“Holy Land, Wasted.” A Poem by Ahmad Almallah and Huda Fakhreddine

“Tomorrow or the day after, I’ll / pack my things and off to hell. / Another visit to Palestine.”

January 24, 2024  By Ahmad Almallah and Huda Fakhreddine

I began writing this poem on my way to Palestine on December 25th, 2023. I sent early sections to Huda as I was writing and her comments started taking the form of stanzas, so I invited her to write more. We were writing to each other, back and forth; I, in Bethlehem, and she, in Philadelphia, with nothing on our minds but Gaza.

We each have a relationship with T.S. Eliot’s poem and found writing against it, and through it, a way of centering the horrors of this unprecedented moment. The idea was to displace “The Waste Land,” to challenge its Eurocentric currents and place it in Gaza now, and in Palestine in general. A “wasteland” is being created in “the holy land,” and has been for the past 75 years. As always, the American-European war machine is mobilized to wreak terror in the lands of “others.”

The world is complicit in the horrors we are witnessing in Gaza and in Palestine today. Time from now on will be marked by Gaza, and its movement only toward a free Palestine.

Ahmad Almallah


Holy Land, Wasted

April is not that bad actually:
August is the cruelest month!
Say what you may of memory and desire,
the faint smell of semen
trees the Americans brought
to the “Middle East”—those
strange words we inhaled in
the garden of Bethlehem Uni,
the same smell at AUB, another
American campus on native lands.
We looked at one another,
and we couldn’t put words
to work, we thought of the naked
figures we wound our bodies into—
all for what?!
—————–Marie Marie
is my Deutsch instructor, the one
who wiped chalk on her butt cheeks,
only to add insult to injury. Of course
we were horny teenagers waiting
for a sign of the flesh to make
itself visible. Did you know,
dear reader, that we learned German
in Palestine? What a strange
destiny it was to be sent to the
the German Head Master’s office
when I dealt my English teacher
a verbal blow. He asked me
“upon mischief”: would you
drop yourself in a well if some
one told you to. I said: it really depends,
dear master,
———on the depth of the well,
———of course!

Table meets chair: I tell you, there is no need
to make grand statements
that have been all made
in the past, anyway there are chairs, and
some of them squeak when dragged, some
doze off all day, not knowing what has been
sitting on them—but the tables don’t care
much for anything, they see what the
chairs go through, they see in the Hofgarten –
how they are left feet up all night:
it’s a disaster recurring with some regularity now:
since the creation of tables and chairs,
and although the two have lived together
for some time, both maintain they have
nothing to do with one another—too complete,
different species? things? sharing some
physical ground, but lacking chemistry.

Table meets chair: the game of chess
remains the most played board
game in the world. How could
this be in the age of jolts and flashes?
Where do they find the time
to arrange tragedy on the board,
plot and strategy?
Where do they find pawns
to sacrifice themselves, one square
at a time, to accept the smaller fates,
while kings and queens huddle
backstage, twirling their fingers,
expecting glory to meet them halfway?

Table meets chair: In an age of boredom, they map
their courses to glory from a distance.
They scheme, from a distance,
when there is only one recourse:
Touch, skin on skin, more or less,
——-_a body to offer:
——-_one’s own as proof
——-_or someone else’s as loot.

The river has its tents. Apparently.
And because we are, dear Pal, the people
of the tents—not because
of our Bedouin pasts, and all that
poetry, just because we at every bend
are killed, our blood
Against the rivers
and their beds, East
and West banks, we mine
the land with nothing
but our feet.
Let’s stop there. No need to repeat
the old record broken.
Please turn the volume up.
Hear the screams:
It’s scratching again.
Safiyya, could you please bring
the volume down. Hand me
my down pills or will you
hang me instead?
I can’t face the world.
Let’s stay in, and drink
our blood soup! Oh but the hours
are coming into play: kill kill
kill the hours. It’s not good
for your nerves to watch
all that news, the sights
of dead children not good
for your sleep. Please, Safiyya. Shut
down your screens. But beware
and listen carefully. Do nothing.
Do not shoot yourself
in the foot. And those shadows we
see on screen: how could
they go up against the tanks with
no shoes? Barbaric! Their
killings are not timed
well, not timely.
It’s impossible to watch it
Safiyya, Safiyya, I’m going
to sleep. I’ll take you with me
one day, and you’ll see. For now
I want you to focus on your
teeth. Look at yourself in the
mirror. Hold on tight.
Do you see a face beside
yours? Look no more if you
do! Yes. Good night, Safiyya,
good night, dear shadows in the
background. Good night, dear
dead babies. Now you’ll finally
be able to sleep, and give
us all a moment’s peace.

