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Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 11 Jan 2021 23:04 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 11 Jan 2021 23:04 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

LIFE IN A COUNTRY ALBUM

Pitt Poetry Series

Ed Ochester, Editor

LIFE IN A COUNTRY ALBUM UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH PRESS

Published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15260 Copyright © 2019, Nathalie Handal All rights reserved Manufactured in the United States of America Printed on acid-free paper 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ISBN 13: 978-0-8229-6594-7 ISBN 10: 0-8229-6594-1

Cover design: Joel W. Coggins



French has no word for home, and we have no word for strict pleasure.

—Jack Gilbert, “The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart”

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:33 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Contents

 Life in a Country Album ix

BLEU BLANC ROUGE [Album français]

Les chemins lumière 7

Origine 16 Tendresse: A Testament 17 Dor 18

Even in Love 19



Shur-e Hayat 20



Longing: une lettre 21



L’amour auprès de Rabelais 22



Un western avec Gary Cooper 23

Désir: A Distance 24

Killing Me Softly 25



La gaffe 26

Illuminata 27

Declaration of Independence 28



Une fin 29



[Album arabe à Paris—Place des États Unis,



Conversations avec Mahmoud Darwish]



Country of Torn Men 33

Borders 34

Home in Transit 35



Interior Roads 36



Your Mystery Is the Milky Way 37



[Album méditerranéen]



The Record Keeper 41



Europa Nostra 42

Aleppo 43 Ghetto 44



Echoes: A Historical Afterward 46



Letter from the Levant 47



The Oranges 48



Lettera a Damir 49



The Messengers 50



Keskin Bıçak 51



Cara Aceitunada 53



Sculpting Time Seven Times 54

Orphic 55 Canto Mediterraneo 57

RED WHITE BLUE

[American Album]



& Co. 63



Holy Cosmos 65



A New Era in Space 66

Submarine 67

Jesus Hung the River 68



Midnight Train to Georgia 70



Ovid & Us 72



Twenty Tattoos 73



On the Seven 74



Takes at the Bowery 78

Edge 80

American Camino 81

ALBUM MIXTE Eleutheria 91  Acknowledgments 93

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:33 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Life in a Country Album And Place was where the Presence was Circumference between. —Emily Dickinson

I waited for thee, said, Come to bed, where bodies drown love to reach pleasures free of parsing, said, Come to dreams that undress other centuries. I waited for thee, in the flames rewinding the cries of coming. I waited for thee, in the color liberty, a blue at the center of women who dare to carry water to every other side. I waited for thee, as lust wonders where the heart goes in the middle of the night, alone—if the sky is a master of longing. I waited for thee, full of salt, syllables and stones. O maiden, hold my waist. O beloved, hold my body. Teach me the thunder that took you away and told you

ix

to stay nowhere. Tell me if this album is the love we swore to.

x

LIFE IN A COUNTRY ALBUM

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:34 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

BLEU BLANC ROUGE

[Album français]

Les chemins lumière

[We admired his speaking style. He spoke French French. The famous French of Guy de Maupassant. . . . We didn’t speak real French. What we considered to be French, with our rustic accent, a dry coarse, and jerky accent . . . the French of a former little black soldier. . . . “There’s a big difference between speaking in French and speaking French,” he claimed, without developing his point. Alain Mabanckou, Bleu, Blanc, Rouge]

While the city stood



between uneven lights,



I slid away



as if I didn’t belong



to its questions,



as if French wasn’t mine,



even if it’s the first language



I used to conjugate love,



even if Napoléon and Jeanne d’Arc



confessed their confusions



to my childhood dreams,



and the books by Apollinaire



were as lurid as the Muallaqat.



Are you French?



I carried a Larousse



de la Conjugaison



all my youth, so I didn’t fall.



I memorized the mysteries



in Anouk Aimée’s eyes



to learn how to dare desire



to play its echoes backward.



I reached the depth of laughter



to every grief

watching Louis de Funès. 7



As men played à la pétanque,



I wondered if a kiss



can defeat a heart.



Are you French?



