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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Against Erasure “To walk in the world is to find oneself in a body without papers, not a citizen of anything but breath,” — Kazim Ali   Palestine...