There is nothing more terrible than waiting for the terrible.

illustration of a dark hillside dotted with bright orange flowers. Silhouette of a child in the distance.
Art by Kristina Closs

Half-Life in Exile

by Hala Alyan

I’m forever living between Aprils.
The air here smells of jacarandas and lime;
it’s sunset before I know it. I’m supposed
to rest, but that’s where the children live.
In the hot mist of sleep. Dream after dream.
Instead, I obsess. I draw stars on receipts.
Everybody loves the poem.
It’s embroidered on a pillow in Milwaukee.
It’s done nothing for Palestine.
There are plants out West that emerge only after fires.
They listen for smoke. I wrote the poem
after weeks of despair, hauling myself
like a rock. Everyone loves the poem.
The plants are called fire-followers,
but sometimes it’s after the rains. At night,
I am a zombie feeding on the comments.
Is it compulsive to watch videos?
Is it compulsive to memorize names?
Rafif and Ammar and Mahmoud.
Poppies and snapdragons and calandrinias:
I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you under the missiles.
A plant waits for fire to grow.
A child waits for a siren. It must be a child.
Never a man. Never a man without a child.
There is nothing more terrible
than waiting for the terrible. I promise.
Was the grief worth the poem? No,
but you don’t interrogate a weed
for what it does with wreckage.
For what it’s done to get here.

__

Check out more of Hala Alyan’s gorgeous, necessary work, including her two novels Salt Houses and The Arsonists City and poetry collections The Twenty-Ninth Year and Hijra.

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2 thoughts on “There is nothing more terrible than waiting for the terrible.

  1. Aww thank you!

    On Mon, Apr 18, 2022 at 10:00 AM live in the layers wrote:

    > Natalie Jabbar posted: ” Art by Kristina Closs Half-Life in Exile by Hala > Alyan I’m forever living between Aprils.The air here smells of jacarandas > and lime;it’s sunset before I know it. I’m supposedto rest, but that’s > where the children live.In the hot mist of sleep. D” >

  2. I didn’t get this poem on the first reading, it was opaque to me, but a second or third reading this morning, the words opened up to me. Such a beautiful poem about living the half life of exile. Thank you for hauling the hard rock of yourself in the living and writing of it.

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