I wrote every street



from Bastille to Belleville,



smoked my first Gauloises



in a Citroën



while singing Dassin’s



« L’Amérique »,



bought my first bottle

of L’Eau d’Issey

on Rue des Francs-Bourgeois,



and remembered



le Vieux Port de Marseille



where an old man told me,



piano piano tu y arriveras.



Isn’t that all French French,



along with

les bagarres, les bisous,

la bouffe, les bouquins

bien sûr, les manifs

les tabacs, le vin

la séduction, la lingerie

8



être nu—



So French—



Alors c’est quoi le problème?



Why couldn’t it be simple?



Why does such beauty



accompany sale immigré,

clandestin, chinetoque, bougnoul. [Minorité visible ? C’est comme ça qu’on nous appelle maintenant ? Bon, j’espère qu’ils nous ont bien vu ces derniers temps. Les Nouveaux « Misérables », Romaine Clergeat, Paris Match] A raï came on

then Marc Lavoine:



On est tous des frères



selon les déclarations,



. . . faut jamais les oublier



les trois mots



qui terminent en té,



C’est ça la France.



And I heard in the distance



le jour de gloire est arrivé !



I heard in the distance

les enfants de la patrie

are hand in hand.



I watched:

[Opération Tempête du désert : Une guerre pour rien ? Le gouvernement américain voit s’éloigner le spectre d’une prise de pouvoir par les chiites irakiens alliés de l’Iran. herodote.net, 17 janvier 1991]

I read:

[Cahier de Sarajevo de l’écrivain espagnol Juan Goytisolo n’omet pas d’analyser les mensonges des médias, et de s’insurger contre la complice 9

passivité de l’Union européenne, qui laisse tuer sous ses yeux le rêve d’une Bosnie multi-ethnique. Ignacio Ramonet, Le Monde diplomatique, décembre 1993]

I understood:



I had to go to



la Grande Mosquée de Paris



in the 5e arrondissement



to conjugate peace.



Who returns love?



Who worships it?



It seems I am not free



to overlook my loss.



Why didn’t I know



Rimbaud betrayed us?

[franglais (frängl¯a’) / n. /: A colloquial amalgamation of French and English long favored by style hounds, now on the verge of becoming a full-blown language, e.g., è “Pardon mon Franglais, but I’m no j’adoring her maxi-jupe avec those oversize bijoux and that tragique-magique nose job.” It really is a bit de trop. Armand Limnander, New York Times Style Magazine, Winter 2008]

10



I wear hats now that the headscarf is interdit,



I wear the sky of Oran and the Uyghur script,



I wear the dreams of Samarqand



and a bilaguzuk on every wrist,



I wear the shadows of Arabian horses



and the turquoise of Mashhad,



I wear the tatreez of Jerusalem



and the star of Bethlehem,



I wear the moatikas of Afghanistan



and the wind-shawls of Kashmir,



I wear the silk-clouds of Baku



and the Turkish entari,



I wear the jasmines of Damascus



and the migratory birds of Tripoli,



I wear the sea,



I wear Mesopotamian coins on every hat,



and watch the West try to unstitch the East.

[Moins d’un mois après les attentats du 11 septembre 2001 à New York, des avions américains et britanniques effectuent des bombardements en Afghanistan. Perspective monde, 7 Octobre 2001] I looked for franglais words for

des invasions, des morts, des massacres—



as if naming might save us.

[Il y a cette terre en deuil qui reconstruit constamment sa mémoire . . .  Dans « Je veux voir », un film-vérité, Catherine Deneuve arpente le Liban, juste après le conflit de l’été 2006. Elle, 26 novembre 2008]

Et il y a toujours



Gaza, Gaza



et Gaza



and in Algiers



Atiq Rahimi



told me, patience



and before going



to Lake Ohrid 11



Mahmoud called



and before dying

Mahmoud m’a appelé mais je ne l’ai jamais dit

a bed is a city of teeming dreams



and the years brought more shadows



to our ceilings.

[Il y a 20 ans. Débuté en 1992, le siège a duré quarante-quatre mois. Depuis, la capitale de la Bosnie s’est relevée. Mais Sarajevo ne sera plus jamais la même. Sophie Guesne, La Croix, 05/04/2012] And the cities of the East

ne seront plus jamais les mêmes.

