June 16, 2016

Poetry by Adnan Onart

"The best way to share my story is to attach my poem, "Morning Prayer,"
a poem I wrote as I was coming out of a deep depression."

Hear Adnan's story

Ramadan in Dunkin Donuts
» Listen

From his asking about the time
and double-checking his watch,
I understood:
he was about to break his fast.
Selamün Aleyküm, I said,
the only Arabic I knew
for all practical purposes.
Aleyküm Selam, he replied.
He was setting his table:
two donuts, one Chocolate Glazed,
the other Boston Kreme
and a thick lentil soup
he had apparently brought
from the grocery store
across the street.
Do you want to sit down
and share?

I thanked him, no.
Aren't you fasting?
I explained:
my high blood pressure,
my medication.
He pointed to one of the donuts:
Still, he said, let's share.
The collapsing Twin Towers,
the beheaded hostages,
and the jumpy look on people's faces
hearing my name.
We already do, I said.

Adnan Adam Onart
Boston, MA. 2005


» Listen

Let us go, Adnan!
This is Al-Mi'raj, the holiest of all holy nights,
The night when the Messenger, in a twinkling,
Experienced the most majestic sights.
I follow my older brother,
Eyes glued on the dinner table.
My mind already munches
The crushed sesame bread
With salty kashar cheese
And the sweetest jams,
Orange and raspberry.

Hop scotching the cobblestones, I try
My phonics on the electrical signs
Placed between the minarets
Against the dark winter sky:


During the prayer, I mimic an old man
On the right hand side of the first row.
He bends forward. I bend forward.
He stands straight. I stand straight.
He moves his lips. I do the same:
I whisper some little sounds.

Without any warning, everybody stops.
The imam coughs: a hymn starts as a murmur.

My stomach begs in despair
O my God, the Merciful,
Don't let them take too long

— Which He does.

A sudden fear grumbles in my belly:

A mosque is a dangerous place to be:
If you think things other than prayers
You get for sure a satanic face.

Back at home, before I even touch
The sesame bread,
I look in the mirror.

Just in case!

Adnan Adam Onart
Boston, MA. 1998

Ribbon Time: The Moment

» Listen

His uncles, uncles-in-law holding his arms behind his back,
Bony fingers clamping his head — no looking down,
The wooden floor sucks his feet cold.
Gown pulled up to resentment and nakedness.

Last weeks, last days will tiptoe away in front of his eyes.

His gentle father trying to calm him:
Nothing to be afraid of, he will say, just a red ribbon.
Why red, he will wonder.

Two bowls of soup with the foreskin in it,
Will laugh his cousins,
You'll become a man by drinking…
But only if you don't shriek like a kid.
Why two bowls
, he will wonder.

His older brothers will explain:
It is just an issue of hygiene…
Even Americans these days…
What about Elvis
, he will wonder.

From a back corner of the room,
The father, the older brothers start the chant:
Allahü ekber, Allahü ekber!
The uncles, uncles-in-law join in:
Allahü ekber, Allahü ekber!

God jumping from the echo
Catches the boy with his thousand hands;
Thousand hands multiply into tens of thousands.
The boy, the figurehead, makes a last attempt
To detach itself from the ship.
The colorless blood, the fear, flows from the belly to the tip.
The terror, a turtle now, retracts into itself.

Through a wooden door swinging
A man in a white coat walks in
Carrying a scream in his hands.

Adnan Adam Onart
New York, NY 1998

Morning Prayer

» Listen

In a poor Istanbul neighborhood,
At the ground floor of our house,
My great-grandmother says:
It is time for morning prayer.

If you pray, she says, pure as a child,
From this corner of the room,
An angel will appear.

I am five years old closing my eyes.
Allahü Ekber.

Essallamü alleykü ve rahmetullah.
I am fifty opening my eyes.

In Boston, Massachusetts,
In a not so poor neighborhood
At the top floor of our house
Praying my morning prayer.

From that corner of the room,
My great-grandmother appears.

Adnan Adam Onart
Boston, MA. 1997

Find more poetry from On Being on the Poetry Radio Project page.

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