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Hala Alyan

Hala Alyan was born in Carbondale, Illinois. She grew up in Kuwait, Oaklahoma, Texas, Maine, and Lebanon. She holds a BA from the American University of Beirut, an MA from Columbia University, and a PsyD from Rutgers University. 

She is the author of four books of poetry, including The Twenty-Ninth Year (Mariner Books, 2019); Hijra (Southern Illinois University, 2016), winner of the 2016 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry; and Atrium (Three Rooms Press, 2012), winner of the 2013 Arab American Book Award. Her debut novel, Salt Houses (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) was the winner of the Layton Literary Peace Prize.

Alyan was awarded a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, and works as a clinical psychologist and as an adjunct assistant professor at New York University. She livesin Brooklyn, New York.



The Twenty-Ninth Year (Mariner Books, 2019)
Hijra (Southern Illinois University, 2016)
Four Cities (Black Lawrence Press, 2015)
Atrium (Three Rooms Press, 2012)


Salt Houses (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017)



By This Poet


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


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.