Son of man, a heap of broken
images, you say, and I say, then
she says and he says. What do
we know of the big heap. STDs
sound awfully abbreviated, and
the kids do get their feed every
dark day. Clickety clack, clickety
clack: no one knows root or
————————_Yes the
————————_sun is
———-warming over our heads, or
is it the earth getting unbearably
hot. The moats boil beyond our siege;
to motes the world crumbles, shattered
like these useless mots. What’s this
talk of French stuff, and warm
kisses that are two centuries old?
Well, cool it down, Bro.
Buy yourself another century or
two. Be done with it you dusty fool!
This is the apocalypse in you talking.
This is the time of beginnings,
of ends. Who really cares? Well,
I do. I really do, and I promise
you, whoever you are, another
wasted land in another promised
land, another time and another
dimension, where the same folk
will rule again, and bury us all
in their gardens, over and over, in
this, the first life
and the other.

Tomorrow or the day after, I’ll
pack my things and off to hell.
Another visit to Palestine.
I tell you,
I have a fucked-up land, and
a fucked-up family in that neck
of the woods, as the Americans
would have it: all in ashes, all
in ashes. I tell you, my tongue
is tied up today, and maybe will
forever be after this and that
genocide. I tell you straight out, but you
you want me to suffer my pronouncements
and syllables.
The best way to solve
your problem is to save time,
—————-_eradicate me.
I just don’t seem to add up
to more than a zero on the side
of numerical figures that only
appear to you when your work is done.


————-Phlebas was really the Palestinian.
Phoenician was just the story he told
to pass under the wire,
slip through the edges of cities,

              He counted his bones every night,
his teeth too, thinking of rubble. He dreamed of the cry of gulls,
and the deep sea swell and wished for death by water,
a rendezvous with the sea, at least,
an escape from the siege
of burning sands, at last.

                 He passed the stages of his age and youth,
waiting for the rocket to fall. No death,
the sound of death only.

                   Gentile or Jew, O you
who click and swipe, turn and fold
the blood drenched screens into your eyes,
consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

               He didn’t drown. Thirsty, his body overflowed
with unlived days. They spilled out,
—–and a flood of blood,
———————trickled in the sand.

Ahmad Almallah and Huda Fakhreddine
Ahmad Almallah is a poet from Palestine. His first book of poems Bitter English is now available in the Phoenix Poets Series from the University of Chicago Press. His new book Border Wisdom is now available from Winter Editions. He received the Edith Goldberg Paulson Memorial Prize for Creative Writing, and his set of poems “Recourse,” won the Blanche Colton Williams Fellowship. Some of his poems and other writing appeared in Jacket2, Track//Four, All Roads will lead You Home, Apiary, Supplement, SAND, Michigan Quarterly Review, Making Mirrors: Righting/Writing by Refugees, Cordite Poetry Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Great River Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry and American Poetry Review. Some of his work in Arabic has appeared in Al-Arabi Al-Jadid and Al-Quds Al-Arabi. His English works have been translated into Arabic, Russian and Telugu. He is currently Artist in Residence in Creative Writing at the University of Pennsylvania.

Huda Fakhreddine is a writer and translator. She is the author of Metapoesis in the Arabic Tradition (Brill, 2015) and The Arabic Prose Poem: Poetic Theory and Practice (Edinburgh University Press, 2021) and the co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Arabic Poetry (Routledge, 2023). Her book of creative nonfiction titled Zaman saghir taht shams thaniya (A Small Time Under a Different Sun) was published by Dar al-Nahda, Beirut in 2019. She is the co-translator of Lighthouse for the Drowning (BOA editions, 2017), The Sky That Denied Me (University of Texas Press, 2020), Come Take a Gentle Stab (Seagull Books, 2021), and the translator of The Universe, All at Once (Seagull Books, forthcoming). Her translations of Arabic poems have appeared in World Literature Today, Protean Magazine, Mizna, Nimrod, ArabLit Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Asymptote among others. She is associate professor of Arabic literature at the University of Pennsylvania.

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