Sharif El Gammal-Ortiz

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Sharif El Gammal-Ortiz is a poet and translator from Carolina, Puerto Rico. His poems have been featured in The Acentos Review, The Atlas Review, Why I Am Not a Painter, Entasis Journal, SAND, and elsewhere. A film review has also appeared in Moko Magazine, and a book review and essay are forthcoming in Caribbean Studies and The Caribbean Writer, respectively. Currently a doctoral candidate in Caribbean Literature at the University of Puerto Rico, Ri'o Piedras, his research interests include Sufism, Rastafarianism, and the novels of Guadeloupean writer Maryse Conde'. He enjoys lifting weights and long distance running.

Amaryllis Doing Laundry at her Mother’s and Whistling


Into my urethra the needle

grandma used to sew with goes.

A habanero seed, I can’t piss.

I am a burnt taste bud, attached

a string threaded through its eye.

My fingertip pinpricked,

I jab it. No pincers can remove it.

Inch it further inside. Let it

remain there—still it, the needle!

Imagine peeing on the surface

waters of the Amazon. Standing,

your thighs have been touching

for hours. The needle outlives you

within you. Your body a star

headed screwdriver, an opened

geriatric lifting eight hundred pounds

with the small of her back. Fuck.

Pain’s the absence of knees

that bend. Where’s a laser scalpel

when you need one! There it stays,

the needle, filling the space where

your body once was, the time.


I light three candles posing as my soul.

One to Saint Lazarus, another

to the Baby Jesus, and the third—

I’m feeling kind of inguinal, a hernia

bleeds—to a minute fish swimming

up a stream of urine. I become

pregnant with a rubber tire

filled with gasoline and forced

around a Nigerian’s chest.

Before his ass is set on fire, I go

into labor. From the needle out comes

a hooked worm. It voices, Eat

all foods, but stay away from pork.

I unlock the Internet’s full potential

and find Allah by way of Africa.

Amaryllis Sipping Coffee


My mother’s best friend, Yolanda,

a seventy-five-year-old high school computer teacher

who refuses to retire, felt sick not too long ago

while visiting her youngest son Nacho

in Toronto. She felt a sharp pain

running up and down her left arm, an intense

cottonmouth-like feeling in both her hard

and soft palates, and around the thin flesh

of her larynx, a sensation drier

than a nine million square kilometer stretch of desert

where at its dead center stands one lone

peyote cactus. All three symptomatic—the pain,

the feeling, the sensation—of an approaching

heart attack. Good son that he was, Nacho

quickly had his mother hospitalized,

the doctors having to perform an emergency

operation to stabilize Yolanda and insert

a pacemaker into her, evidenced by the three

inch incision running across and right smack

between her left nipple and clavicle. Back

at work today teaching, but not with the same oomph,

Yolanda feels the pacemaker controlling her,

dictating how hard (or how soft) she’s to go

about breathing, walking, moving her arms

up and down and from side to side, and executing

those gross—let alone the fine—motor skills

we who are neither para- nor quadriplegic

take for granted. Not her old self, Yolanda

now blinks knowing she is miserable. The point

here I make pushes me to barge into the school

where my mother and Yolanda teach, march up

the four flights of stairs leading to Yolanda’s

computer lab, kick the door down, walk right up

to her as she’s giving the day’s lesson, and,

with the live chainsaw I keep stashed

in my left shinbone, proceed to cut the pacemaker

out of her. Having practically sliced her

in two, I find myself lurid bloody, palming

the pacemaker, its cold polish the alkaloid current

in my mouth, and the thump-thump-thump

pulsing its way up my left arm inseminating

my heart. Reality is a zygote

in the form of a small spineless cactus.

My brother and I are ones

to whom all doors are open.


© The Acentos Review 2015