Dina El Dessouky


I abhor the sound of my parents
clashing their metal tongues

you son of 60 dogs
you whore

ya kelb ya waesich
3an abu shaklak

the language of wedding band inscriptions
hurled across the dinner table

a circus act of shabashib
aimed at my head

slice up my tongue 
but leave my fingers 

knives storming my bowels 
like Napoleon’s cavalry after a trip to Egypt

running me mummy brown
after too many khodar

too much salata baladi
or just a sip of tap water

like I’m not legit enough
to hang with baladi intestinal flora

       not baladi enough

so Baladi cuts me up

                     with her uncooked food
                            and rawness

                     with her diverted water
                            and hydroelectric power    

I abhor the sound of knives
sharpening memories

slice up my tongue

bass sibou sawaab3ey

Hair Ties


The day my hair tie broke
I yelled, “fuck!”
and cracked a wry smile
at the student evaluation
that read “unprofessional” 

I couldn’t contain myself

I paid five cents for it
but breaking it 
cost me my dignity

I couldn’t contain myself 


The day my hair tie broke
my infant grabbed a fistful
of stray curls
tiny vice grip fingers
holding fast to her roots


The day my hair tie broke
the police pulled me over
I wondered if I’d get taken
I wondered if I’d get taken


The day my hair tie broke
I heard my mother’s voice
beat a frantic rhythm 
inside my skull
“Limmi sha3rik, ya bint!”

but felt sexy again
for a second

The day my hair tie broke
I thought to myself, “Ana hummara” 
as my locks scrambled 
to swat their gnat-like calls
of “ya sharbat, ya amar”
from my ears

I failed to lick clean
the unsavory clicks on teeth
accidental presses 
in Khan el Khalili 


The day my hair tie broke
their dirty blonde mouths 
yelled, “Brown Sugar”
and craved a taste


this body unleashed
is a threat
a liability 
to itself

Hair Brush

When my iron coils
broke half your teeth
I made sure to leave                     you

                                                                                                  extra baksheesh
                                                    O Cairo                            cab driver 
                                                               on the Autobahn

              I know how much
you miss                                                                                            your
                                                                                                         crooked streets

Favorite Chair

The Carpenter wanted a daughter
gamda, qawwaya like herself
with the thick skin of an oak
under her polished surface

       a daughter solid and strong enough
       to fell a tree in her hands
       and craft from its wood

       a chair upon which
       Madame could rest her back
       after a hard day’s work

The Carpenter’s favorite chairs 
adorned Victorian salons
plump and dainty 
thighs boasting
coy question marks
over their curled toes

Madame planted a tree
fancying apples
of rosy flesh
smooth and crisp
falling not too far from her own

                                   but Madame got a Willow
                                   laden with silty water
                                   Madame didn’t know
                                          that every time
                                   her head throbbed
                                   The Willow would too 
                                   and pare her skin
                                          that every time
                                   Madame sought shelter from
                                   the Cairene sun
                                   that stalked her
                                          The Willow would uproot herself
                                          bent under the weight of her
                                          cascading tendrils
                                          to offer Madame her shade

But Madame had little use
for idling beneath
cool, weeping leaves

                            and chopped The Willow

with a butcher’s precision for limbs
and choice cuts
rubbed the wood clean
with 50 grit
embalmed it with varnish

                                          but was surprised 
                                          that when she rested
                                          her burdens 
                                          against The Willow’s bones

                                   she drowned
                                     The Chair
                                in stagnant tears

                                          sap gathering at the corners of 
                                          her splintered eyes


Born in Hamburg to parents from Cairo, Dina El Dessouky immigrated to the United States at age three. Dina teaches writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she completed her doctorate in Literature. Her work appears in MiznaSpiral Orb, and Min Fami: Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space, and Resistance (Inanna Publications, 2014). She is an Alum of VONA/Voices, The Quest Writer’s Conference, and Las Dos Brujas Writers’ Workshops, and has served as a resident writer in the Santa Cruz Recycled Art Program. She is currently at work on her first collection of poems.