Tall Lyric for Palestine (Or, The Harder Thinking)


Young boys pushing a couch on a street in Palestine


What doesn’t resemble me is more beautiful.

                         —Mahmoud Darwish, “To a Young Poet”

Because I should’ve wrote this years ago, I’m crying. So what my slow failure pass the years
     Make me be crying. So what in Bethlehem I tried to push so much against it, where the Wall is checkpoint and weird. So what
     My lonelier, sadder blackeraches kept from me a heard resonance with the land thought against my body, so
     I arrived.

And have known some privilege.

And have seen some freedom.

I mean, I told myself No, you shouldn’t compare it—myself to Palestine—no, I—

But I compared it, drew that Wound, leaned into a kind of pity so new to me who—

—was so used to being all base & bottom of the world; I tried, but felt that distant, thieving love dilate my eyes.

And I cried, softly.

So what I had not asked for, did not want this. So what. I thought Tears cheapened it, sissy’d it. So what.
     But was a new privilege I met as salt Slipped, downed and furthered my face, an

                 And then Black

privilege began to describe me. Imagine that! I was some doubler consciousness again,
     me watching four boys swing their joy on an old couch-on-wheels
     Before that Wall’s forestalling future, so who greeted them first was my tears; they’re playing a game. 

A song: Palestine keeps a divided home, where Blackness only roams.

The tears! But panic I could call a film for this frame that’s guilt, the next is friendship: Am I what in Palestine?
     Or is it my “voice” insisting the story, by certain marks, in whisperings—What do I mean
     by Spirit?—of warring, intifada, blood like Dew in the fields….
    The story is true.

Killings are thrilling, the Wall said, and casual:
     (1) little infant trying—;
     (2) women in their—;
     (3) dogs sleeping;
     (4) boys.
     —What do I mean by Spirit?— The birth of a nation means always the death of a former one.

Sitting here near ole Bayou Road, again all spleen. The Palestinian men I try with my eyes stare back half-meanly; they don’t know I know they know I’m trans—but I am the lady, herself, within. Fiercely her walk pierces a New Orleans’ slick night. They like it.

But I was saying the birth of a nation means always the death of a second one.
     Israel is real, trifling, in someone’s mind.

14. I felt that. I was persuaded. The film peeling across my eyes, only one Palestine,
     Made protest against this fact untenable, as if myself I could see in those fields,
     Saw to the theft and strangle of myself.

What’s solid in solidarity? All I know is still nooses, crosses; still thorns—then it was white phosphorus forming the quick shadow of a boy called Freedom—in whispering, in curtains mark —I’m somehow a distance from.
     Admission is a later knowledge, I think. A right of return.

A slower knowledge. To know it was my want to see myself as that boy I was seeing, that ache again and in myself to be, blackerache, the one most hurt.

Admission is a graver knowledge, I think, trick privilege, instance when, tonight Maryam reminds me,
     Recalled to just-that-where White phosphorus is made. 

“Arkansas, baby! oh, yeah—”
     I wonder if Palestine can be Black? A Nigga be Filinistina?
    And creole twain.
“And it pass right thru”—peculiar—“that Port of New Orleans.”

(They’re playing a game.)
      —they keep a divided home, 
how Blackness only roams?
      Friend. “Oh, it’s sick—”

Light slides across the face of a body. Dark does. 

The next shot is familiar:
     rows of cotton dipped in historical red; burnt cork; crows; rows of bullets ripped into some resembling, slum skin, ache—

—Try again: they are soldiers I am seeing, Israeli, only the present tense, I should’ve said this years ago.
     I should’ve made this article confession, spelled out between poem and novel years ago. Tall lyric, a space of briar ambition and its mess of all the violences witnessed—

—and the beauty.
     I should loathe this gravity, of those violences, these easy collisions I make from item to idea or like to like.
     But I love to like, to raise the lyric analogy and have you consume: the way an eye carries down the page; down the shallow energy of my head voice now; because I bid it do, to the hilt—

—to the silt. These built up semicolons, the top dot like the soldier’s rifle target, the comma dangling for how the dead do give pause, I should hate it;
     I should spit, I should—

23. WANT
need the harder thinking, which is rigor gammed with care, the possibility of that, that’s all, unmannered, uneven—
     Like some New Orleanian unique
South, that occupies the psychot of my brain’s desire, words I worry into existence.

Let’s say the freedom of poetry can be the danger of it, could be the draw? So what?
     Tried in Jerusalem; tried in Hebron—
     But I saw everything I needed to see in the labored chain-work of the overhanging canopy that keeps—those whisperings, certain marks—rocks from falling on the shopkeepers’ heads;
     Took a video of the Palestinian man who said, “Go back. Tell it.”

25. Who wants a pacifying gospel delivered knows I cannot please them, knows I cannot sincerely stop these telling tears.

Yet I walk, eyes like a lady’s reminded to my purpose with truth. Palestine cries a divided home, where Blackness bedamned to roam, and we share a Dome.
     Friend, look in my eyes. To have no home is yet a difference from the denial of return, and don’t we both ache for home?
     Slavery is true; as Occupation remains true; as a sky cross-stitched and beaded with turning danger is true:

Together our nights singly moan.

I mean, I have not stopped this ego rolled down my cheeks and who asked for witness?

I first saw myself as the shame I took fully for myself, those years ago—
     But was written away from it.

A free world, I think, is possible. I am persuaded.
     I saw it in the still-for-singing beauty of the land, how Palestine makes a gold hum in my mouth. Saw it in the not-now-warring, rolling hills of Ramallah my feet at  least tried to walk frankly in and felt—

—yes, a resonance. What could I imagine now?

What new eyes could I claim?

What must you admit, really, to be free?

That I tried my body and thinking completely in that Palestine, so what.

And was I wrong?



I first arrived in Palestine, through the Jordan corridor, with the Palestine Festival of Literature in 2016, accompanied by such elites as J. M. Coetzee and Saidiya Hartman. Though Hartman, the only other Black American on the caravan, passed through easily, I was barred for an hour at the first checkpoint. How come?

Where I mention “doubler consciousness” I refer to W. E. B. DuBois’s theory of Black persons’ double consciousness, which keeps divided interests between Blackness and what he called “Americanness” (or whiteness) ever within the confines of Black life. Can there be more?

Where I mention “slum,” see the aforementioned Saidiya Hartman and her expansive theory on the afterlives of slavery and their impact on what she calls the “fungible body.” The slum, she theorizes, is where we find such marked bodies. But is that the only place?

I want to thank Sharif Abdul Koddous and all the organizers of the Palestine Festival of Literature; Kristina Kay Robinson, in whose seminal, performance project Republica: Temple of Color and Sound we meet Maryam DeCapita; and Ru Freeman, John Hennessy, and Emily Everett for all their various help in (re)shaping and shepherding this poem toward its present form. But is it done?  


Rickey Laurentiis was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, to study light. Their debut book, Boy with Thorn, won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the Levis Reading Prize, and was a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her other honors include fellowships from the Lannan Literary Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, and the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2022, Laurentiis was named a Living Legends Honoree by the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, an organization which celebrates black trans lives. Friends call her Riis.

Photo by author.

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Tall Lyric for Palestine (Or, The Harder Thinking)

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