• Poets Respond to the Anniversary of Nakba

    Zaina Alsous, Hala Alyan, Tariq Luthun, and More

    Tariq Luthun

    There is more to us than
    What was taken from us.

    A place to call
    home. Land of olive trees,
    and their branches.
    Palestine. There.
    I’ve said it. I want to be sure
    that everyone knows
    from where my parents
    hail. Everyone needs a place
    to call home. Genocide: everyone,
    I would hope, knows that it did not start
    and did not end with the
    Holocaust. I haven’t forgotten that
    everyone needs a place on this planet. And I,
    I prefer to live where I can leave
    the doors unlocked —
    or live without the doors —
    or hell. I don’t even care
    for walls. But, I do care
    for the blues: water; the sadness
    that comes when it is not within
    sight. I don’t know if there is
    a child, anywhere on this earth, that wasn’t,
    at least once, held by their mother. Again,
    water: where my mother held me
    until I was given to land. O firm land — how my father holds
    me — folks keep calling for blood, to dress you in it.
    I don’t think any of them
    know, truly, how much of it
    the body can take; how much of it
    the body can lose.

    Jessica Abughattas
    (originally published in BOAAT)

    “The price of a kiss is your life” — Rumi

    In my first life I was a speck
    inside my mother, a chord
    vaulted in the cathedral
    of her throat; a

    In my next life I cropped my hair
    like a man, worked late nights
    in a sock factory.

    I lived 100 lives
    for you.

    In my next life my husband
    carved crosses from the wood
    of olive trees.

    Where a high rise
    hotel stands, my love and I
    peeled oranges
    by the sea.

    In my next life I was widowed
    when my youngest
    child was three.

    My eldest married
    under a veil of smoke,
    only seventeen.

    And I have died
    100 more times.

    My first death,
    when barbed wire
    kissed my scalp,
    I walked to the medic
    past men
    who would have shot at me.

    By my second death
    I could afford a telephone.
    I left my house
    arranged perfectly.

    Neighbors called
    to ask how I could leave
    before we kissed goodbye.
    I told them god
    has written this fate for me,

    and when I go…
    do not cry for me.
    I have mustered
    enough tears
    to drown the shores
    of Tel Aviv.

    I do not wish for love;
    I loved my husband.
    I do not wish for wealth;
    we had a palace…
    we lived for 10 years

    When we arrived
    at the apartment, we slept
    on one mattress at first,
    your mother
    and aunt and me.

    I want nothing;
    and everything good
    I owe to you—

    When I crossed
    the border
    into Amman
    I fell on my knees
    I kissed the ground 100 times.

    Deema Shehabi
    (originally published in Crab Orchard Review)

    So, tell me what you think of when the sky is ashen?

    —Mahmoud Darwish

    I could tell you that listening is made for the ashen sky,
    and instead of the muezzin’s voice, which lingers
         like weeping at dawn,
    I hear my own desire, as I lay my lips against my mother’s cheek.

    I kneel down beside her, recalling her pleas
    the day she flung open the gates of her house
         for children fleeing from tanks.

    My mother is from Gaza, but what do I know of the migrant earth,
    as I enter a Gazan rooftop and perform ablutions in the ashen
         forehead of sky? As my soul journeys and wrinkles with homeland?

    I could tell you that I parted with my mother at the country
         of skin. In the dream,
    my lips were bruised, her body was whole again, and we danced
         naked in the street.

    And no child understands absence past the softness
         of palms.

    As though it is praise in my father’s palms
    as he washes my mother’s body in the final ritual.

    As though it is God’s pulse that comes across
    her face and disappears.

    Summer Farah

    made with quotes from an interview with janna jihad, palestine’s youngest journalist.

    audience                    filled with soldiers
    from gut          watch them catch
    your tongue               in their teeth. feel the

    catastrophe commence as they become

    big. you sizzle & shrink
    while journalists         in the crowd
    in                         your smoke

    shout: 150 dead, 50 Palestinian homes for

    the taking.                     skip a meal
    in service                    of their hunger   :   look lean
    before                         the cameras.

    the smaller the Palestinian, the less

    they have                    to feast upon so  : do
    skipping             meals                  : do not
    let arabic season          your gums          : do not talk

    about your mother’s dinners, or about

    palestine                      your country
    gutted &                     your stomach eats
    itself                            cries: i am losing

    our language. i want to taste olives without

    ash                               want to smell
    argeeleh                       in all the rings
    we make.                      return

    to recipes. no more reports

    of death                        making us
    hollow                          sitting on
    our plates                     the fate of

    Palestine. the soldier screams: i need more

    heat                                  don’t want
    your blood                        to remain.
    call it erasure    :           starvation   :   survival

    to let charred ends of your skin probe

    the inside                       of their throats
    cook                               your tongue through
    until                               it is no longer pink.

    Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
    (originally published in Mass Review)

    for Musa Khalaf, born 1938, Jerusalem, Palestine

    This is how you open the box
    when I am no longer here.

    One of these might be the combination:

    The year you were born

    The year we lost the rest of our country

    The year your grandmother swallowed her gold coins
    to hide them from the soldiers

    This is how you keep yourself
    safe, keep parts

    of yourself in different boxes.
    Trust no one
    with everything.

    The year my father died

    The year the checkpoints taught you
    The difference between your name and your passport

    The year the last of our olives were uprooted
    and the wall obscured Jerusalem

    This is how you know it will end:

    At night, the windows of the city become mirrors,
    a key recalls the shape of its doorway,

    the stones of this earth
    nestle in young hands.

