Dear Gaza


In the six months since I started Florence of Arabia, one of my favourite things about the blog has been the infinite space it’s given me to write embarrassing love letters to some incredible Arab artists, journalists, writers, musicians and film-makers — mostly to spread the word on how much brilliance this troubled region possesses.

It’s the sort of quiet yet powerful talent that you want anyone and everyone to know about. In this vein, I’ve decided to ring in the new year with an intoxicating poem written by an equally intoxicating and talented Palestinian-American poet (who moonlights as a clinical psychologist in New York City): Hala Alyan.

“I’ve written for as long as I can remember,” Alyan said in an e-mail this week. “From a young age, I was enchanted by the prospect of storytelling and playing with language; it was like getting to live a thousand lives.”

In the below poem — an ode to Gaza — it seems Hala has indeed lived a thousand lives.. as so many Palestinians do. The piece struck me in its versatility and playfulness. I’ve read it multiple times, and I continue to discover more and more layers of identity and longing in it.

I first met Hala in an economics course we took together at the American University of Beirut back in circa 2004.

It was a male-heavy class, so I recall Hala well. I’m not sure I ever mustered up the courage to speak to her then, though, as she seemed so effortlessly cool, with her big, unruly hair and her intense demeanour. We floated in similar social circles, frequently overlapping.

Years later we’d cross paths again in NYC, where we hung out at least once. Talking to her was like catching up with an old friend: I quickly found myself over-sharing, cutting through the banter and discussing instead the intricacies of having two, poignant identities forever competing with one another. We related.

I knew then that hers was a special talent, which is why I’ve been particularly delighted to follow her poetry over the years. Hala’s works have been published in The Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner and Colorado Review. In 2013, she received the Arab American Book Award in Poetry for her first full-length poetry collection, ATRIUM.

For more on this brilliant and fierce woman,  check out her website, www.halaalyan.com.

In the mean time, enjoy the below. Hala: thank you for allowing the blog to re-publish your work. Keep writing, sister. ♦

Dear Gaza
By Hala Alyan


Dear Gaza,
I’m sorry

Dear Beirut,
I still love you like an arsonist

Dear Venice,
When that glassblower put his lips to
the glowing pipe
and I followed his breath into
an ornament
I understood grace

Dear New Orleans,
You gave me swelter and melody and
staircase after the longest winter of my life
You are where I forgave myself

Dear Boston,
I found the bird already dead
Crooked nest scattering
the pavement
and for days all I saw
was that constellation of bones

Dear Aya Nappa,
I cannot hear your name
without thinking war and ship
and two moons before coastline

Dear Tripoli,
It was whiplash
It was awful month
It was season of flinching
I won’t be coming back

Dear Rome,
When I think of my future self
She is walking your piazza
wearing something yellow

Dear Wichita,
I remember the summer songs on the radio
The car rides through the backbone
of your highways
I remember corn fields and pregnant sky
and always a thunderstorm

Dear Gaza,
I’m sorry

Dear Ramallah,
Thank you for the applause
Thank you for the seltzer water
the tableh player
the 3am tomato and bread
Thank you for the balcony

Dear Dubai,
I forgot a scarf
a silver ring
a tube of lipstick
and courage to make a mistake
I found the ring
The rest you may keep

Dear Aleppo,
Forgive me my litter
my uneaten rice
my abundance of light bulbs
Forgive me my bed soft and warm
even in January

Dear Baghdad,
Twenty six years and you still
make me cry

Dear Doha,
With you I am always dreaming of
starlit eels and honey water and swans
bathing in fluorescent sky
I miss those colors

Dear Istanbul,
Marry me

Dear Dallas,
I bought polished pebbles from
your mall kiosks
and pretended I was Aladdin
turning the soil over
and gasping

Dear Gaza,
I’m sorry

Dear Beirut,
You are cherry end of cigarette
You are pulse and tunnel
Freckles and siren
How can you fit so much?

Dear Norman, Oklahoma,
No one calls me Holly anymore
I blink slept woke wanting fairytale hair
for breakfast
loving boys with quarterback hands
and suburban smiles

Dear Las Vegas,
I’d rather not

Dear Brooklyn,
I came to you tumbled and spun
I came to you with 62 books
and the mistakes I’d gathered like splinters
You showed me where to sit

Dear Dublin,
Someday

Dear Damascus,
Nothing is as dangerous
as an unlit match
You taught us that

Dear Paris,
By beauty I meant that bridge
Those clouds and the legs my brother and I
dangled over the water

Dear Jerusalem,
Only you know what I am capable of

Dear London,
When I didn’t speak
it wasn’t because I was ungrateful
I was trying not to cry

Dear Gaza,
I’m sorry

Dear Manhattan,

I left a part of myself in that nightclub
like some paper crane with a beating heart
She is crumpled and sleeping
Do not wake her

Dear Bangkok,
I ate your fruit salted
Bare fingers peeling back skin
for shrines of gold and sugar

Dear Beirut,
I bruise as easily as you do
We are both anemic veins
and unbrushed hair and survivor’s
guilt

Dear Gaza,
When I come to you
it will be summer
Scorching sun and a music to the
shoreline
You’ll ask me
‘what took so long’
and I’ll tell you where I’ve been.


 

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