Sherry Shenoda

Sherry Shenoda is an Egyptian-American poet and pediatrician, born in Cairo and living in Los Angeles.  Her work is on the intersection of human rights and child health.  She is currently serving as a pediatrician in a non-profit health center caring for children in the community and who are transitioning out of homelessness.  Her published works appear in the journal Pediatrics and center on policy related to the effects of armed conflict on child health, on which she has briefed the US Senate.  She is working on her first collection of poetry and has recently submitted her first novel for publication.

Alms

I

There was a man begging today
at the side of the road
for funeral donations.

“One, two, or five hundred dollars,
any amount helps.”

II

What they don’t tell you
when you go to medical school
is that among the fever, croup,
diaper rashes, ear infections,

you have to stop everything

to call the funeral director
and plead on behalf of your patient’s brother
shot on the front doorstep,
three weeks dead.

What kind of graceless space
do we live in
where the dead remain unburied
until the living raise enough money
to unlock the ground?

III

Suppose we vow
no supplicating
outstretched palm
or clenched fist
be beggared of love at our door.

On Space

Of Cairo’s nineteen million,
one live in the cemeteries,
in sepulchers, with
the quietest of neighbors.

There is more space for them there,
In the City of the Dead,
than in the Victorious City
with the living.

Two or three times a year
we go to visit my grandparents,
and the occupants make us chai,
assure us that all is well,
that they are taking care of things,
and that our dead are at peace.

And every fifty years,

the bodies of the dead
will be consolidated
to make

space

for the bodies of the living.

Race against time

I.

Never go to an Egyptian funeral
late.

Weddings, sure.  An hour late and
they’re still wreathing the church.

For a funeral, get you to the church early,
and I’m not kidding,
because by a quarter-till
there’s no parking,
church crammed to the walls,
a sea of somber black because

“They respect the dead,”
my father says
“More than the living.”

II.

They tell us to arm the masses
as though that will end a violent era,
and I ask, what if the masses are brown,
black?
Do you need another alibi,
another excuse to gun us down?

III.

Whatever our speed, expect time
to pace us, outpace
us, then lap us.
We eat its dust eventually.
Let me blow the ending wide open:
we don’t win this one.
For God’s sake, slow down.