On Adding Sand to the N-Word to Make a New Slur (After Azealia Banks) by Hazem Fahmy

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


When I first came to this country, I couldn’t utter the name Egypt without emphasizing
how green my Cairo suburb was. I would speak only of mint entangled on fences, roses
my mother planted in our garden.

The sand only existed in the sidewalk cracks or the beach. The desert was a disgrace to be denied.

The most common synonyms for the word desert are waste, desolate, uninhabited.

Americans love to remind me that my people come from the desert.

They ask me about camels like they’re my friends, baffled that I live in a house not a tent.

They speak of the desert like they do of death; an unknowable landscape to be feared, an amorphous void only good for surviving, only beautiful in poetry.  

They speak of the sand as if every grain wasn’t as holy as every verse in the Qur’an.
The desert is not death. It is life stretched out. It is the sun being a jealous God and us
loving her for it.

The desert barely grows green because it’s too busy growing miracles. Remember how
Mecca was built? How Ismail tapped the sand with his foot and Hagar watched the water
burst forward like love? How Abraham came back to his wife and child, bathed in glory,
and knew that he had found the throne of God?

Isn’t it typical of us mortals to mock this Earth? To spit on its Holy. To forget that we
only built what we have because it let us.

We mock the sand and forget to thank it for not swallowing us whole after we’ve wetted
it with so much blood. We forget the only reason Cairo and Baghdad grew out of dust
was because the sand had decided to let them stand.

For isn’t sand also soil? Remember how Mohamed watered it 1400 years ago? How we
are still reaping the fruits despite everything. How every Ramadan we remember that
God blessed the date palm and the fig, two fruits of the barren wasteland we eat and
forget to bless the sand for.

When I was six, I brought a spoon to the beach. My mother asked me why, and I told her
I wanted to eat the sand. My family does not let me live down the memory.

I used to think of that boy and laugh at his foolishness, how he could find something so
crude appetizing. I have realized since that I had discovered poetry before writing.

Is there anything more beautiful than a child recognizing the hand that feeds him?
Feeding on the substance that sustains him?

Azealia, when you modified a word you of all people know the horror of, you weren’t
just spitting on Holy Land. You were gurgling the saliva of those who spit on your skin,
too. Who call it ugly. Barren. More blank space to conquer.

You are neither the first nor last to think this Holy can be conquered, to confuse the sand
for a shapeless mass only definable by your footprints. But you are the last drop of
envious drool I will let fall on this body.

Azealia, I hear your words and I do not hate you for them.

I hear your words and I am six again, bathing in sand as coarse as the moon, a gentle
guide back to Nubia.

My body is not cursing the rashes. The cure is not north of the Mediterranean.

My body is not sailing away. It is slathered in sand, sleeping on the banks of the Nile,
letting the flood water carry it like Moses.

My body is a temple that sunk in the Nile, got baptized and came out a Mosque.

You will enter with your shoes off.

You will not utter a slur in this house.


Photo of Hazem Fahmy

Photo of Hazem Fahmy

Hazem Fahmy is a poet and critic from Cairo. He is currently pursuing a degree in Humanities and Film Studies from Wesleyan University. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming in Mizna, COG and Inklette. In his spare time, he writes about the Middle East and tries to come up with creative ways to mock Classicism. He makes videos occasionally.