[Attaques à Paris, Le soir du vendredi 13 novembre 2015, six attaques simultanées ont fait au moins 128 morts à Paris. L’état d’urgence est décrété. Paris Match]

12



And these refrains will continue,



as I keep returning to Bonjour Tristesse:



La tristesse m’a toujours paru honorable—



to my father’s melancholy



roaming the corridors



of Aznavour’s lyrics



and Edith Piaf’s heartbreak,



keep wondering if my sadness



will be different in each culture,



if we can think the sadness



of a child of war as honorable?

[Si je m’en tiens aux récentes études qui mesurent le sentiment de bonheur en France— notamment le sondage montrant que les Français sont plus pessimistes sur leur avenir que les Afghans et les Irakiens . . . Le simple fait d’être français réduit de 20% les chances de se sentir « très heureux ».  L’Éducation « Bonjour Tristesse », Pamela Druckerman, Vanity Fair, Juillet 2013]

But I confess,



I still wear la marinière



et le matin me confesse,



tu as vu ton nom



écrit au bout de l’amour,



tu as vu l’étoile derrière l’éternité,



surtout vu la méditerranée



et les citronniers et Marseille



et tu as tout oublié



pour ne rien dire



à l’étrangère en toi



quand elle te demandera



qui je suis?

[French and English constitute a single language. Wallace Stevens]

The doors of the language



swung out of breath



près de la Bibliothèque Nationale.

I took a book by David Foenkinos

and sang,



« Il n’y a plus d’après »



by Juliette Gréco, 13



Miles Davis loved her



too much to marry her



(biracial togetherness



in America



wasn’t possible then).



We can



love in France,



Paris pulls consonants



from our hearts,

Saint Exupéry pulled

mystery from mine:



Ce qui embellit le désert . . .



c’est qu’il cache un puits



quelque part.



À la Gare de l’Est,



en allant à Château Rouge



en écoutant Bécaud, 



la voix de ma mère résonne:



J’aime l’automne.



And north of the gare,



in Little Jaffna,



the voice of an old



Sri Lankan woman

haunts—

14



if love is but a promise



to memory,



what will history



say to the child



about to cross the street?



The tracks are a long timbre



in my dialects



that keep disembarking



to re-embark.



I have to carefully



choose my words,



to keep my wounds



and love apart.



Après tout,



in my chapitre bohème,



it’s in France



I learned to conjugate liberté.

15

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:37 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Origine

—Why are you translating me? —I want to understand every word in your body. —You mean every shape? —I mean every accent. —You mean where no time passes? —Where the past is what comes next. —That’s when we get to watch the rose become the sea.

16

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:36 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Tendresse: A Testament

Our bodies resurrect multiple times to see morning in places we’ve forgotten most things

17

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:37 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Even in Love

I try to tell you there isn’t a part of you missing that even if war has damaged you I want to be close to your wound it’s your heart that undresses me when you don’t touch me it’s your noise that blows open my darkness and maybe, I ask (but never ask you) the hole you fell into is nothing it’s what remains around it that matters But even in love war inhabits me.

19

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:38 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Even in Love

I try to tell you there isn’t a part of you missing that even if war has damaged you I want to be close to your wound it’s your heart that undresses me when you don’t touch me it’s your noise that blows open my darkness and maybe, I ask (but never ask you) the hole you fell into is nothing it’s what remains around it that matters But even in love war inhabits me.

19

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:38 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Shur-e Hayat

Not the city noise nor the mythic clouds will let us know what the night means Not the waters we confess to  nor our lips in euphoria or our intertwined bodies will explain where we are and why Maybe years later we discover we needed evidence of ourselves in each other Or maybe we find all that exist is what we’ve built inside Now when you come to mind, I think: you decided not to love elsewhere, and I, to keep traces of you all over my body as if a map of an ideal world.

Shur-e hayat is Persian-Arabic together. Shur is a musical system that means ecstasy, vitality, passion, revolution . . . Hayat means life in both languages.

20

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:39 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Longing: une lettre

There wasn’t enough ink to rescue a sea, a sinking heart, a body’s lyric— how far did they drift to compose lust?

