Issue 3: Dictationship

2 Poems

Rami Karim


You try explaining ‘savior complex’ to an old friend.
They listen attentively. Moments later you hug it out.
They’d like to start a campaign about it. A series of
hashtags against savior complexes.

You’ve been writing checks to the third world for
decades. Some were left out of the exchange. They’re
at your doorstep but you’re not quite ready to open.
Somehow writing checks was easier. Giving a
homeless man change is not the same as having him
over for coffee.

Of course there is empathy between you and them,
but as the child of refugees, something feels off. You
wonder how to explain anger to guilt-ridden college
friends without making them second guess their
generous donation to a UN body in Syria.

If you’re a twenty-something transplant in an
American metropolis, odds are you’re woke. Before
this, all the constructs were intact, the moving parts
holding them together obscured, even if willfully, like
a bad feeling you ignored because hypothesizing
would be unpleasant and you have a life to live, a
dinner to cook, etc.

The election catalyzed a leftward exodus among
centrists, the business majors in your gender studies
class and their less-woke counterparts who opted for
Intro to Locke. People are starting to catch on to the
“socially liberal and fiscally conservative” thing. A
casual hookup used the word liberal pejoratively in a
text about the novel they’re reading.

Your friend returns from X trip abroad helping Y
people with Z thing, part of a service trip with their
woke Episcopalian church. Over morning coffee you
remember CIA recruitment commercials from a
decade ago, the barrage of immigrant aesthetics
pitched at brown people, and suddenly the warm
embrace of Islam in the American Airlines takeoff
video feels suspect. You are confused, but there’s
only so much time, you were already late once this

Smile and Nod (excerpts)

Would you believe it
If I took away his Molotov
Replaced it with a normal one
Cheers, God be with you
My boss utters
It’s not yet Friday
I should be wearing slacks, sorry


When angry I am
Asking to be liked
In the dressing room mirror
Trying not to see myself
As pressure in a vacuum
Adjacent to a consequence
Comparable to loneliness

Watch me
Pretend to recognize foie gras
Pretend to like it for money
During off-leash hours
Be endeared by the openness
Licking our faces
Reminding us we know each other

I find myself in reflective surfaces
You punch my elbow
Confirm we are compatible
Let’s meet up soon
I have to go to the gym first
My mom would like the girl version of you

Believing salespeople is dangerous
The burger is shawarma flavored
I’ll do anything for my baby
Like trust fall into concrete
(You got a text)
My eyes were closed
I am learning how to drive

Low hanging fruit is a man
Is Thomas Friedman
Who is also your uncle
Or your dad’s college friend
He watches the news
Said Beirut is a metaphor
For compass coordinates
Kidnapping each other
Over appetizers
In my cul-de-sac
There are snipers at every window

We have trouble speaking
Take turns stuttering
I bought you a car
You barely hug back