Made in Palestine
May 3 through October 23, 2003.

Even

Nothing is even, even this line
I am writing, even this line I am waiting in,
waiting for permission to enter
the country, the house, the room.
Nothing is even, even now
that laws have been drawn and peace
is discussed on high tables,
and even if all was said to be even
I would not believe for even I know
that nothing is even—not the trees,
the flowers, not the mountains or the shadows…
our nature is not even so why even try to get even
instead let us find an even better place
and call it even.


Jenin

A night without a blanket, a blanket
belonging to someone else, someone
else living in our homes.
All I want is the quietness of blame to leave,
the words from dying tongues to fall,
all I want is to see a row of olive trees,
a field of tulips, to forget
the maze of intestines, the dried corners
of a soldier’s mouth, all I want is for
the small black eyed child to stop
wondering when the fever will stop
the noise will stop, all I want is
a loaf of bread, some water
and help for the stranger’s torn arm,
all I want is what we have inherited
from the doves, a perfect line of white,
but a question still haunts me at night:
where are the bodies?


Gaza City

I sit in a gray room on a bed with a gray blanket
and wait for the muezzin to stand up.
The chants enter my window and I think of all
those men and women bowing in prayer, fear escaping
them at every stroke, a new sadness entering
their spirit as their children line up in the streets
like prisoners in a death camp.
I walk towards the broken window

my head slightly slanted and try to catch a glimpse
of the city of spirits—those killed
who pass through the narrow opening of their tombs.
My hands and the side of my right face
against the cold wall, I hide like a slut, ashamed.
I pull the collar of my light blue robe so hard
it tears, one side hanging as everyone’s lives hang here.
My fingers sink deep into my flesh,
I scratch myself, three lines scar my chests,
three faiths pound in my head and I wonder
if God is buried in the rubble. Every house is a prison,
every room a dog cage. Debke is no longer part of life,
only funerals are. Gaza is pregnant
with people and no one helps with the labor.
There are no streets, no hospitals, no schools,
no airport, no air to breathe.
And here I am in a room behind a window,
helpless, useless.

In America, I would be watching television
listening to CNN saying the Israelis demand,
terrorism must stop. Here all I see is inflicted terror,
children who no longer know they are children.
Milosevic is put on trail, but what about Sharon?
I finally get dressed, stand directly in front of the window
and choke on my spit as the gun shots start,
the F-16 fighter jets pass in their daily routine.


Ephratha

There you stand
between the dream of two gazelles,
breathlessly
questioning the poem

Poem

dressed in olive branches and cracked happiness,
surrounded by seasons of sleepless nights staring
at the dusty walls of cities we have lost

Poem

that loses its address or that the address
loses, both, in either case awaiting
the return of those returning not today not ever

Poem

that wishes it could remember if the clouds split in half
the day the soldiers marched in their villages, towns,
houses, dreams and future, remember the crumbling of prayers
remember the gap between hands which held all
that the Poem was too weak to hold, remember when the horses’
secrets surrendered, when we trespassed ourselves?

Poem

I ask you—why—
does the street have a name I can’t pronounce
does our vocabulary invent us, our accents
resent us—must we come to a halt
and try saying our name without feeling strange
try praising our poets without feeling afraid
Darwish,
every wish can be found in his name

Poem

is exile
a guest made of stones
a thin line between our voice and heaven’s throat?

Poem

are our memories filled with pale notebooks, fading paint, falling walls
to understand this place must we understand its howls, to understand
its howls must we understand its verses, to understand its verses
must we understand agony?



Poem

the murmur of rivers in your curved chest, the dancing of leaves
in your swaying arms, the sundering roof on your back
the fields of wings in your feet, the dagger and the storm
everywhere inside of you, lead me to my stillness

Poem

when will your words made of earth, your dreams of clouds,
your grotto of milk, your wheat fields, monasteries, synagogues,
crosses and coffins stop stitching miles of bones, stop
broadcasting itself on the radio

Poem

you stand between the dream of two questions
awaiting the day you will unfold yourself
like prayers unfold themselves from our tongues
you continue to stand, I weep and we celebrate
the poem as if it were written
perfectly


Ephratha is Palestine’s Canaanite name, meaning ‘the fruitful.’


