Threat Levels by Nadim Choufi

A neighbor dozes off for another hour and another

neighbor rearranges seven powdered milk tin jars

on her windowsill, each anchoring a local aloe above

ground zero the way refugees anchor the sea, underneath

the girls with their backpacks rendezvous for the first cigarette

tasting the offspring of ash in case they never reach

the other end of their mothers’ tongues wondering

about sons tucking their toes in the sand, each tuck a little deeper

for the comfort of breathing another day to dark

the widow’s clotheslines strung on the back façade of our building,

tendriled with veils of all the women furrowed through her

to put on that black dress as I bend over and kiss my lover’s hand

for dawn to break fast on us, gilding in an order of refraction

I never seem to catch, on a rooftop someone witnesses their salvation

in our city the muezzins call for prayer

each with a different voice


Originally published in FOUR//TRACK Journal

Artwork by Nadim Choufi ‘ Mapping Home’.


Nadim Choufi is a Lebanese poet and his recent work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Versal, Sukoon, the Shade Journal, and elsewhere. He tweets from @nadimchoofs.

My poetry addresses or at least tries to access the intersection of gender, community, and the ongoing displacement of an Arab identity throughout the current times. Most of the time, the speaker is setting up the poem, creating and dismantling by rearranging words and structures to allow a space for the discovery of that intersection. The poems here do not contain the discovery instead I much more interested in providing the scenes that unfold to experience what comes with a continuously liminal identity.

What influenced you to start being creative?

As a teenager, I was introduced to poets such as Frank Lima, Frank O’Hara, and Bob Kaufman that completely changed the definition I had for poetry. From that point on, I have been a reader of poetry but it was not until I found a journal that contained a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that I started writing. It was the first time I read a living Arab poet that writes in English which gave me the sudden trust to regard my writing as something worthwhile. I am so grateful to have stumbled upon her work and she has had a huge impact on my writing.

What are your thoughts on being an artist in today’s world?

It is really exciting to be producing work at this moment especially as a middle eastern artist. There are many resources internationally for artists such as grants, fellowships and residencies with ones specifically geared towards middle-east based artists in every field.

What’s the best advice you ever received about how to be more creative or what advice would you give to someone?

Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh, two Iranian artists I look up to, said that they consider themselves servants to their art rather than artists. I truly believe that and think that from the work stems more work and creation. So keep at it, go to your studio, your desk or any place you do your work at and go for it.

Now that you have got to know Nadim, we will be posting a few more poems of his over the next few weeks! He tweets from @nadimchoofs


Celebrating Emerging Middle Eastern Creatives