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

More by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

Dialogic

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

                     final, diluvial.

 

*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. 

Related Poems

Force Visibility

Everywhere we went, I went
in pigtails
no one could see—

ribbon curled
by a scissor’s sharp edge,
the bumping our cars

undertook when hitting
those strips
along the interstate

meant to shake us
awake. Everywhere we went
horses bucking

their riders off,
holstered pistols
or two Frenchies

dancing in black and white
in a torn-apart
living room,

on the big screen
our polite cow faces
lit softly

by New Wave Cinema
I will never
get into. The soft whir

of CONTINUOUS STRIP IMAGERY.
What is fascism?

A student asked me

and can you believe
I couldn’t remember
the definition?

The sonnet,
I said.
I could’ve said this:

our sanctioned twoness.
My COVERT pigtails.
Driving to the cinema

you were yelling
This is not
yelling
you corrected

in the car, a tiny
amphitheater. I will
resolve this
I thought

and through that
RESOLUTION, I will be
a stronger compatriot.

This is fascism.
Dinner party
by dinner party,

waltz by waltz,
weddings ringed
by admirers, by old

couples who will rise
to touch each other
publicly.

In INTERTHEATER TRAFFIC
you were yelling
and beside us, briefly

a sheriff’s retrofitted bus.
Full or empty
was impossible to see.