In the late eighties, in the middle of middle school we break from studying our ancestors, pass on the Phoenicians for a while, leave the terraced fields of Canaan and the hanging gardens of Babylon for European History. Miss Magda is our guide and she contextualizes the continent, intertwines it with our own lives, the shapes of our maps, the narrowing of our family names. She has no patience for girls who are charmed by France, even though a veil of Chanel No 5 unfurls over our heads as she enters the room, nor for adults who praise London’s museums. She narrates a list of our possessions housed there. Miss Magda speaks many languages: the queen’s English, impeccable French, some Greek, maybe others? Her Arabic an elegant Cairene, her eyeliner distinctly Cleopatran. She speaks مش فارقة معها her mind, she names conquerors, and the servile regimes they birthed. She liberates the word احتلال from its quotidian presentation, locates our current colonizers on a continuum of violence, sends us asking our grandparents for stories. She enacts her name as she towers over our desks and asks rhetorical questions كثر خير العرب who translated Aristotle? Who filled libraries with books that would later make الرينيساس بتاعهم possible? In the middle of middle school we are devotees of American pop songs, they trickle into our lives months after they top the charts, our childhoods are museums housing the no-longer hits of the Reagan era. Miss Magda’s class coincides with our Laura Branigan phase. Miss Magda barely tolerates our tastes. When she cannot find a way to escape playground duty and we are perfecting our hair flips, passing the Walkman around and singing “Gloria,” she raises a perfect eyebrow and turns toward us and I think maybe even smiles. In class, ever the historian, she remarks على فكرة that’s originally an Italian song. و كانت مش بطالة بس خربوها الأمريكان
However broken the sentences
you believe them preferable to silence
the kind that crowned
the remains of the village
Kabri was without a fight
or the park now at its entrance,
past the foundation stones beneath the picnic benches
to the fig trees huddled over headstones.
Kabri looms large over heavy branches,
the name a contraband clutched in throats.
Homeland of water, the guide said that
Reshef, who was together with his brother got hold of a few youngsters, lined them up
the springs of Kabri quenched all the villages
of Akka, moistened the lips of morning.
He recounted their names
عين مفشوح عين فنارة عين العسل
fired at them with a machine gun. He was a brave fighter.
songs of plenty their syllables cascading
over us in light soft as apricot skins.
I wonder at these park benches
perched above the ruins of another woman’s home.
our friend urged us to proceed, it was not too long before they took us and a few others.
You unsheathe your fear when the body count rises.
You calibrate majorities, try to mitigate the distance
from doorstep to checkpoint. I hear
the language of sunbirds trilling in the carob trees,
There a Jewish officer put a gun to my husband’s neck,“You are from Kabri?”
Someone had to choose
to position a park bench with a view of the village
took away my husband, Ibrahim, Hussain, Khalil al-Tamlawi, Uthman, and Raja.
cemetery, of the monument to the conquering
brigade. Your fears demand fortification and I’m left to exhume
An officer asked me not to cry. We slept in the orchards that night. Next morning
the names beneath your settlements, to dust
time off their letters. Find me
on the way to the village courtyard I saw Um Taha. She cried and said,
a language for us to grieve those whose children
wait precious few kilometres from the park benches, relegated
“You had better go see your dead husband.” I found him. He was shot in the back of the head.
to a camp’s sewage-filled alleys, to half-streets,
shuttered beneath a net of refuse, the thorn-strewn path. Enough
for each of us, let this language be enough
or let silence
*with italicized excerpts from The Palestinian Exodus from Galilee, 1948 by Nafez Nazzal and Sacred Landscape:The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948 by Meron Benvenisti.