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staple this to my dental records by Jess Rizkallah | Word Riot

September 15, 2014      

staple this to my dental records by Jess Rizkallah

i know we were definitely all soundwaves once
birthed out of the way the mouth forms the involuntary
the way the brain pushes our teeth out from under itself for protection

the way our names push themselves out from under our teeth to protect us

in hebrew, “Jessica” means foresight,
it hisses from my jaw to protect me every time I introduce myself
i wonder what it always sees coming


i know that i am as old as the first time my grandparents held
my mother in their arms and only saw a womb, shrieking

and how they played tasseography with the splotching flesh
and saw the future in the glint of the knife cutting the cord
in Arabic, they gave her a name that rhymed with joy, but not quite that.
not quite “Ida,” where the rumble begins and catches in the throat,
 but “Ghada”
The hard GH, like they knew she needed a name with tough front teeth
 one that turned the throat to floss     with the way it means
“graceful woman,” with the way sound bows to it
this name that no man can bend his way       my mother’s grace in a bolt of lightning
            my father’s name chasing it with a lightbulb

i know that my fingernails definitely formed the first time my father found out
i wasn’t his son, in the uttered “Oh”
i’ve been clinging to his wrists ever since
beneath his trusted gold watch, the back of its face
trying to absorb me into inscription                    but i am part pulse

Pops wanted to name me Jesse James, like the confederate cowboy
the slinging guns              ladies and        machismo and hot        damned hollywood,
that American anti-hero              and i want to be my father’s American Hero
He calls me Jessi              like part potential
like not quite Jessica to his Shylock
and so maybe I could still be some sort of loyalty to this name and maybe it
could still be mine — its hiss leaking from under the roll of Lebanon’s tongue
when it tells me              I Talk Too Americanized

sometimes no one asks me for my name, they just call me
              stupid bitch
              my love, bury me
“habibi”                    my sweet
or           “farhet areece”           better luck next time, she’ll make a husband so happy one day

that bullshit notion that i’ll always be the sound from a man’s mouth
when he decides to change my name to birth me something not
half pulse, something not my mother’s daughter, not my father’s hero but
something that hijacked
                                the chromosomes, cost the family a son

like i am not flesh and blood born to rebel, like
There Goes The Family! The double ducats, stol’n by the daughter!
And jewels—two stones, two rich and precious stones:

                                                                                        my name
i’m not good enough to keep my name,
but i’m going to keep this    broken lightbulb name

 meaning: Fortune of God, and my god
                                                              they think i’m going to give that back

jessrizkallah_headshotAbout the author:

Jess Rizkallah is a Lebanese-American twenty-something with internet connection and a subtle affinity for the moon and also burritos. She studies English and Illustration at Lesley University and edits Maps For Teeth magazine. Will probably get emotional about whales with you.

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