Noor Mo’alla

When a Palestinian is Lucky

Baba carried weariness and longing,
Always knowing
That home was never to be felt again
After the day he left.
How did it feel to be dispossessed twice?
Was the direction in which my Grandmother fled
Our people’s Nakba.
Luck gave my Baba weariness and longing,
Tinged with life.



Love Letter to Baba

Baba loved
With all his being.
He counted stars,
And flowers,
And books.
He counted Dunums lost,
The many hours it took
To walk to school and back,
The soap bars he cut.

He counted
An eraser,
Just one,
That he would have to use again
The next year.

Dimples on a dark-haired girl,
The figs he pulled off trees,
The pages he drew on,
His mother’s bracelets,
So he may fly.

The time it took for his return—
He counted
The walls,
The checkpoints,
The barricades,
The words with which he taught me
How to love.

He counted bloodlines—
And the stars,
The hours it took to drive to homeland,
The words of poems
That we both loved—
And comrades—dead and lost.
Then gave his sums
To me.



We Learnt their Words

We learnt their words,
Thinking these will shield us.
We learnt their words –
Their peace,
Their democracy,
Their capitalism,
Their individualism.

Some of us even lived the violence of the word
To water down who you are,
For some,
To forget who you are.

We learnt their words –
Thinking they encompass us.

We reach for words not ours,
And neglect our own,
Words that scaled the walls of Akka,
Our words that salted the sea.
The words of my Baba:
He gave me the root of homeland in the three-lettered
And the abhorrent
4مستوطن, derived from Watan,
Derived, supplanted,

We learnt their words.
How could they ever govern our existence,
When all their words combined
Could never spell
A homeland in وطن.



1 My homeland—root Watan
2 My homeland of origin (derived from same root—Watan)
3 Watan
4 Settler on a foreign land. Of significance because the root word is still Watan, but the addition of 4 letters makes it as far as possible from the root of homeland, so as to even grammatically show an interloper. Mus-taw-tin.



Promise of Return

To you who did not know,
We did not choose exile.
You assume
That we left the whispers of the nightingales
And songs of our pomegranates,
The blessed sun-dried zaatar on our rooftops,

Who do not know
The violence of separation
From the soil that holds our souls–
With impunity–
Think that we left willingly,
Like you might leave
A lover,
Or an untrodden path,
With some regrets
That die down with time.

Instead, for us,
The chokehold of passing time
Longing extends
Like embers lit
From the first of us
Who bore the guillotine
Of exile,

Yet we,
Songs of freedom,
Calling to our nightingales
In chants.
Growing pomegranate seeds in our bellies,
We bless zaatar with our hands
And beckon our Sun to witness.

The first of us
Did not leave willingly,
But willingly,
We await
And we shall,
Like the sunrise,



We Have the Poets

They have the guns,
But we have the poets.

They fight to kill;
We resist to live.

They mean to erase us,
But they do not know
Of the steadfastness
We hold,
And the promise of our return.



They light Christmas trees halfway around the world

5يسوع is born
Under the rubble
Lungs burning
First breath throttled

With gifts of white phosphorus
The morning star—Phosphorus
And the remnants of Ash
From yesterday's mattress

There were no wise men
No myrrh and frankincense
No hymns


Thorns encircle
Crowns of zaatar and sage
Named the morning star
Lungs burning

He did not live long enough
To see
He bled

No wise men came
No myrrh and frankincense
No hymns

No church bells ring
The sky was Ash
Mariam Weeps.


5 Jesu


Noor Mo'alla is a Palestinian poet in the diaspora, a grandchild to Nakba survivors. Her first poetry book was given by her father when she was seven—an anthology of Mahmoud Darwish's work, starting with ‘Write down, I am an Arab’. Two things were learned by her then: the irrepressible longing for her homeland, and how words stretched and filled a void to express this longing. Interweaving the personal and political, Mo'alla's writing is not just an act of expression, but a means of carrying forward the enduring spirit of her people—and a promise of writing their liberation into being.