What can i tell her i've learned
حبيتك تنسيت النوم يا خوفي تنساني
from all these love songs, from a lifetime of mornings
with Fairuz and the news that forces its way
into the house and razes the ground and collapses
the sky and, in cycles, for no discernible reason, passes us by?
That love can replace sleep? That so much of a life
can be squandered for fear of forgetting?
That sleep is a staircase and many a grandmother
sat on its first step, keeping vigil, clicking prayer beads?
That in the evening an old bridge is the best place
to watch the fog swallow the road, that October’s clouds
are sorrowing vessels? that rain is an unreliable lover?
That dry seasons, ever longer and more scorching, are the only certainty?
That in Arabic love and the wind share a name,
each a motion leaning toward what captures us?
That a breeze tender as July in the valley
can become a verb? That we make promises
in the name of love and its changing winds? That a land
in which our hands have planted an olive tree
or harvested leaves from the grapevine claims us
as mercilessly as a first love?
That a lover can ask for the moon, a metaphor
for sleepless devotion, or for a clear sky
without night raids in which we can marvel
together at the burnished silhouettes of the hills?
That we can long for a love to return & to remain a longing?
That even though Fairuz sings Habibi, what’s the use of crying,
what, now, is the meaning of all these words we return
to the laments, a teaspoonful in each cup? That we portion the day
between ablutions and the stirring
of coffee grounds into a slender-armed pot, troubling
our paltry water supply for alternating sacraments?
That in the eye of an unravelling we’re still singing,
as those before us did, that it buries or sustains us,
we cannot know.
Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is a poet, essayist, and translator. Her first book of poems, Water & Salt (Red Hen Press), won the 2018 Washington State Book Award. Her chapbook, Arab in Newsland, won the 2016 Two Sylvias Prize. Her honors include a Hedgebrook residency, an Honorable Mention from the Arab American Book Awards, and nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She served as the inaugural Poet-In-Residence at Open Books: A Poem Emporium in Seattle. Most recently, her poems have been published in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, New England Review, and Redivider. Her chapbook, Letters from the Interior, is forthcoming from Diode in fall 2019.