Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

Lemon Blossoms

In Miss Sahar’s Arabic class, we learned
to conjugate the verb Saar,
a variant of the past tense.

We learned that to describe what became
of the people after the war
we would have to remember a tray of cheese pastries
supple and pale, nestled in neat rows.

We would have to remember
the people who knead the cheese and semolina
into dough, silken yards of it,
stretched into pliant tenderness by their hands.

We would have to remember
the people who harvest the Aleppo pistachios
and with their thumbnails slit the skin
of the fruit down to the bone-white shell,
excise the nut-meat and crush it to powder.

We would have to remember
the people who gather the lemon blossoms in winter,
bathe the petals in syrup and ease
them over a quiet flame
to make a garnet-colored jam.

We would have to remember
the people who make the cheese pastries
stuffed with sweetened cream,
the pistachios now a spring-colored dust,
the lemon blossoms a blood-bright garnish,

the people now besieged, eating weeds
and sipping soiled snow that pools
in craters of rubble throughout the camp.
This is how we learned to conjugate Saar.


Kaan Loves the Insomniac
كان النوم عميقا

Once upon makaan the news reports
were narrated in somnolent tones at 7:00PM.
The top story was always a receiving line, and I learned
that only after the men in suits were done
kissing the leader’s chin could the night begin.
                              To sleep is a verb, to sleepwalk
is the condition of a person with dispossessed dreams,
of verbs forcibly confiscated from their owner.

If Kaan appears at the beginning of a sleep sequence
its subject will want deep
uninterrupted or restless for its predicate.

An example of how to diagram this sentence would be:

Kaan is a verb in the past tense.
Sleep, its subject, is in the nominative case

For translation purposes:
We slept while our world walked away.


Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is an American writer of Palestinian, Syrian, and Jordanian heritage. Her book of poems, Water & Salt, is published by Red Hen Press. She is the winner of the 2016 Two Sylvias Prize for her chapbook Arab in Newsland. She has been published and has work forthcoming in journals including Kenyon Review Online, World Literature Today, the Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Redivider, and New Englad Review. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and anthologized in books including Being Palestinian. She holds a BA in Comparative Literature from the University of Washington and an MFA from Pacific Lutheran University. Visit her at www.lenakhalaftuffaha.com