Even When I Listen, I'm Lying

Hala Alyan

For a while it was easy as inventing an oak tree:
start from the top and worry your way down the trunk.
Or a new continent, emerging green and deserted after
years on water, the simple rapture of the highway going coast
to coast with more America than any of us ever wanted.
I guess you could say I love this city like I love prickly pears,
which is to say, not very much, or only when I'm starving.
My friend sends me photographs of the plane crash
in Curaçao and says they're opening a restaurant there,
people eating among the dead, which I find gruesome,
but she says isn't Manhattan built on a slave cemetary,
and every time I'm in an airport I see all the unmade beds,
the houseplants too shriveled to save. I'm afraid of sleep this week.
Next week it'll be something else: mosquitoes, black holes,
the snap of fireworks from one rooftop to another.
It's like how I liked about getting sober: it was hard.
I'd pretend it was a road trip, that I'd be drinking again
on Saturday, and the Mondays and Wednesdays would tick by
until it was Saturday, and I'd lie to myself again,
it's too humid to drink today, I'll drink tomorrow,
and tomorrow would be my mother's birthday, then
Monday would arrive like an artless, triling wife.
This is how a year passed, with hundreds of lies,
like that midnight walk in the French countryside dark,
my sister giggling nervously, no streetlamp for miles,
one footstep after the other, and the only way out ahead.

More by Hala Alyan

Inside the MRI Machine

I am white       where it matters        in front of the
camera     I am an egg             a cobweb          when
my mother calls        me Haloul       I pretend not
to hear                here I am a résumé                 doll
gown of paper            checklist             piss in a cup
I was afraid          of my body                        but not
anymore           now there’s respect              this bitch
pantyless                      humming           louder than
the                    machine            I am white         when
asked to be                   storyboarding             my own
grandmother      into a                         poem           here I am
meet cute           between              egg &           song

Truth

I’m allergic to hair dye and silver. Of the natives,
I love the Aztecs most of all, the way they lit fires
in the gouged chests of men to keep the world spinning.
I’ve seen women eat cotton balls so they wouldn’t eat bread
I will never be as beautiful as the night I danced in a garage,
anorexic, decked in black boots, black sweater, black jeans,
hip-hop music and a girl I didn’t know pulling my hips
to hers. Hunger is hunger. I got drunk one night
and argued with the Pacific. I was twenty. I broke
into the bodies of men like a cartoon burglar. I wasn’t twenty.
In the winter of those years I kept Christmas lights
strung around my bed and argued with the Italian landlady
who lived downstairs about turning the heat off,
and every night I wanted to drink but didn’t.

The Female of the Species

They leave the country with gasping babies and suitcases
full of spices and cassettes. In airports,

they line themselves up like wine bottles.
The new city twinkles beneath an onion moon.

Birds mistake the pebbles of glass on the
black asphalt for bread crumbs.

          *

If I drink, I tell stories about the women I know.
They break dinner plates. They marry impulsively.

When I was a child I watched my aunt throw a halo
of spaghetti at my mother. Now I’m older than they were.

          *

In an old-new year, my cousin shouts ana bint Beirut
at the sleeping houses. She clatters up the stairs.

I never remember to tell her anything. Not the dream
where I can’t yell loud enough for her to stop running.

And the train comes. And the amar layers the stones
like lichen. How the best night of my life was the one

she danced with me in Paris, sharing a hostel bed,
and how sometimes you need one knife to carve another.

          *

It’s raining in two cities at once. The Vendôme plaza
fills with water and the dream, the fountain, the moon

explodes open, so that Layal, Beirut’s last daughter,
can walk through the exit wound.