As Us

A Space for Writers of the World

Fatima Al Shemary—Poetry


When you have a conscience, it is impossible to sleep at night.

Music is too loud. I’m talking too soft. How to see and not blind myself by looking directly at the light? Veil or unveil? Do I stay within my shadow, or step out into the light, blindly obscuring myself? Does it all come down to a duality of things? I’m questioning that tonight, and trying not to think about blood diamonds.

1:23 AM

Head full of questions and no solid answers. I dwell in the shadow. Memories trace back to abstractions, shaped by insecurities. There were so many kind moments. So many revelations. Possible revolutions took place in the exchange of questions, secrets.

Revolutions happening behind the veil, in our yearning gazes, in our desperate, brushing fingertips.

1:42 AM

I lose sense of my place when watching others drown. Others. Not like me. Not lying on their backs, wrapped in blankets, looking at a screen, but drifting on their backs. Not enough life jackets in the vast, cold, abyss. In peril at home, in peril at sea.

Syrian husband gives away his life jacket – his life, and the sea washes him away.

Syrian wife drenched in tears, struggling to breathe, while I watch from my warm, dry, bed.

1:45 AM

Is it wrong to make a poem about their suffering?

10:55 AM

Too tired to sleep. Too awake to dream. Encompassed by projections on my skin, my blanket, my veil. I won’t look up at the sun; the lightness blinds me, blinds everyone. A screen protects, adds shade. Whatever projections on the outside are irrelevant. If you make it inside, tread carefully. The thorns prick unapologetically.

11:00 AM

I’m awake but not really. The materials that form this screen trace to unmeasurable violence, and I don’t know what to do.

11:13 AM

In the bathroom stall on campus, I stare at the streaky walls, wondering why I’m afraid of still being here? I’m afraid to leave, too.


There’s nothing worse than not being here or there. But I have been told that Limbo is the place where better ideas are born.

3:50 PM

Girl says, “What is it like being an educated Arab woman?” Translation: What is it like being an anomaly among your kind? I repeat, “What is it like being an educated Arab woman?”

She rattles off her interrogation. “How does your family feel about you being educated? Are they okay with it? You grew up here, that must be why…over there, your life would be different. Arab culture seems like one of the restrictive ones.”

She does not pause between questions in order for me to respond. Her last statement lingers in the space between us. I feel that space growing wider and wider.

5:45 PM

I walk to my car, thinking about how I should have responded to her questions. She was asking all the wrong questions. Who really cares about women who are Arab? Do U.S. interventions and invasions “over there” liberate women from their supposedly barbaric culture?

Which super powers of the world does this line of thinking benefit? What political agenda does this stereotype serve? How many people have been killed and will be killed as a result?

6:09 PM

It is impossible to sleep at night when I think of what my parents have sacrificed for me. Day by day they watch the news. Will it ever be safe to go home? The truth is, home is not there anymore. When I think I’m being too melodramatic I ask my mother and she says, “Home is here. Home is where my family is.”

Maybe this will help me sleep at night.

10:57 PM

Watching the news, I wonder how those politicians can sleep at night.


When you have a conscience, it is impossible to sleep, breathe, know the perfect thing to say at all times. Racism does not have a conscience. Neither does ignorance. It is easier to sleep than it is to be awake. To be awake means to be conscious. To be conscious means to struggle. I’m awake now. I can not sleep until the morning comes.

Fatima Al-Shemary is an Iraqi-American writer living in the Seattle area. Fatima has a BA in Culture, Literature, and the Arts from the University of Washington, Bothell. Fatima currently interns with Citizen University, a Seattle-based non-profit focused on civic engagement. Fatima’s work has been published in Clamor Literary and Arts Journal 2014 and 2015.

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