Belly Dancer

I wrote this other thing called Belly Dancer,
a long-form story that took me years.
But you know when writers say that, they’re still living life,
skipping days, months, working on other things, being lazy.
So all in all, it took me much less to write,
which is even better because I’ve basically scrapped it.
I bring it out every so often to comb through it,
give it a once over, and shove it back into the digital drawer.

For a long time I loved it. I loved myself for writing it.
It was a way to tell myself I cared. It starts as a sensual,
summery story, a little like The Hairdresser’s Husband,
maybe you know it. In Belly Dancer,
the main character was Najwa. There was
a Jorja and an Amal. There was a lot of me,
who I am, in Najwa. I read Paglia
on Wordsworth, she described him
as a spiritual woman, by what he did in his writing.
I didn’t psychoanalyze it that way, I just wrote
what was me into her. It’s a good thing,
not gender essentializing, but finding yourself
in other categories.

Najwa gives birth to a stillborn
child in the United States.
She works through the red tape
to fly the body to Palestine for burial.
That goes on a while. Some of it is funny,
some of it is infuriating and racist and sad.
She succeeds, begins to heal, to enjoy life.
She decides to indefinitely prolong her stay.
But Israeli settlers—it’s suggested—
desecrate the child’s grave.
The corpse goes missing and is never found or returned.

There’s another scene that’s sometimes funny, sometimes
infuriating and racist and sad, where Najwa
tries to open a hopeless criminal investigation
between the Israeli police and the Palestinian Authority.
At the police station, Najwa is softly crying,
when a detective suddenly farts
and everyone wiggles and itches their noses,
pretending it didn’t happen.
There are some pretty good scenes in Belly Dancer,
much better than that. But I’ve told you enough about it
now. Maybe I can let it go.

*

Edward Salem is a Palestinian writer and artist from Detroit. He was chosen by Ottessa Moshfegh as the winner of BOMB’s 2021 Fiction Contest, and by Louise Glück as a finalist for the 2021 Bergman Prize. He is the founder and co-director of City of Asylum/Detroit, a nonprofit that provides long-term residencies for writers who are in exile under threat of persecution. His work has been published or is forthcoming in The Columbia Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Eclectica Magazine, and elsewhere. His artwork has been exhibited at The Hangar in Beirut, the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah, and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. He holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. A deep commitment to the right of peoples to return to their lawful land propels his work.

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