The text of this website may not be copied, translated or distributed in any manner (electronic, web or printed) without the prior written consent of K.Eltinaé. Please acknowledge K.Eltinaé first when citing or linking to the website.
His work has appeared in Baphash Literary & Arts Quarterly, New Contrast, Algebra of Owls, NILVX, Illya's Honey, Ink in Thirds, Elsewhere Literary Journal, Peeking Cat Magazine,The Ofi Press, The Elephants, Poetic Diversity, Chanterelle’s Notebook, and Poetry Pages: A Collection of Voices from Around the World Volume IV.
His favorite smells are sandalwood, amber, and Japanese yuzu. He loves cheesecake, the oud, the kora, handmade foutas, old school rap, Egyptology, Sufi literature, Greek mythology and Sarah Vaughan.
The poems featured on this website are taken from his forthcoming collection of poems titled 'Tirhal.'
Ninety thousand men, women and children
dragged their dusty feet and wept rivers,
dams were never built for.
Under six cataracts lie the bones of my
Under my bed is the cane they mapped the
Slaves because the sun charred their skin
and made raisins of their hearts.
Once a year at sunset, together we part the
Weep with ebony mermaids who playback
voices of those we left behind.
dance across lines and mounts,
chest against chest in that hollow place
where air is worshipped.
Joined by the birds
in the throats of women
who honor tragedies
and disappearing landmarks.
Joyful arms plead with the sky in unison
for evenings of breeze,
Where shuffling feet, snapping fingers
and the clamor of bangles
beg like prophets, to be heard.
One bony finger drew lines in the ground
handed you a gun, a khaki uniform
A car that purred the way your wife did
Before rebels forced her, as you intruded homes.
That daughter who spoke only of horses
and kicked up dust, wrapping herself in curtains
the day you left, also vanished.
As did the agenda of the men you fought so
The year you made it home
you heard your wife pleading to God
Before you felt the soil moist on your cheek,
as it welcomed tears.
Smiling in her uniform,
your daughter snaps her gum,
calls for an ambulance in a voice that loops.
I found no paradise
in the faces of the beggars
who accepted alms and prayed
for you at the mosque
until I disappeared.
I spent weeks in that apartment
windows sealed off
sleeping with your scent
until i couldn't.
I woke up in a fisherman’s net
Born again not from love but duty.
I break salt on the rocks by the gates,
Hear your laughter in that garden
oblivious of bars.
I still dream about my brothers
their laughter and cologne at night.
Before eyelashes and youth
vanished like melon seeds
parted joyfully on lips.
Before lives were arched like pillows
bent and handled by so many stories,
we stopped listening to the voice
and compass of our fingers.
My heart is weighed against an ostrich feather
after weeks of grapefruits and incense
I am ready to leave again.
Imagined and longed for conversations
weigh more than anyone I’ve left behind.
Is it still called asylum?
when you race amid nightfalls
setting camp under your own dust,
half dreaming you’re a zebra
because the marrow in your bones
Won’t settle for a land?
And what about the fear
Strangers paint across faces
whenever you cough or share a
Who will defend the maps
laid to rest from the truth by lies
Who will trace the kohl for our eyes?
You step out of the shower
supple like grapes and coconuts.
I cannot shave in the fog you've made
so I listen to the kettle in the kitchen,
waiting for a face to emerge.
I rinse out sugar and mint
in the sink
taste home on your lips
before it disappears.
My baby will not speak.
Twice a week outside a room
I watch him draw a past I’ve buried
in hues of purple, blue, and green.
Deep-set eyes and hollow cheeks
the doctors make no sense of.
Nests of broken hair and nails
float in the water and will not forgive me
but he listens and understands why.
My baby won’t test his feet on the ground,
breaking hearts and plastic wheels
that push too hard.
I dread the morning
he'll find his wings
and drift the way I had to.
I choose the seat
closest to the door
in case someone steps off
I can follow out and start a new life with.
Instead I meet couples
who are travelling for the ‘first time’
who speak about ‘home’
and getting ‘back’ to places
I cross off the map.
What if I told her my first kiss
was on a staircase at school between classes
that I lost my balance and that each time
love has felt that way.
What if I told them both I still walk around
With imaginary djinns on my shoulders
that weigh like shame from my childhood
that I bow my head to and offer things
I have never had without asking.
What if I dream of being
met by a stranger
who sees me in the way
I was only seven,
bored as mama argued
with the airline staff
swore on graves they shrugged
and shook their heads at.
I blinked one eye at a time
and pretended I could
make them fly to those graves.
I fall asleep to conversations in a language
I must remember
I rise, dress like a prize donkey
carry mama’s gifts and medicine
to neighbors who sang our names,
spun our sorrows into clouds.
Always our last stop
baba tapping one after the other like tambours
as if suddenly a door would creak open,
And we’d be ushered into the green striped belly
of a tiger,
savoring flesh and roasted seeds
that sweetened sweat.
how do you know which to choose?
once we're home he tells me
Unraveling his turban
in that way that doesn’t leave creases,
‘It chooses you.’
before stabbing the rind.
The things we learn to be true
hang like jasmine vines on a summer night,
we remember them with such rapture,
they do no milieu justice.
Resentful walls claim the weight
of legacies we assume
not because time unearthed them,
but from the shame we fear
and the gossip of borders.
We wait too long for dowries
for the sweat of strangers,
to remember our own perfume.
My older brother got all the attention
with mama’s hazel eyes and straight hair.
She still keeps a photo of when he wore it long,
fourteen in his white sox uniform
hair like a waterfall framing his face,
people thought he was Indian.
That was before we moved to Khartoum
there, he shaved it off and changed forever.
Mama’s eye wouldn’t stop twitching
the night my sister went camping
with her girl scout troop.
