Which country do you love more?
The question asked of each one of us
young travelers of the diaspora,
children with shiny shoes and English textbooks.
At this checkpoint no travel documents will do,
only testimonials of praise in perfect syllables
gutturals and glottal stops recited
with conviction to the cheering crowds.
On summer pilgrimages we are delivered
to the embrace of relatives,
the scent of their skin a heavy musk in the heat,
indistinguishable from the cumin and clay
of the garden where our fingers loosen
glimmering shards beneath green
shade of geranium leaves.
No time for deep breathing or personal
space—here the senses are overwhelmed,
here the air overflows with the sorrow
and story of love fattening on the vine,
and the longing, always the longing
for what is no longer here nor possible.
In this land of a thousand mirrors
reflections of everyone we must and could be,
mirage of our selves fragments on the horizon.
Let us in they beckon
Let our stories slip under your fingernails
Let our language collect in brushstrokes
across your furrowed brow.
Stay. Stay longer.
More tea? With mint or sage?
every herb a cure for one ailment
and companion to another.
Here our portraits find their frames,
the bells in our laughter find echoes.
With enough time and tea between us
the bridge of my nose becomes
an heirloom from ancestral villages,
your curls a heritage of defiance,
the shape of our fingers a flag.
Stay a while longer
there is so much more they will tell you.
Linger with us in the infinite hours
their invitation echoes.
Let the day lift its veils from the sky,
let the embers of sunset burn slowly,
let night drape its stars over the hills.
Found Poems from the War in Syria
Zaatari Refugee Camp
We used to dream about snow.
It was like a fairytale.
But that was when we had shoes
and our feet were warm inside our houses.
The teacher told them they were
too loud. They needed to behave.
She sent them out of the classroom
for being bad. The barrel descended
from the sky exploding
in the school yard.
She hasn’t stopped wailing
they will never be loud again.
Yarmouk Refugee Camp
I don’t remember what jam tastes like
but I know I used to love it.
We haven’t even had bread for weeks
but I keep dreaming of apricot jam.
We haven’t had water.
Beirut International Airport
Everyone said: “why would a girl
My brother and I are leaving
In Sweden they grant some people asylum.
It’s a really long journey
but it can’t be worse than the war
My friend is going
to film everything on his mobile phone.
Someone said they were a free army
from Libya. They wanted more money,
they wanted dollars, they sold us
to other smugglers.
We couldn’t argue, they scared us
with their guns. We didn’t know
which country we were in. The desert
looks the same everywhere.
No one knows where
we’ll go if they let us leave. They make us
for trucks to take us to the sea.
And they kept bringing people
and more people and more people.
The boat rocked right to left and filled
with water. The smugglers told us
there would be life
jackets for everyone
but they lied. Everyone prays so
loud, so many shouting Allahu Akbar
because we know that now is finally
the moment we will die.
Italian Coast Guard Boat
My mother saw it on the news, the bodies
floating in the sea and kept looking
for me and my brother. I thought
we would be happy
to survive but our friends drowned.
I don’t know what to do now that
we are alive.
Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is an Arab American poet of Palestinian, Jordanian, and Syrian heritage. She spent childhood summers savoring poems and fresh-picked pistachios in her grandparents’ garden in Amman. She writes poetry as well as essays and literary translations. Her writing has been published in journals in the UK, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico, and the United States, including the Kenyon Review online, the Lake for Poetry, the Monarch Review, and Sukoon. Her poem “Immigrant” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2014. Her first collection of poems, Water & Salt, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. Find her at www.lenakhalaftuffaha.com. These poems were selected by Michelle Peñaloza.
I love language that sings its many roots. I want words that show the stamps on their passports, that make me look up pronunciation, etymology, origins. I enjoy and want more poems that live in many worlds.