award.