Father's Eyes


United States
40° 37' 8.6268" N, 73° 57' 55.3392" W

Father’s Eyes 



“The deepest hole 

where the bullet,  


after piercing  

my father’s back,  

has come 

to rest.  

Quickly—I climb 




--Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds 





I want to know how my father’s eyes remain open when they hold  

the weight of an entire country’s tragedy.



In the mirror, my father’s eyes.  

The burnt brown that fits just so in a Syrian complexion 

is a mystery when placed in the paleness of my half-blood skin 

but still, they’re his eyes. 


I am only half of him and waning as America takes me in, 

as his country is annihilated, also waning into rubble 

and bomb craters where children play, but in this mirror I see 

the moon of our amber iris darkens, waxes, I am  



In Syria, these days, 

everything which touches the ground 

connects to the dead.  


Rubble is mixed  

with the ash of many mothers 

and the men who sold 

gem-toned blue stones  

and golden bracelets I hold 

close to my heart.  


The lucky ones  

have been buried in white sheets 

instead of burst 

like pomegranate seeds 

and left to sour  

in the Aleppo sun.  


My father tells himself 

not to picture our loved ones  

dead for fear of too much loss, 

a fear which has already violently ravaged 

those clay bodies.  


At night, I sleep 

while they count 

empty beds.  



In Damascus, down the street from my grandparent’s  

abandoned flat, there is a juice shop next to a bakery  

with a name which I cannot remember  

and I know if I went back it would look different  

or it wouldn’t be there at all.  


In Chicago, just a crescent’s worth of memory  

allows me to see my father, really see him across the dinner table, 

through these eyes which we have in common like language.  

Tonight, he uses our eyes to cry about his father, my Jido’s colon  

which destroys him from the inside, about the inevitable  

distance between our table and his table in Dubai,  

the city in which he seeks refuge.  


Jido’s colon heals, but my father can never quite get back  

the tryst he had with mortality. 



I realize, the severe brown-ness of these eyes is the only thing about my appearance which proves that I’m Syrian. I know that my origins are deeply embedded into my body, no matter how close or distant from my soul. It’s there in the mirror, the stark equivalent of dirt roads in Aleppo.  


My red hair is louder than my dark eyes and louder than my last name which comes out in three smooth beats. Alsamsam means dagger.  


Ten generations of my father’s pure Syrian family has the same sharp stab of our last name. They bought watermelon from salesmen on the corner and took the force-fed poison of war into their low, growling stomachs.  


I experience the violence from afar but still I long for that country. I feel so irrevocably attached to the chaos of its constant imploding though I know it only from a string of visits in the summer and what my father has told me.    


I want to know why bodies are made strong for battle but still supple for love, for grief, for poetry. My father’s eyes are so clearly reflected in my face and in this mirror, but I still worry that my Syrian iris fades like a horizon line as the Damascus lights rise into the star-pricked sky.  



It’s easier to accept destruction when you let it destroy you, too. 

The rubble of Aleppo collects beneath his clear eyes.  



Even in my dreams I cannot 

conjure an image of the country  

my father came from  

when it was un 


broken. I can remember 

the domes, but they’re already  

bloated and ready to burst.  

Emerald lights emanate from the mosques 

but even in photos they flicker 

ready to burn out.  


The imam’s voice is woven already 

with melancholy, even at dawn, 

knowing he wakes the city  

a day closer to battle. I cannot 


see ancient stone walls  

without cracks in them,  

two thousand years severed 

with hairlines fractures  


of corruption. It is true 

that Da Vinci taught his protégés  

to study the cracks in the walls 

instead of famous sketches. It is true 


that the crescent moon  

keeps spinning through its cycles 

indifferent, or rather, uncertain,  

of the world it reflects  


someone else’s light on.   



These eyes are mine because they are yours. This war  

is mine because it is yours. I do not yet know  

how to tell you that years of cold between us  

cannot freeze the heat of all those Syrian summers.  


The other day we watched a video of a rebel  

who cut out a Syrian government soldier’s heart  

and took a bite. If you had not come to America 

you would have fought as a rebel soldier, too,  


against Bashar who was on your childhood soccer team,  

Bashar who was not even meant to rule a country,  

the sensitive one compared to his brother,  

the un-fit son in the words of his father.  


You see yourself in that violent rebel 

whose family was taken for dead and captive. 

You see yourself in the children floating  

over water, over borders, attempting to seek refuge anywhere 


that will take them in. Not even war can recover 

what I have not said to you for so long, what is locked 

into my half-blood heart. I cannot even speak to myself 

in the mirror because your eyes stare back at me,  


mine but not mine.


This poem is about: 
My family
My community
My country
Our world


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