Sally Badawi

There Is No Palestine in Arabic

What else is there to say but فلسطين in that I had never heard the word
Palestine before I was 12.

I tried the sound, uneasy uzi in the mouth, but then I spit it out.
It broke apart with one crack.


I was told there was no clean water in Gaza, that water cannot collect
unless it rains. I pictured empty receptacles, ground to dust over time
so that what’s left is


A presence of almost absence. This is the story of sand. My teacher said:
It’s easy to lose letters in the desert. When you only have vowels,
what’s left is your open mouth unable to close.
What’s left is the sound like a question mark.
What’s left is a useless tongue, no word to press into.

But Arabic was never only about the tongue.
We speak from our throat because it’s closer to the heart.
We build from the back. e. ee. een.
We begin where they end.
Mud, طين, is the foundation of

When I type فلسطين on my phone, it automatically wants to add دولة.
Even the computer algorithm knows the truth. So, I asked my teacher
to take back the word her people had created for her tongue. Take it,
I said. I don’t need it. I defaced my history book where I learned
the Greeks were the first to distance people from the language of land.
Philistine. Philistia. What is this suffix but abstraction?
What is Arabic but return?



Sally Badawi is an Egyptian-American writer and teacher whose words are published or forthcoming in Neologism Poetry Journal, Orange Blossom Review, Second Chance Lit, Lost Balloon, among others. She earned her MA from Florida Atlantic University and she was a poetry fellow with Summer Literary Series in St. Petersburg, Russia. Find her on Twitter @sallymbadawi