WE ALREADY KNOW THIS
There is more to us than
What was taken from us.
A place to call
home. Land of olive trees,
and their branches.
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.
MY GRANDMOTHER THE LEO TELLS ME ABOUT HER NINE LIVES
(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 homily.
In my next life I cropped my hair
like a man, worked late nights
in a sock factory.
I lived 100 lives
In my next life my husband
carved crosses from the wood
of olive trees.
Where a high rise
hotel stands, my love and I
by the sea.
In my next life I was widowed
when my youngest
child was three.
My eldest married
under a veil of smoke,
And I have died
100 more times.
My first death,
when barbed wire
kissed my scalp,
I walked to the medic
who would have shot at me.
By my second death
I could afford a telephone.
I left my house
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
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,
and aunt and me.
I want nothing;
and everything good
I owe to you—
When I crossed
I fell on my knees
I kissed the ground 100 times.
(originally published in Crab Orchard Review)
So, tell me what you think of when the sky is ashen?
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
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.
IT WILL BE PINK
made with quotes from an interview with janna jihad, palestine’s youngest journalist.
audience filled with soldiers
speak 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
take 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
keep 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.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
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
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.
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
named 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
(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 describing
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 seen.
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 1948.
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 argue
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.
ARS POETICA WITH PARALLEL DIMENSIONS
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
the way infinity plus infinity is just infinity; forever
like that; our eternity is the moment between
& 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 –