When you talk about refugees, do not use water

metaphors. Avoid phrases like the refugee pipeline,

refugees flooding in, a surge of newcomers, a new wave

of immigration. When I worked with refugees,

these were the instructions from on high, a way to fight

the currents of anti-immigrant sentiment

beating persistently against our shores.


But I am the daughter

of an immigrant, and so I know

that travelers’ stories cannot be told

without mention of the water

they’ve crossed to get here,

the rivers and streams they left

behind and the bays

that welcomed them, shining,

when they arrived.


I am a Palestinian

Tennessean, transported to Iowa

by way of dreams, and so my story

converged the way rivers do. My father

was born 84 miles from the Sea of Galilee

where Jesus Christ is said to have miraculously

set his feet, my father had to cross the sacred

River Jordan on the road to Kuwait

and spent his childhood kicking a soccer ball

on the beaches of Salmiya. Maybe he still heard

the lull of the Arabian Gulf waves as he slept

on the plane across the Atlantic, the ocean

responsible for the term “overseas,” for those nebulous

other places from where so many of us descend. And his body

of water met my mother’s, her water story carved

from Tennessee creeks and dotted with fishing ponds, marked

by weekend trips to rocky waterfalls, precarious places

where so and so had died, and their bodies

of water are how I came to be, distant

tributaries merging to form

the water of the womb, the calm

ocean where I took up

first residence; floating

is the first way

we learn

how to move.