For Palestinian poet Reefat Alareer, with lines from his poems

We live.
We live.
We do.
                  ——Refaat Alareer

You were killed today            December 7th            
            my birthday     It was today    son of Shujaiya

                        in an Israel airstrike                you were killed          
            visiting            your brother’s home   in Gaza City

Today, the anniversary                       of when my grandfather
            only 12 years old                    climbed onto the roof

                        of his dormitory                      to watch the bombs
            fall on the American naval base         built over Puʻuloa
Your brother               your sister                   and four of her 
            children were killed, too                     You were                  

                        just a few years                       younger than me

            This morning              after Israel’s birds       of death       

screeched down                      toward you                  my children woke up             
            on their own    in Honolulu     though it was still dark

                        their breath      like soil           their voices     like soil          
             their kisses     like soil           blinking when touched by rain    

And my youngest        rubbing her eyes                     asked if 
            it was my birthday—              And am I now 47?—       

                        before singing             in our ancestors’ language     
            we are learning                       to speak together         after 

the wreckage   of English                   and Americans
            And my oldest            who is learning                       to speak

                        in speech therapy        giggled            in her grogginess       
            then sang                     her own song  too     

And what did I do       to deserve                    such tenderness                      
            this early morning?     Or to live                     this long     

                        having heard bombs and guns            fired only
            from a distance?                      Having stood   safely 

                        scared  as a child                     and angry        as an adult     
            at the sound     of our lands and waters        Kahoʻolawe      

Pōhakuloa                   Mākua                Wahiawa                     battered
            bruised burned poisoned                         in live fire practice? 

                        By bombs that may have        fallen on you   or close 
                                    to you on those you loved full-hearted          recklessly

                                              those you learned to cling to even harder            bombs 
                                    that may have hurt or killed children like mine            who

                        could still sing?                       And you                      what did you do 
                                    to deserve                    your shorter poet’s life                except 

                                                tell the truth    and sow the seeds        of songs 
                                   in your students        except grow your        love for them         

                        for your people           for your land               and country                
                                    for the promise                        within the wreckage

                                                that is this English                  echoing 
                                    all the way here                       to Honolulu     where I resisted

                        opening my TikTok feed        to savor my children’s sleepy 
                                    sweetness                    a little longer               before facing 

                                                that birthdays are death days              too?  

                                    That each day              bombs and schools     
                        hospitals and houses               fall                   each day children     

     are pulled from rubble          children          are pulled away
                        crying           from rubble             that buried              their mothers                        
       that they feel                  alone                         that their hurt seeps 
                        down               into the dirt                    as they look heaven in the eye

                                    somewhere in Gaza?              That they         have written   
                        their names     and their parents’ names         on their limbs

                                    so their bodies             or maybe just these parts                   
                        if that is all                         that’s left                     can be known            

                                    to anyone                    who finds them?     

     That                 if they          if you                must die          
            so easily uprooted       from the earth             so harshly unsung

let it be a tale                and why not    write poems   to birth 
            the strongest words                    of love             like rocks?

                        like seeds?                   like songs?      like names? 
            And why not               hold those rocks          in your hands?

Your arms?            Pull them              to your chest       like children   
          lighting         the darkest            of birthday mornings?

                        Why not feel               their full weight                      and cling 
                        even harder         to live            to live                dear poet 

                        of Shujaiya                  of Gaza           of Palestine                
                        just before                  they                  just before         you

                                                                                                                            take flight? 

Copyright © 2024 by Brandy Nālani McDougall. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.