Yesterday Hours

I traveled nowhere where I could not be found.
I knocked on every neighbors’ door, stole every pillow,
wiped away the ants on my kitchen table, leaned against
the hollow cold wall for hours, looked at the dirty curtains,
the stale jam, the rusty stove, the broken chimney,
the burnt lampshade, the faded map, the covered mirror,
the unmade bed, opened my arms to those never coming back,
listened to the licking water drops from the roof,
the crickets and the absent voices arguing
—a house grieving.

I was dead then, then the cisterns were empty, no water
just the fallen screams of mothers holding their dead children,
then I realized I would never know the difference
between yesterday and the hours that would came
than again, what is the difference.




The Phone Call

The phone line is on fire,
my cousin’s spirit in flames
as she tells me
about Dar Al-Kalima
an occupied school, pre-K to 10th grade:
24 bullets on the English classroom door
not 1 door standing,
all crosses destroyed in this Lutheran school
and little Ibrahim, 10 years old,
now sleeps on his stomach
his back dark blue, beaten by soldiers-
knocked down as he rode his bike…
I listen, my breaths stuck
between my limping words,
how I wish I could end this call
and dial 911.




War

A cup of empty messages in a room of light,
light that blinds & blinded men lined up
the young are unable to die peacefully, I hear a man say.

All is gone: the messy hair of boys, their smile,
the pictures of ancestors, the stories of spirits,
the misty hour before sunrise
when the fig trees await the small hands of a child.

Now the candles have melted
and the bells of the church
no longer ring in Bethlehem.

A continued past of blood,
of jailed cities
confiscated lives
and goodbyes.

How can we bear the images that flood our eyes
and bleed our veins: a dead man, perhaps thirty,
with a tight fist, holding some sugar for morning coffee.

Coffee cups full
left on the table
in a radio station
beside three corpses.

Corpses follow gunmen in their sleep, remind them
that today they have killed a tiny child,
a woman trying to say, “Stop, please.”

Please stop the tears, the suitcases, the silence,
the single man holding on to his prayer rug,
holding on to whatever is left of memory
as he grows insane with every passing day…

listen, how many should die before we start counting,
listen, who is listening, there is no one here, there is nothing left,
there is nothing left after war, only other wars.

Exiled Sentence

Most exiles do not take enough with them—
some obtain new lands, new identities
others return to the empty corridors of their sleep
in a place they are certain they can always call home;
but most hold on to a sentence as if it were a coat
that will protect them from sun prisons,
a sentence that will grow
the way we grow, leave ourselves
like silence leaves a home
it can no longer love.


Tonight

water will reach
the rim of the glass but will not
allow itself to leave the glass

violence will erupt and horrors
will tie themselves to
every bare tree

tonight we will hear speeches
that tell us to open our legs
to scandal like whores

tonight we will see
tattooed waistlines and kalashnikovs
in the back trunks of cars

paralyzed memories and
revolutions behind
every house door

we will see red landscapes,
stones of light, light feathers swaying
in the nightscape

and wrinkles will multiply
on our faces tonight as every
dead raises from its grave

tonight exiles, immigrants, refugees
will be caught in songbirds,
cracked asphalt will recite old memories

tonight we will listen to the cracks of narratives
the screams of those strangled
by the night at night

we will listen to the longing
of purple evenings
under god’s robe

tonight love will be difficult
and we will forget how to wipe the sweat
from my neck, breasts, words

Bethlehem

Secrets live in the space between our footsteps.
The words of my grandfather echoed in my dreams,
as the years kept his beads and town.
I saw Bethlehem, all in dust, an empty town
with a torn piece of newspaper lost in its narrow streets.
Where could everyone be? Graffiti and stones answered.
And where was the real Bethlehem--the one my grandfather came from?
Handkerchiefs dried the pain from my hands. Olive trees and tears continued to remember.
I walked the town until I reached an old Arab man dressed in a white robe.
I stopped him and asked, "Aren't you the man I saw in my grandfather's stories?"
He looked at me and left. I followed him--asked him why he left? He continued walking.
I stopped, turned around and realized he had left me the secrets
in the space between his footsteps.

Nathalie Handal