Recommended reading on poets that speak hybrid languages:

bint il neel

no surprise it was your father
started it taught you allah’s
word and said sing daughter

a bird you sang
from your belly to soar over
all of egypt

in the delta’s villages
muwlads weddings
ramadan breakfasts you flew your voice
no surprise

it was god started it
put a burning
in your mouth and said
open up and sing

you were young and a novelty
voice so big baba dressed you
a boy and you traveled
to the ears

of rich men learned men
men of leisure with shillings and servants
entrances for you to shadow

i did not like you
how could i my mother
would turn off the radio
playing assimilation and press
tape play always you

first the applause
then the men yelling always the men
ya aaallaaaahh! praising
your voice a gift
from paradise

the music always
a long intro
then your voice flying
through the roach speakers of a cheap
plastic radio into brooklyn with
a wailing
a whale of a voice
with words

this was all your voice
my mother had to remind her
of herself and i
hated you you
made mommy cry

you loved
poetry and god’s word

stressed sang juiced a line
until it rang perfect


ya naceeni
oh you who have forgotten me
it has never crossed your mind to ask after me

oh you who
have forgotten me
you who have forgotten me
oh you
who have forgotten me

and now i have made
mama cry i who
love poetry and
god’s good word

i who stress a line
until it sounds
like a note

wa inti ala bali
you who are on my mind

i have not forgotten
and though it was men and
their gods started it
you sang for women
for my mother and her daughters

your voice a bird
under her wings
tears not shed
made her heavy flew low
a breeze from the nile

Select poem on Om Kalthoum, bint il neel, featured in Palestinian American poet Suheir Hammad’s ZaatarDiva, published in 2005.

Image: A man rests his camel. Giza, Egypt.

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