Featured Poet

Nathalie Handal


( Palestine / USA )

Guests of Bones

You are a question to yourself.
—from Maps by Nuruddin Farah

Where oil is worth more than blood, where
blood spills from eyes, ears, teeth,
bodies circumcised or colonized,
a door opens to guests of bones.
To a place where unused return tickets
remain in the pockets of exiles, where
songs are sung by those starving, raped,
humiliated, songs that speak not of
the past nor the future, not of Somalia
but of a present in verse,
translated by the enemy.
And on the dirty roads
the natives, guests in their own bodies
—tortured, beaten, owned—
continue believing that God is the greatest:
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.

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.

Pequeñas Palabras

It all ended here
between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy
our disagreement about wealthy liars and poor thieves
left at the corner of these two streets,
left the way we leave an unfinished sentence
hanging if we think it might betray us, left
the way we leave the awakening of morning
in a place we do not recognize, left
the way we leave our country rising
from a dream – its rios, colinas, llanuras
the way we leave the radio
our grandfather and father listened to
leave the barbershop we passed in front
everyday empty usually empty
left the way we leave it all one day
except the haze of a rainy afternoon
and the words we know best:
cerveza, comida, musica, miseria, amor.


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.

Une Suele Nuit à Marakech

The air has lost the scent of jasmine
only the scent of darkened tea fills the sky
tonight in Marrakech, only white butterflies
fly by, leaving stains on shadows.
I watch young women brush their hair,
braid their wedding days, watch old men
by the lemon trees, listening to Andalusian tunes
repeating to each other, Hel’lou, quelle belle musique
and watch handsome gentlemen drink coffee
from small cups, an aroma mapping their homeland,
homeland of stones and ceramics,
dark blue, light blue, turquoise…
It is springtime but I return to my hotel room,
turn on my lantern, have mint tea,
honey pastry, Kab El Ghzal, later arak,
watch the dim lights against my bare feet,
feel the quivers of the Haouz plain,
start to count and lose count
of the years, the wild shapes of darkness,
the marionettes and war games,
the tiles hiding the shadows of footsteps
of those I no longer want to see,
and the abayas piling by my bedside.


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 rises 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


“Pequeñas Palabras”: Pequeñas: small; Palabras: words; Rios: rivers; Colinas: hills; Llanuras: fields; Cerveza: beer; Comida: food; Musica: music; Miseria: misery, poverty; Amor: love; Abraham Lincoln and Kennedy: two main avenues in Santo Domingo, DR.

“Une Suele Nuit à Marakech”: Hel’lou means beautiful in Arabic; qu’elle belle musique means what a beautiful song in French. Kab El Ghzal is a honey and nuts pastry, otherwise known Baklava. Arak: an alcoholic drink. Marrakech is situated in the center of the Haouz plai. Abayas: Long robes, typical in Morocco.

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Current Issue - Winter 2003