I sit in a comfortable position, I close my eyes and try to think non-judgmentally. Oh, how easy it is to judge and how impossible it is to meditate. My mind wanders quickly. I visualize the moment in which the ink seeped into that piece of paper. I imagine micro-imprints of fresh ink, cutting through the rough surface of paper, taking shapes unknown at first but easily identifiable if you are patient. This is a tree, a castle, high towers separating people in and out, taking my identity in a chokehold and forcing me into exile. “He signed it” I remember myself thinking the moment I read the news-flash on my phone.
The ink keeps moving. It’s only the first second of contact with paper, and the ink had already taken numerous shapes. Arms extending and fingers spreading, shoulders bouncing off one another, creating a saddle for an incomplete horse, galloping nowhere, spreading outside the margins of understanding in fine lines, robes or threads in a sea of whiteness, in the big glass bowl of America.
In the glass bowl, I find myself buried in a labyrinth of quivering threads. I try to focus amidst the daze of lines. With my head turned upside down, cautiously I navigate the twisted threads. My goal is to avoid getting stuck, but in vain. Every breath comes with a choking sensation as if short fingers are grabbing on the oval shape of my neck and pressing, applying a force like affixing a nail on a wall to hang a trophy. It then releases the pressure, only to press again. Another trophy of majestic excellence needs to be hanged.
I try to get myself out of this cycle of suffocation. I pretend that everything is OK. “Smile” the voice inside the bowl says, “it’s the custom in this bowl to be vibrant”. “Smile” the voice repeats, “they’ll get suspicious if you don’t… you have to look like the other threads, you have to act like them, otherwise you’ll get weeded out.”
I return my attention to the vision of ink that moves across paper. Or shall I say, paper that slurps the ink. In my clinic, I was asked once, “You are not a Muslim, are you?” A wave of electricity got through me and made me startle, “Oh no… I’m not”. In a split second, my tongue was uttering words my brain questioned and immediately regretted, but couldn’t take them back. I am a professional psychiatrist after all, and so I shall remain. But why did I say what I said? I usually answer “no” to that question but not as defensive as this time. I do not identify by colors, yet I succumbed to the tyranny of dye.
I go back to the vision. What else do you see in this inkblot? I see a ball, dotted white and black, moving around in circles. This looks like a pirated broadcasting of an English Premier League game, something I usually watch to distract myself from existential threats. The “real” football, I confess, one symbol among many others signifying my inability to fully assimilate. “I swear, officer, I have tried hard to like the game. I downloaded the NFL app on my phone last year… look for it while you go through my phone, my apps and my YouTube browsing history.”
I swear, I forced a sense of interest in the aesthetics of this feline-minded sport, but I just can’t feel it. “It ain’t working for me.” Let it be my only sin, or let it be a check on a test my alien-self will be subjected to at a “point of entry.”
The ink continues to capture my attention. It takes me to places far away, untouchable, undeliverable. I gaze at the blurry faces of stadium crowds in a Tottenham Hotspurs game. I daydream about the cheers I may share with some of them in an underground bar in London. A bar we will be in a habit of going to after each game. I could have been there now standing next to the fans, screaming my lungs out, thinking of that English beer that will quench my thirst. But I am not. It is Robert Frost’s Not Taken Road that I could have converged upon in that moment of my life, when I was twenty-three, fluent in both English and Deutsch, planning to become a psychiatrist in Europe. That moment when I was convinced that America is the culture in which I will be welcomed and embraced. So I took the road “more travelled by” and it did make a difference.
It’s futile to control my mind. It wonders next to the dream I had last night. The dream of being back in my hometown. A dream that’s getting freakishly vivid these days. In the dream, I argue with myself that all previous dreams were mere hallucinations while this is not. That cliché fine line between real and unreal. The de facto checkpoint at the gates of consciousness, the one I frequently pass while awake, when all of a sudden everything around me seems strange, and I wonder; “am I really in America?”, “did I really make it here? Or is this all false?”. In my dream, I walk the streets of youth. I stare at every door step, every detail of every corner, I know what each turn holds, what each person may say, I know the name of the tomato sellers, their hopes and dreams. At a certain point in my dream a realization strikes, “I need to go back to America!” and the questions pour over me, “How did I dare to leave?”, “Did I make proper arrangements?”, “Can I get back into my life? Can I get back to my career?”, “Do I have a valid visa?”, and more recently, “Is it still even relevant?”.
“They’re coming… they’re coming,” the voice snatches me from my tangled thoughts. A faint sense of a phone vibrating takes the spotlight of my attention. I jump, or maybe not. I open my eyes, or maybe not. But certainly, more tense than ever. The vibration continues. Unknown Caller-ID, the screen reads. I find myself falling deeper in this failed meditation, I direct my attention back to the glass bowl. I’m a thread among many. A different thread. A more frazzled one. Now I’m witnessing the ensnarement, I’m being plucked out by a fine shiny ideological tweezer. “Yep… just like this… it will only hurt for a second…” the voice says.
Hussam Jefee is a Syrian poet, and psychiatrist. He was born in Lattakia, Syria, in 1983, and currently an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He published his first poetry collection in Arabic in 2008: فتّاحة الأمل المعلّب (The Opener of Canned Hope). His second collection طيور تدخن الماريوانا (Birds Smoking Marijuana) published was recently at Al-Moutawasset publishing; Milano, Italy (2017). He had also published translations of American poetry in Arabic literary magazines and journals. He is the founder of project (ta’sheeq) that merges poetry in translation with other mediums of art and music in choreographed performances.