December 2023 Poetry Feature: Nathalie Handal and Zack Strait

New poems by our contributors NATHALIE HANDAL and ZACK STRAIT

Table of Contents: 

Nathalie Handal:

  • “Monteverde Vecchio”
  • “Piazza Cavour”

Zack Strait: 

  • “The Fields”
  • “Kid Chameleon”



Monteverde Vecchio

By Nathalie Handal

I passed the wall of jasmines
that perfumed my block,
the Sicilian flower seller at the corner
of Via Poerio, who offered me geraniums,
I passed the abandoned green Fiat,
the apartment with cassettes lined-up
along the window: Depeche Mode,
Toto Cutugno, Pat Benatar.
It’s irritating how centuries unravel on walls
so we can slide our desires through them.
Does passion misplace us?
Do birds flutter between our bruises?
My neighbor told me to stop asking questions—
Virgil is long gone, Pasolini is far.
I shut the back door,
but didn’t lock it—
that’s when it dawned on me,
we can’t reinvent what life never gave us.


Piazza Cavour

By Nathalie Handal

Maybe we never had a chance,
as I reach the Palazzo dell Giustizia
and remember Camillo Benso di Cavour
died of a stroke two months
after his appointment,
but each time I arrive to you
the war is over,
I breath the palms, pines, oleanders,
paradise memorizes perfectly
the ways we live right,
who we are,
who we will be again.

 

 

The Fields
By Zack Strait

The small, white flowers crumble
                                                       beneath our bootheels

as the stars blossom all around us.
                                                       I offer Jack my sickle

and watch how his head stretches
                                                       along the bright curve

of the blade. I, too, wish I could
                                                       be drawn toward a star.

 

Kid Chameleon
By Zack Strait

Even though the game was supposedly designed
for kids, my two brothers and I were
always wiping our sweaty hands on the carpet
when we played. We would sit for hours
in front of a small television and do our best
to maneuver the kid in sunglasses
from one white flag to another. There were
levels which felt impossible, where the kid had
to scale a crystal crag in a hailstorm
or outrun a moving wall of weapons. There was
an isle with a lion lord and a windy city
populated with robots, a grotto of killer whales
and castles in the air. You could teleport
between worlds, enter elsewheres. We were
responsible for picking the right helmet
for each obstacle, for guiding him through
to the end. The final boss was a large, bald head
with twelve green eyes. The head spit
smaller heads which spit even smaller heads
until the whole chamber swarmed
with enemies. The secret to winning was
not throwing axes or firing shells
from a tank. The secret was to become
as tiny as a housefly, to squeeze into the corners.

 

 

 

Nathalie Handal is described as a “contemporary Orpheus.” She is the author of 10 award winning books, including Life in a Country Album; and The Republics, lauded as “one of the most inventive books by one of today’s most diverse writers,” winner of the Virginia Faulkner Award for Excellence in Writing and the Arab American Book Award. Her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Guernica, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Nation, and The Irish Times. Handal is the recipient of awards from the PEN Foundation, Lannan Foundation, Fondazione di Venezia, Centro Andaluz de las Letras, and the Africa Institute. She is professor of literature and creative writing at New York University, and writes the literary travel column, “The City and the Writer” for Words without Borders magazine.

Zack Strait lives with his wife, Alison, and son, Noah, in Georgia. His work is forthcoming in Copper Nickel.

December 2023 Poetry Feature: Nathalie Handal and Zack Strait

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