Back Home1 minute read

Back home is more back than home to me.

As a child I was called in from playing and

asked to shout into a phone

so my voice could wrap itself

around the world several times

to reach a relative’s ear.


My parents took me back, although

I perfected tantrums and groans –

see, refusal came easily to me, even then,

when I was too small to hold and look

at what it was that I refused.


Summer months were spent in a dust-walled home

at a grandmother’s pace, my head lowered

into books so she never saw my face.

I dragged a suitcase of stories

that still failed to erase

the stretch of time between me

and my return to the place

that had malls and bikes for girls

and reliable internet.

The place where I could wear jeans that were not

too tight but were too tight to wear

back home.


Only there, silence filled my mouth

like dry fuzz in the heat. I walked

with a thick English accent and heavy

English books clutched to my chest for relief

from the sing-song calls to prayer and the parades

of obligation, the parades of tea,

the procession of judging guests that snapped tongues

and clanged pots, singing songs

of gossip music, turning my strangeness into

tunes that were quickly picked up

and sung in chorus

by the entire neighbourhood.


My parents took me back home

But it was more back than home to me

and silence filled my mouth like fuzz.

English books spoke for me.

My parents feared I would lose my mother tongue, and in their fear

They did not see the other tongues

of flame that roared like a hearth in my mouth.



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Rowan El-Bialy is a poet, podcast producer, and researcher. She was born in Egypt and moved frequently as a child across countries in the Middle East and North America. She currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta, on Treaty Six territory. Find her at:;