70th Anniversary of the Nakba: Souvenirs

By Hala Alyan



Wind churning a daub of Haifa seawater into my eye. Tomorrow,

a strip of sunburn,

skin peeling auburn.


Word scuffing my throat at Qalandiya checkpoint

as a man nods and

click rotates metal bars. Word rasps at Ramallah windows facing


the burly settlements—No—even during autumn

weddings. Word nests like a sunflower seed between

teeth and only

later do I spit it out

beneath a harvest moon in Manhattan.


Hot cheek kiss from Jimmy. Naming the dead, and their

cities. Hawaii

ambered his eyes and Jerusalem keening

for Shabbat as we strode the dawn.


A photograph of the sunlit souk: prayer


kaffiyehs, ceramics, carpet. Finger pricked on the crown

of thorns fashioned out of cedar wood.


Shukran from the Palestinian shopkeeper when I translated

to the American women for him:

no the kitten is his not injured she likes to sleep in the tire

Blond eyebrows knitted

and when they left, the shopkeeper shrugged and said— bemused,


The Americans, their hearts bleed for cats.


At the top the hill dips clefted

Photo from Lama (7)
Palestinian shawarma kiosk circa 1900, Jaffa, Palestine – courtesy of Lama Khouri.

over the granite. Coffins cluster

between the groves of green-

tipped olive shrubs. A man shovels

dirt, the blade copper in the sun.

He shuffles soil for a new grave,

intent on his task (tiny in this

monstrous land), ignoring the

Indian tourists rustling maps and

the Austrian men arguing about

soccer over flasks. Was it an olive

in the hands of a woman choking

dirty water in the camps (the other

camps, not the camps of Sabra

Baqa’a Zarqa Rashidieh Kalandia

Khan Yunis Jabalia Aida Shatila)?

Was it an olive steadied between the

teeth of one who spoke god and

lived another sun? Was the olive

the clay, then, was it the air that

kept bodies alive and hurtled

across the sea for this crescent

of land? The ancients said

plants took the scent of their

tenders. When they ate a leaf,

they thanked the hand that

plucked it. Who picked the olives

that crowded a bowl on that first

table in 1948 Yazur Umm al-Faraj

Kafr Sabt Qira Ibdis Kafra Danna

Kudna Nitaf Saffuriyya Hatta

Ayn Ghazal Sajad Dimra Aqir?

And what was the taste as

tongue rolled over the sphere

what was the memory lodged

like scar onto that green skin?

Did you taste it, do you still taste

it—the salt from the hands that

shuffled life from the dirt bitter

salty and sharp as any truth. Hala Alyan is a Palestinian American writer and clinical psychologist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Guernica and elsewhere. Her poetry collections have won the Arab American Book Award and the Crab Orchard Series. Her debut novel, SALT HOUSES, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2017, and was longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize.