Nathalie Handal

1969 / French / Palestinian / American


There you stand
between the dream of two gazelles,
questioning the poem
dressed in olive branches and cracked happiness,
surrounded by seasons of sleepless nights staring
at the dusty walls of cities we have lost
that loses its address or that the address
loses, both, in either case awaiting
the return of those returning not today not ever

that wishes it could remember if the clouds split in half
the day the soldiers marched in their villages, towns,
houses, dreams and future, remember the crumbling of prayers
remember the gap between hands which held all
that the Poem was too weak to hold, remember when the horses'
secrets surrendered, when we trespassed ourselves?

I ask you—why—
does the street have a name I can't pronounce
does our vocabulary invent us, our accents
resent us—must we come to a halt
and try saying our name without feeling strange
try praising our poets without feeling afraid
every wish can be found in his name

is exile
a guest made of stones
a thin line between our voice and heaven's throat?

are our memories filled with pale notebooks, fading paint, falling walls
to understand this place must we understand its howls, to understand
its howls must we understand its verses, to understand its verses
must we understand agony?

the murmur of rivers in your curved chest, the dancing of leaves
in your swaying arms, the sundering roof on your back
the fields of wings in your feet, the dagger and the storm
everywhere inside of you, lead me to my stillness

when will your words made of earth, your dreams of clouds,
your grotto of milk, your wheat fields, monasteries, synagogues,
crosses and coffins stop stitching miles of bones, stop
broadcasting itself on the radio

you stand between the dream of two questions
awaiting the day you will unfold yourself
like prayers unfold themselves from our tongues
you continue to stand, I weep and we celebrate
the poem as if it were written
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