The Witr Prayer & Other Poems

Salma Abdulatif

The Witr Prayer

They are five, an odd number, like the witr prayer. The eldest is as calm as a bikrah in a white shroud. The second is the most talkative, her hair the softness of the drops that fall on the April meads. The third is my mother. Tall and calculating. She is like the compass. The fourth has a milky complexion, her eyes look like the morning star, and the fifth is the aggressive voice that has worked in Saudi Arabia for years, her Arabic the most musical. Just like the five fingers, they would do so many things together, like steam bananas and grate basil with black pepper. Like coat their bruised hands with henna and fill the plates of their family with baked garlic bread and roasted meat, interrupting each other as they narrate tales of life before us as if that was a way of connecting them to what they found safe. Sometimes, they would scold us for any chivalrous acts like piercing our noses before marriage, like talking to guys, like untying our hijabs when men were around, like eating before the men, like raising our voices above the men, like being like the girl next door who got pregnant in boarding school, 3eeb, they would say. Chopping basil until their eyes became a ball of tears. It was always about what people would say. I believe that these five fingers could actually make a powerful, unbreakable hand if they weren’t in handcuffs.

The Fajr Routine

It happens every Fajr.
The mockingbirds take a bath on the neighbour’s rooftop.
Lilies and hibiscus undress yesterday’s sweat off their skin.
The leaves sway their hips melodiously, Cleopatra.
A whirlwind teases the sun, “Who looks more elegant today?”

The Imam yawns his way to the bathroom,
arms stretching.
He takes his wudhu,
puts on his red socks,
and faces the House of God asking for a beautiful day.

Rest in Piece

The only thing I had that made me feel so close to Omm Kulthum is the souvenir I brought with me from Upper Egypt. A sculpture of her majesty wearing a pink veil, holding her white handkerchief. She had the voice of a hoopoe and the beauty of a spring flower. Her voice a magnet. Who would listen to Ghanili Shway Shway without being swayed, waving like branches of pomegranate and olive? The Bedouin folded their blankets, put down the fire to move miles because of an echo of liberation. There is just that power that this woman could ignite. I hear a cracking sound, it is daybreak. The bulbul birds have for the first time packed their bags to visit the city, was their arrival symbolic? I close my eyes, wishing that it was my leg that cracked. I knew instinctively that it was the sculpture. Now, I see her face on my laptop screen as I seek forgiveness for what the house manager did. It is just a toy, he said, apologetically. He knew not. I looked as he swept the broken particles of what was supposed to be the head covered with cobweb, and another one was her majesty’s red lips, and her black sunglasses. I finally say

Salma Abdulatif is an award-winning civic leader and poet from Kenya. She has been the winner of the East African Writing Contest, The Coast Essay Contest and her work has appeared in the Coast Women Magazine. Salma has been involved with various literary engagements including Honey Badgers in Uganda, Bookmart in Tanzania, Hekaya Arts Initiative, Creative Writers League and the Heroe Book Fair in Kenya. She also participated in poetry workshopping at the University of Nebraska facilitated by Kwame Dawes, which led to the idea of establishing a poetry library through the African Poetry Book Fund. Her poetry book “Dried Rose Petals and Lavender Buds” is one among many to come that are meant to dismantle, disengage and disown myths, misconceptions and misogyny. She is currently working on her second collection “Spice Island”. She is a recipient of the Global Voices Scholarship and is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of East Anglia.


*Image by Majid Korang beheshti on Unsplash

Sign up for our newsletter

Sign up to get our latest stories, poems and essays!