Alice s. yousef


to the present


pres·ent /prez(ə)nt/:   1. (of a person) in a place.

                                            2. (of things), a gift

                                            3. (of time) the moments occurring now.


 [Aided by the Webster Dictionary]

Dear present,


In doubt I have often written to the past. In fear, I have often written to the future.

Never have I written to both. How do I address the possibility of two tenses while I have always been taught to choose? You, like many fine details are the vacuum in between. A lucidity where in a minute you will become a past, in your belly, growing like mature mothers: the future. I am clueless and young.



Present: 1. (of a person) in a place


without much notice, the leaves turn yellow

as if overnight. No one has requested them to wear

the colors of the city, wait, tell me

how did time dye the leaves my window overlooks?


I told you, much happens without notice;

an undercurrent brews on the surface of the river

while young clueless women run, or sit and stare

at a moon that shrinks and grows


there is time, there was time, there will be time

tenses mumble in a mouth that's used to a time zone

that suits the sun, but no one can blame jet-lag

after settling, nor the leaves for taking a red color to impress autumn


much happens without notice;

notice gossip that goes like a merry-go-round,

one name surfaces to the horses

the other name steps off, a circle has no edges


for a small town, people talk a lot, you say

I don't tell you I already know


there's much left for me to walk over:

who consulted the weatherman, how can we kiss

where did we lie last, what is the size appropriate for a bag of longings

why, are we obsessed with mouths

when we have one of our own?


this is an experiment;

how you laugh in bars, how you accept a compliment

how your voice changes with the wind

how do you lose and gain a limb? do you need loss or reattachment?


much happens unnoticed: on a windowsill,

three yellow flowers, open shopping bags on the floor

books unread, work unfinished

cozy beds cannot make possible, deprivation


but there's something noticed here: how we hold on to sleep in sheets,

the way we open doors: a gentle pull

to pull is a verb as strong as it is mechanical

two forces keep a buoy surfacing



Present: 2. (of things), a gift


In Chicago O'Hare, she blesses me

without holy water, with short arms

crystal sharp glass bound into loose

earrings hanging on a stand I keep knocking off


you take your time, honey she winks

how can picking one pair of damned earrings be so challenging?


is it about the gift itself or thinking of putting meaning

to a banal picking up of a gift?


there's no challenge in diversity

just enough room for you to pick a color

then stick to it for the rest of your life

like a child's favorite crayon


I arrive light, leave heavy

this is always a case: a few kilos here and there

but it is never about material

because I am always losing


this is, dear present, what the noise is about

how much you gain, who gives you

the minute as a gift, the book,

the earrings, the perfume bottle

the pat on the back, the photos

the kiss, the wine on the roof

the kindness, the extra egg

the last quarter of a dollar, the cheesecake on your doorstep

the room you sleep in, the vitamins when you are sick

the reality check, the courage to speak

the promise, the ability to forget


in Chicago O'Hare, she blesses me

without holy water, with short arms

crystal sharp glasses bound into loose

earrings hanging on a stand I keep knocking off


I pick purple for the gift:

the color of bruises, thistle and lavender

all at once


Present: 3. (of time) the moments occurring now


music is a language of commons

dance is a language of bodies

I am falling in the language of clichés

around me, English is the language of the powerful


and it is the language of the commons

who manage to stand tall and straight

when their very grandparents had to bend their backs

to carry a load, to receive a whip, to pass a child over to the other side


yet English is the language we gained, powerfully

then there's music, the women sing, pause

there's a lingering scent of a thing left behind

some call it duende, I call it the indentation


the men teach us how to redefine

womanhood, the men sing too

the men dance, the men like us

leave something lingering in the air


before words, was water on the surface of earth

before vulnerability became a tattoo

there was music, notes composed a few minutes

before drowning, dinner, desire


the same way, presently, we compose

these lines. Then there are the walks,

dinners in restaurants that cannot pronounce our names

correctly, too exotic, like exotica


is really just washing out your ears

training the eardrum to the sound of power

in fury, in broken letters, like broken-backed

relatives, charged with an ultimate hunger


there are laughs, there are tears, there are running rivers

there are fears, there is hanin, longing when you cook

there are spices you have never heard of, there are happy

faces and sad stories, not matched, not taken apart

there are sleepless nights, mornings and knights

there is dancing and old juke-boxes, two grocery stores

price comparisons and low carb diets

there is a group, there is an individual

there are matching sweaters, there are unlatching doors

there is a written word and someone speaking it


there's language for greeting and language for parting

language for needing and language for accepting


but English and music are our most common


to say, this present, wouldn't change you is a lie

to say you can go clean from it is a lie

it doesn't mar you, at least with otherness

that's a truth.



Dear present, tell me, when do we stop lingering for answers? Do we every sit back, three women and a moon with cigarettes and wine, leaves floating on a river that floats next to us every day: to enjoy 1. people in a place. 2. a gift. 3. the moments occurring now.


Leave me these as memories, dear present—only you have that power, can you?

In love and Light,

Alice S. Yousef