I pray that when I am gone, my people speak as sweetly of me as I do of them

Dear readers, friends,

We find ourselves at the end of National Poetry Month once again. Thank you for joining me on this verse-filled journey; I hope you found some words and images that spoke to you along the way.

Special thanks to Kristina Closs, who brought a whole other layer to the poems with her illustrations–and always helped me see the poems in new ways. If you enjoyed her work, please visit her website, where you can purchase prints (including the ones inspired by this month’s poetry!)–or contact her for custom commissions, which she will gladly work on with you.

The final poem I’d like to share with you this April, which is not only National Poetry Month but also Arab American Heritage Month, is by the Palestinian American poet Tariq Luthun. This is a poem I feel in my bones–the home Kristina drew into the illustration is actually a rendering of what was once my great grandparent’s home in Tulkarm, a Palestinian city in the West Bank. Here’s to a day when everyone has a home for the tea to settle, a haven for the mint to steep.

an illustration of a house in Palestine surrounded by mint leaves with landscape in the back
Art by Kristina Closs


Today, my mouth fell
wide when I saw the light
slip into the hills, and those boys

I grew up with did not
come back. Or, so I hear. Mama
would often ask me to gather

the mint leaves from behind our home,
and so I would leave for this
nectar – without it, there is nothing sweet

to speak of. I pray that
when I am gone, my people speak
as sweetly of me as I do of them.

I see us, often, steeped
in the land and hope that
a shore remains

a shore – not a place to become
yesterday. The girls have joined the boys
now – all of them

tucked just beyond
the earth. But I know they wouldn’t run
from their mothers – not without a fight,

a chase, a hunt, a honey, a home
for the tea to settle; a haven
for us to return to.

from How the Water Holds Me


Mama is a time-traveling word

Today’s selection is dedicated to my mother. I was once the five-year-old in this poem from Lhena Khalaf Tuffaha, an American poet of Palestinian, Jordanian, and Syrian heritage. I, too, wondered why my mom kept calling me “mom,” and felt mystified by language and everything encompassed in that magical word.



She asks: why do you say Mama
when you
call me?

Six o’clock and I am tired.
And making dinner right now.
An Arab with a five-year-old demanding
neat-and-tidy American answers.
I phone it in:
That’s just how Arabic works.

Translation is a complicated dance.
Mama is the word
that holds you in
even when you are walking around in the world
with your own name,
so that calling you to me
I discard the self and
respond to the name you gave me,
becoming the person you made me.

Mama is a time-traveling word,
a song to you and to my own mother,
so that whenever I reach out to you
she is there too.
And calling you I am once again
the daughter, tethered to her
just as I am
locked in this lifelong embrace
with you.

I call myself and my own mother and you
all three of us, in one breath.

from Water & Salt 

what planet in the widow’s hand?

Today I give you just one of the searing poems from The Silence that Remains by Palestinian poet, novelist, and journalist Ghassan Zaqtan (1954-), translated by Palestinian-American poet and physician Fady Joudah (1971-).


“That Life”

I’m going to see how they died
I’m going toward that wreckage
going to see them there
tranquil on the hill of engagement

Dear Wednesday’s narcissus, what time is it
what death is it
what planet in the widow’s hand
five or three?

Her dress was blooming
              we were
neglected flowers on her dress

Dear women’s thresholds, how much is a lifetime
what time is a river
how many daggers in the blood
of the whirling storm
five or three?

We let the city play
and rolled our widespread shrouds shut

I’m going to see how they died
I’m going toward that wreckage
going to see their death
hills of the north
wind-rise of the south
I’m going to call them by their names