    Hala Alyan

    I am marching across the platform
    in my black mood     sometimes I wear a cowboy hat sometimes I wear a keffiyeh   I like to be
    the warm
    engine in                      America’s boat                                         the man who gave me
    my hair died                                 one hundred years ago                            he was a fisherman or
    a shepherd                                    a hill crest of goats                                  white
                  mottled fur                                          the copper scent of meat and                daughters
    after gazelles                now me, antsy as a moon
    jealous of white girl freckles           the poppy tattooed on the barmaid’s neck           I answer
    a city                 in Argentina I’m not the woman pulling stitches                     through white lace
    I answer
    a phone         Meimei’s death lifted and lowered Beirut as though                on a pulley
    while fifteen stories below         people shuttled around
    Union Square            like bright spiders
    there’s so much you don’t know      
    about me                   I walk down Bedford sometimes just
    to recite Quran            I mourn the trees as they lose their green coats       I asked Texas to hang
    her heart in the window
    for me                  my father’s desk globe is stuck on             ocean
    blue             I couldn’t bring him ranch land from anywhere               even though he asked
    a long time ago                    I fell in love and he was a bad man           so I yanked            every
    rose from his
    grassless lawn             I burned his emails                         this is not a metaphor
    I struck matches               against new paper              until the sink filled with        black clumps
    this is
    object permanence      while you sleep         my father’s globe ocean rises inch by inch

    Zaina Alsous
    (originally published in Asian American Writers Workshop)

    A hijacked plane in 1969 lands in Damascus. This means a plane was unable to fly
    away, to Tel Aviv. I read about the incident in the autobiography of Leila Khaled.
    This book is out of print. This means it is difficult to find her first hand account in text
    though much is written about her. I wanted to write a poem about Leila: a hero,
    or terrorist, depending on who you ask. Dareen is the name of a woman,
    who lives under house arrest. This means she is unable to leave her home.
    Israeli officials categorize her as a threat, she calls herself a poet.
    The speaker is an important part of a poem. A rule of poetry, try
    not to let the reader out of a poem. At this point I will disobey and say
    you are free to go if you choose. Choice is a complicated part of
    Palestinian heroes or terrorists. The Israeli and Palestinian conflict is studied
    in class. The word conflict in English, defined as “a serious disagreement”.
    If you are still here, doesn’t that sound fair? Two sides, equally at fault,
    each making a choice. Three  generations later, I still do not know
    how to explain choices. A place was left behind. A place I have never
    This means I still do not know how to write myself
    into existence. Three boys form a tributary of blood, on a beach in Gaza, elsewhere
    a contained border, a family of bones, without broth; these will be described as incidents.

    The difference between violence and incidents in a conflict,
    depends on the speaker. What word would you choose to begin?
    Nakba translates as “Catastrophe”. Ha’atzmaut, “Independence”.
    Though Hebrew and Arabic share yawm or yohm,
    for day. Alan Dershowitz and other Israeli historians argue
    it was a choice of Palestinians to leave the land in
    Argue, a word used when choosing an explanation about why things are.
    History is a collection of choices. I have also inherited memories.
    Pink prayer beads on the counter. Creases in white fabric, black threads
    embroidering live skin. Memories do not always obey
    the lines of history’s choices. My grandfather fled the land
    when he was eight years old, leaving his mother at home.
    This means he never saw her again. Many will continue to
    leaving and never returning is a choice, not a violence.
    A poem, depending on the speaker, an act of incitement
    to violence. Concrete left in the throats of children, a mother’s final glance,
    a segregated beach, a segregated sun; it is all just
    a great misunderstanding, a conflict. I have changed my mind.
    I am leaving
    you and this poem behind. A choice, I choose, this time.

    George Abraham

    i must confess, this softness is often an endless


    i fall into, the way a snake chases itself into

    itself. on tamer days

    i blame the fruit for their thick

    ripening & not the small jealousies


    the honeybee; some days i cannot distinguish


    & extinction – every love of mine demands blood

    -shed of a hunter

    ’s lineage; o exile my exile, that i could

    unbloody our laced talons

    & write them into metal

    wings; that we could un-cauterize the crimson

    sky & fly

    into a sunset spilling blood that is not our own –

    that i could turn

    2 mirrors in on themselves,

    unraveling those infinite & countable dimensions;

    somewhere, i pluck an apple                   & a parallel self suffers

    the expulsion, itself                                   ancestry rippling across space, itself

    timeless; in this  reality, i lose                 a country

    for another Eden                to blossom beneath

    a more forgiving stratosphere;

    i confess, i am more vengeful than my oppressors

    deem me; my disposition

    is a learned burial –

    i fang so hard it louds my smile, writes my cyanide

    ducts into gentle

    rain; in truth, i wish them an eternity

    of carnage for every country they stole

    from us,

    the way infinity plus infinity is just infinity; forever

    fails us

    like that; our eternity is the moment between

    child’s fist

    & soldier’s gun; i know threat

    is not object but state

    (of being); because i love him,

    he is everyone’s

    threat; i bloody my hands for him,

    so he must be God

    of somewhere; i know heaven

    is a poem i survive

    the end of; i know holy

    is waking up

    with a knotted neck

    on a crowded

    red sofa in Philadelphia; i know that

    is a country

    even i can have faith in –





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