So she followed her gut
and brought my sister home,
by the troop leader
who told her she'd look perfect.
I bear arms to protect myself
from in-between things
like flying or drowning or bursting in flames.
Crawling into the belly of a whale
spat out in some seaport
where my tongue won’t curl the same.
I bear memories of doors
that brought visitors in the evenings,
feet that twitched as secrets spilled.
One leg over the other
we crossed dunes scattering dates
waiting years for shade,
where we forgot the heat of last words,
the senseless tears we shed
before we wept fountains.
I will iron a shirt and face the wind.
Map out the city with my black taxi disguise,
listen to Indians, Africans and Arabs
claim my colors, hair and eyes.
Stopping for drinks, smiles, one night stands,
counting people holding hands,
gentler than mine.
I will find a phone booth and call home.
Listen to threats about the evils of wanderlust,
pretend I haven't survived them yet.
I will lie and tell them I am happy at last,
and wait to hear:
that wherever I go, walls have ears,
and from them I will never be free.
How much longer?
they still count days, months, years.
I think about those walls and their ears,
Measuring everyday how long it takes
to step out of the shower,
Tie laces, practice faces,
Until I drop dead.
Sent back to a place I fled from
but never escaped.
Here's a list of individual poems published from 'Tirhal', plus links to where they appear.
Check back for updates to the list with new additions.
I don’t want to hear you confuse
‘protecting’ with ‘stealing’.
The pharaohs you made away with
did not sleep while you bombed and
buried families who weighed
much more than gold.
I don’t remember what it felt like
before that shot in the arm ate my soul up.
I’m admired for how well I preserve
because your bounty saved me.
Your children count sheep
that disappear into the sky
I count the lives lost to Ebola
someone believed deserved to die.
It began with trees we gave names to,
etched with so many things
that lived and fought to fill a space
in that tomb we call a heart.
I cry white and blue,
question if I’m here
to father more lives
before I am ready
to age in one place.
The wind scatters my tears,
laughs like a djinn in the fields
when they bloom.
He could have been my father,
With his blue-black skin
asking directions in that language
that wiped us off the map.
He could have been my father,
With his safari suit and silver rings.
With vowels clipped and buried
so no one would hear them sing.
I cough up sand and answer,
That I am the son of a dove
and a panther.
From their blood and feathers
I have learned about love.
He could have been my father,
But he smiled when he talked about God.
The oldest woman in our village
had fingers missing on her left hand.
She waved her hands at the sky
on the day, she lost her son,
wailed that no God was left for her.
If her voice before was veiled like a
she was done whispering at a family
who gave her away like perishing fruit.
Today women are birthing turtles
from the honey in their wombs
into this world.
Crawling away from the center
our future loses force as do traditions.
Dressed in dazzling white on Fridays
baba began his hunt for me.
I locked myself in the bathroom
listening to threats about djinns'
later hid on the roof until he gave up.
I couldn’t find my place at the mosque
trapped in limbo out of line
between the feet of a stranger
as another nudged me from behind.
At home, he scolds about the future
in the same tone as the narrator on T.V
spellbound by gazelles that vanished
like his biscuits dipped in tea.
You mustn't beg for love.
Wave it down for the rush
it gives or the places
you discover together.
Don't look for neighbors
in your silence
for that noise that distracts
from the breathing of your own life
though it's sleepless as a nightingale.
You shouldn't yearn for eight arms
and longer breath underwater,
for the small silver smiles
that expire tomorrow.
Never bow your head
to loveless duties,
you were taught to chase alone
while others walked their path.
You mustn't pine for a love
you can nurse like a wound,
trace back the life in its scars,
confide in and still look after
in your mind.
You mustn't mine for love
or petrol or diamonds;
tend to the wealth
and splendor in your laughter,
be selfish with your love.
Stock, simmer and seal it in jars
for winter, all year long.
Keep your love.
Be thankful of its scent
on walls and sheets, in pantries
lather in your love at home
before you decide
someone else is more deserving.
as you hang laundry,
feel love spread
on your shoulders.
(Nefsi is an Arabic word which has a double meaning: Nefsi means ‘my soul’ and ‘my own self’.)
How far is the truth by now?
When you dial that number,
wait for voices
you turned off the last time
but thought about every day.
There is something damning
about those tears that come,
how their light spills
into apologies and sweat
you can never take back.
I carry your names
as far as the river,
wrap my wings under stars that hum;
wake up wondering everyday
where the dust comes from.
There was a time before
borders and stamps decided
where we came from.
We welcomed births and grievances over teas,
measured departures with stories and dust
that followed us everywhere.
Voices rose and scattered people
like an earthquake,
before prayer in the hearts of men and women
disappeared like bread and water.
On the morning a traveler set out,
he left two footprints behind,
One that faced the path he was taking,
Another that gave him one last glimpse
of home before it changed forever.
There are boundless events,
which precede that first cry,
before a new life bursts forth
and the cord is slashed.
Before first steps and comparisons
to dead and living relatives are made,
our futures shift recalibrating destiny.
We were born to chase our truths in transit.
Because you took too long
here I wait with books and drink
on a terrace in the square
outside your house.
The woman at the table next door
jokes that I am adorable
‘He’s just learned how to read’
she tells her friends.
Sunflower seeds migrate at her feet
hollow as the world she hides in.
Moving with all this silence
I forget the weight of the tideline.
Behind me taunt the seagulls
as I follow God into the water.
I'm repeating prayers
from religion class,
the ones people swore
destroyed fear and brought on
miracles and triumph.
I struggle against two arms
speaking in one voice
dragging me back
to honor the drum
When glass shattered
we were told
something evil had passed
by and not through us.
So we swept up the mess
believed ourselves to be lucky
until what followed for years.