Miss Sahar had spoken of this sister, Asbaha—
morning verb. And as she spoke a sun
had risen over her words. It was the most arduous lesson,
one that required a tearing apart at the seams, a loosening
of crimson thread cross-stitched in seven-branch
cedars and rows of eglantine. To have
become. More than the desolate stretches
of perseverance, more than the eternally flowering fields
of Kaan. To have become. Full fathoms of night
traversed and then a light upon the corrugated metal
and slumped rooftops of the camp,
gilding the limestone of what was or bluing it
from sight entirely. To have become. To pass
from one form into another, chrysalis dwellers
finally cutting the wind with our own wings.
Asbaha—sister of the earliest hours:
from the edge of sky a call to the smallest prayer
and the sunbirds chorusing, their feathers flashing
sapphire, emerald and Fairuz on the radio, her longing
and the day’s headlines dissolved in our coffee cups. To have
become. To sunder a sorrow from our bodies
and rise to soft unburned wicks, to live.
To land as after a flight or journey
as a passerine directed by the compass
of its own heart, reclaiming the branch.
As an aircraft leveling toward the well-lit embrace
of the runway, ferrying families to wedding season
and waiting gardens of flower and stone fruit.
To land as after a long separation
from earth, after sustained vertigo of descent,
the wandering waterless prayers. To arrive
at the doorstep, at once daughter and ancestor, a poem
forged of unpolished flint and narcissus.
To land and it is our first skin and fierce
heartbreak. And it is our anchor
in lightless tumult, it is alphabet and harbor.
The bulldozers lunge with hungry jaws
at each room, the barrels break apart
the sky, bathe the buildings of our neighborhoods
in flames. In order to dismantle a people,
place them in a holding pattern, keep them
in constant flight, circling the map
as you thread barbed wire
across memory, as you absentee presence,
barricade what remains of the streets
stripped of their stories.
Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is an American writer of Palestinian, Syrian, and Jordanian heritage. She is the author of Water & Salt (Red Hen Press), winner of the 2018 Washington State Book Award, and Arab in Newsland, winner of the 2016 Two Sylvias Chapbook Prize. She holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Washington, and an M.F.A. from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. Her essays have been published in Kenyon Review Online, the Rumpus, World Literature Today, and Poetry Northwest. Her poetry accolades include an Honorable Mention from the Arab American Book Awards, and several nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. They have been translated into Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish, and Norwegian, and published in American and international journals. Most recently, her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Mizna, New England Review, TriQuarterly, and the American Academy of Poets’ Poem-A-Day feature. Her chapbook, Letters from the Interior, is forthcoming from Diode Editions.