You are in the diode archives diode v8n1



New Year

I want the vandalized night, rock water
from a cavern, my eyes copper coins

strewn at the bottom of the gypsy
fountain. Owls fleck the air with

bids of love and I am the last
of the daughters, scavenging villages

for the underfed and vicious. My wanting
cleanses me: I’m afraid, a refugee selling

flowers red as a blazing forest calls
me wife. We river onto maps with

shaking hands, skittish, non grata,
as the snow blankets our reckless lives.



In the tents we recite the pilfered—
queens slaughtered while dreaming of coves,
the ossuaries
            beneath the Mediterranean.

When an animal dies
we fill the soil with apologies and shells,
            climb the sloping dunes
where gods were offered headless men.

Lanterns stipple the altar with shadows,
one body birthing another.
            At night we cry out suras and cover the grass
with our hair. Beauty will survive us:

hyacinth motes atop ruins,
all of paradise trembling legs, the delicate mess
of ligaments,
            teeth and jaw.



A mantle of charcoal and soot
wet the villages like cigars.
The elders swung white
from tree branches but us daughters
excavated romances
from the debris. We adored
the soldiers with their pale
hair. They ordered our grandfathers
to open satchels and we pinched
our cheeks for color. Their rifles
hung like jewelry. When the luckiest
of us were given heels of bread
by the soldiers, we laughed and
danced. We batted away the elders’
warnings: Don’t eat that bread.
What could those ancient
women with wrung breasts and
ugly legs know of reckoning?
New flags shot up like flames
and we kissed the soldiers’ lips,
tasted ash and honey.



Before the drought, it was a white dress. Fingers tipped in henna,
red as the chest of a hummingbird,

hair like a banyan tree. Even in this strange city, fruit dusts itself
with spores. I am a dirt towards which rain rushes,

garlanding, your body dusky with the exile of sleep.
We practice a new alphabet. Love,

they say the bullets are filling the streets we danced in.
They say the lucky are dead.


The Letter Home

Tell her of the bronzed children. Your son’s home spinning with laughter, their voices delicious even if you cannot understand the words the youngest uses to describe the waves. At night, they gather around the flame of the television and eat cakes sprinkled with sugar. On the night of the comets, the youngest takes you outside, says follow the tail and the sky bursts violet. His Arabic is rusty and you teach him the word for clementine as you watch the fire above. Tell her of the curtain of bees that covers the largest ash tree in your son’s backyard and how he says his name all wrong in this country, like someone has cleared his mouth of bells. Your mouth is full of bells and no one seems to hear when you ask for rosewater to rinse sinks with. They dance to maracas here and none of the children whimper when thunder comes. Tell her of the other night, when your son took you to the lighthouse and you stood stunned, watching the light dapple the water soft as an unwrinkled green sheet. Tell her you are afraid of the supermarket, the bright displays, the girl that bags your oranges without saying a word. Tell her you miss your city like a lung. You miss the crakes, the fickle sea washing along driftwood, the way even the locusts bring music, tell her you wake at dawn weeping for figs, and when she writes back she will call you a fool, she will say sister, sister, they’ve turned this land into a grave.  


Hala Alyan’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals, including The Missouri ReviewColumbia Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner.  Her first full-length poetry collection, Atrium, was published by Three Rooms Press and awarded the 2013 Arab American Book Award in Poetry.  Her second collection, titled Four Cities, is forthcoming this year from Black Lawrence Press.