The air smelled of burning clementine groves.

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From Hijra, by the Palestinian American poet, author, and clinical psychologist Hala Alyan (1986-).

“Seham”

Sit and I’ll tell you of my father’s prayer rug,
dark as plums with yellow borders,

borders like the map we ate, grit tangled
between our teeth, the years swelling

like one hundred arrows. Here,
have some stew, taste June in the steam.

Did I tell you about the name we bore
like armor, the earth they spat up

with fishbone? After they planted copper
in our eyes, we went on planting suns over

the graves. The air smelled of
burning clementine groves. We fed

our daughters until they grew
redwoods and oak trees instead of hearts,

the fever we took from the land when
our ribs turned into compasses.

Each carries a tender spot: something our lives forgot to give us.

“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”
–Bertolt Brecht  

Dear readers,

Welcome to my ninth round of daily postings for National Poetry Month. This past year, when I found myself overwhelmed, heartbroken, and angered by the state of the world and the state of this country, I once again turned to poetry. It was verse that helped lift me out of the quicksand of scrolling through endless polemics and social media posts. In stanza after stanza, I remembered the enormous struggles of humankind not just now and here but everywhere and across history. In line after line, I rediscovered what is worth celebrating and fighting for in our lives. In word after word, I fell back in love with language.

Let us begin this month with one of my touchstones: the Palestinian-American writer, Naomi Shihab Nye (1952-). Let us remember the tender spots we carry in our brains and our bodies and our lives. And let us read poetry, together.

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“Jerusalem”

“Let’s be the same wound if we must bleed.
Let’s fight side by side, even if the enemy
is ourselves: I am yours, you are mine.”
—Tommy Olofsson, Sweden

I’m not interested in
who suffered the most.
I’m interested in
people getting over it.

Once when my father was a boy
a stone hit him on the head.
Hair would never grow there.
Our fingers found the tender spot
and its riddle: the boy who has fallen
stands up. A bucket of pears
in his mother’s doorway welcomes him home.
The pears are not crying.
Later his friend who threw the stone
says he was aiming at a bird.
And my father starts growing wings.

Each carries a tender spot:
something our lives forgot to give us.
A man builds a house and says,
“I am native now.”
A woman speaks to a tree in place
of her son. And olives come.
A child’s poem says,
“I don’t like wars,
they end up with monuments.”
He’s painting a bird with wings
wide enough to cover two roofs at once.

Why are we so monumentally slow?
Soldiers stalk a pharmacy:
big guns, little pills.
If you tilt your head just slightly
it’s ridiculous.

There’s a place in my brain
where hate won’t grow.
I touch its riddle: wind, and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.

It’s late but everything comes next.

Love no country and hate none

So many beautiful and important and difficult questions are woven into this poem by the incredible Palestinian-American poet, translator, and physician Fady Joudah (1971-). Let them sink in, then read it again. And again.

“Twice a River”

After studying our faces for months
My son knows to beam
Is the thing to do

He’ll spend years deciphering love
The injustice or the illusion
Having been brought into this world
Volition is an afterthought

What will I tell him
About land and language and burial
Places my father doesn’t speak of
Perhaps my mother knows

In the movie the dispossessed cannot return
Even when they’re dead
The journalist felt

Rebuke for not having thought
It mattered or for having thought it mattered too much

Will I tell my son all nations arise after mass
Murder that I don’t know

Any national anthem by heart can’t sing
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game?”

I should turn to flowers and clouds instead
Though this has already been said well
It is night

When he gazes
Into his mother’s eyes at bath time
Qyss & Laila she announces after a long day’s work

He giggles with his shoulders not knowing
He’s installing a web

In his amygdala or whichever
Places science thinks love dwells

Even love is place? O son
Love no country and hate none
And remember crimes sometimes

Immortalize their victims
Other times the victimizer

Remember how you used to gaze at the trampoline
Leaves on their branches?

Don’t believe the sound of the sea
In a seashell believe the sea
The endless trope and don’t say

Much about another’s language
Learn to love it

While observing silence
For the dead and the living in it

 

from Alight by Copper Canyon Press