What is my heritage? (Poetry edition)


Maybe it is the colors of my person:

umber hair and dark eyes

cast on fawn skin.

gilded browns in the ancestral dance

Or my mother’s childhood stories:

napping on the roof,

hours to buy eggs,

and long walks along the Tigris, all under the beating sun.

she speaks of heat;

i hear her warmth, her grief.

Or maybe it’s the ancient history of my people:

the dawn of civilization between twin rivers,

mythical gardens of myrtle and palm,

knowledge, progress, even triumph.

i hear of these stories; i struggle to see them.

And can you blame me?

News of tragedy that is hardly new,

we are accustomed to that sinking feeling. 

tales of triumph feel like fairy tales

narratives have collapsed into nothingness.

Maybe my heritage is just the vague sting of lost possibility.

Had the news been different,

the history been different—

my mother and I might have walked along the river. 

With the dawn in the east, we take haphazard steps

to be washed away by grey tides of remembrance.

i grasp at these possibilities, 

only to watch them


through my fingers

like grains of sand

Maybe it’s none of these.

Maybe there is nothing to be spoken of,

that I am no heir to this heritage

with no claim to a land I have not touched

or a history I have not lived;

I’m afraid of my uncertainty,

the unknowing, unhearing, unfeeling

etched into this page

So futile as it is, I’ll never cease to wonder

What is my heritage?

Contact Nora Mousa at mousa ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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