Self-Portrait as My Mother

By HALA ALYAN

 

When the warplanes come, I pluck them
from the blue sky like Tic Tacs. The cupboard

is always full of honey and needles. Merlot and Marlboros.
The rumor of America around my neck.

On the third day of the month I bleed a pond,
toss a gun into its mouth. I am the gun.

The chamber empties into a Fairuz song:
Take the color of the trees with you.

California is my safe word. O bird o bird.
The wink of a car on a highway.

I know a nation by its germs. Its endangered water.
The desert is an unborn son and every night

I claim him, his black hair spiky as a cactus.
Give me a fate and I’ll lose it. The border runs

crooked as a love line on a bride’s palm. I sing.
I mop the floors. I can’t kill for enough clean. At the brocantes,

I buy mirrors and clocks, lavender seeds,
birdfeeders, fill my house with the belongings of dead men.

My breasts rise. I read the drugstore horoscopes—
my moon is in Sagittarius, sun’s in Akka,

heaven’s an empty sky, border’s open, there’s nothing
on the other side and isn’t that god enough.

 

Hala Alyan is a Palestinian American writer and clinical psychologist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Poetry, Guernica, and elsewhere. Her poetry collections have won the Arab American Book Award and the Crab Orchard Series competition. Her debut novel, Salt Houses, was published in 2017 and was the winner of the Arab American Book Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Her second novel, The Arsonists’ City, was recently published. Hala lives in Brooklyn with her husband and dog.

[Purchase Issue 22 here.]

Self-Portrait as My Mother

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