Hala Alyan

The Honest Wife

I'm keeping my wedding dress. It's the sick girl in the coat closet.

Here's what the biologist taught me in that whiskey bar: if your ancestor dies in a mudslide you learn to run. We inherit everything. Especially questions.

          Is it wrong to love the slaughter of the hunt more than the meat?
          What became of the Johnny who told me I was all truth and legs?

I drive you crazy when I call what happened a daughter. I, sleepless, I dry-eyed on the E train; from the twenty-fifth floor the green firs are beached military tanks, mermaids curled in naps.

          —Yes, everything. Like wasps. Like miscarriages.—

I keep meaning to read the suras to find the one that tells you everything I can't.

I love Florida because it's prehistoric.
I love strip clubs because they're honest.

I kept the man I should’ve kept, who said my name like the prettiest cake in the deli glass display, Hala, Hala, spoke the please into my hair, my hair the army that made you want me, black ropes shaking out of braids.

If it's not you, give me back my twenty-seventh year.

I lied and said I loved Philadelphia, but really I just loved the idea of a place so old it only knew how to tell the 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 going.
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 girl I didn’t know pulling my hips to hers.
Hunger is hunger. Sometimes I burrow into your armpit
like an insect hungry for the musk of you. 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.


Hala Alyan’s first full-length poetry collection, Atrium (Three Rooms Press) was awarded the Arab American Book Award in Poetry, and her second, Four Cities, was published by Black Lawrence Press. Her third collection, Hijra, was recently selected as a winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry and published by Southern Illinois University Press. Alyan’s debut novel, Salt Houses, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt next year.