21

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:39 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

L’amour auprès de Rabelais

You counted apples when I really wanted you to erase the jokes you prayed to over the years, the times you didn’t speak to me because you understood hell better than I did, and walked around the apartment with an atlas in your hand as I thought of a Christian allegory, the soundtrack I wanted, the film noir you wanted. I wish you understood how much suspense turned me off. Why couldn’t love be more like France or Rabelais, almost perfect but not at all.

22

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:40 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Un western avec Gary Cooper

Il était beau. We were in the desert, we were holding hands but he was not there, and I didn’t exist, or wait, he existed in full light but I kept disappearing. Le cinema—it keeps us on. But what can a cowboy do for a French woman? What does the desert do for lust? He sculpted stars on my breasts while horses passed by, the tele-screen misty with dust. There we were— me, him and the distance. It’s easy to disappear here, pleasure isn’t simple. I wanted red boots and he couldn’t speak French but we allowed ourselves to be missed.

23

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:40 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Désir: A Distance

I dreamed the honey refused to melt in the tea

24

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:40 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Killing Me Softly

I left him after we saw a film by Michel Leclerc— I didn’t want to kiss him anymore. He was no longer buoyant like the painting I bought from a Senegalese artist in Chinatown— the 13th arrondissement will no longer be where I go for desire. Before I left, I told him I’d keep the J’adore l’Algérie poster because he resented it— maybe it was time we admitted that no one is happy in Paris that’s why we never leave— the truth is we stopped listening way before we stopped kissing like those who lead us.

25

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:41 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

La gaffe

A baroque frame above our bed, I fold his shirts to find the heaven he left on my body, the kind that makes you think you’re sleeping with Belmondo and la gauche is still leading, the kind that makes you wet when you discover he’s left you a gun under the sink because he wouldn’t be back for Christmas. But this is a French scene not an American one, so forget the gun, scarlet red underwear is more appropriate. I can’t bear to watch my hurt on the table turn into stardust, or my face disappear in a photo-booth. I guess some things change, others stay still, like the Psalms, The Great Gatsby and Les Misérables, like the Technicolor store on Rue Jacob, and Alain Delon in Madly. I understand— he broke apart because he found peace and that was too much after combat. 26

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:41 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Illuminata

My wings move one way my eyes the other way

27

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:42 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Declaration of Independence

Do you know anyone who loves more than one country? Of course— This isn’t an opera. You are right— it’s more folk or a litany. Are you going to answer my question? I did. Let me ask again— love isn’t a lie, but a country is?

28

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:43 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Une fin

There will be no broken chair, no unlit lamp, no left conversation, there will be no crushed galaxies, we will memorize the Greek gods for clarity and pray to the Roman gods for liberty, Aragon will guide us, we will no longer turn blue of wound in the empty rooms of after lives, we will no longer be bruised, our bodies folded in half like forgotten fairytales, like the beaten frame of doors where we declared our name. What’s a land, what’s a land? The country we pretend to go to when we can’t find the form of our faces. We will never see the sea the way we saw it together nor the wind that push us back into an old language we refuse to forget, like a book unopened after decades, the pages braced together. Where are the gods in our blames? But let’s not leave yet. After all, we’ve just arrived.

29

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:44 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

[Album arabe à Paris—Place des États Unis, Conversations avec Mahmoud Darwish]

Country of Torn Men

Here, men don’t lie or lean on their beds and pray; they sit on stools, sing by a wall, wonder if jagged lines glisten when divided hearts break the law and miles of giant afternoons, when the hesitation on lips slides further into doubt, the way the desert does when language is sealed to keep breaths from dividing the mirror. Or is it the nation?

33

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:44 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Borders

This is not evening. This is not beauty or a sentence. This is not the moon chanting or the scarlet blue. This is not rain or lies tearing down. This is not a suitcase or a fleeing day. This is not Arabic jazz or a city of lights. This is not a mind wiping a past. This is not a muted mouth or a dare. This is not a praise outlining a body about to commit a cry, a cry about to define a life, a life about to contract chaos to wind itself of the fever in its memory. There is no consolation, just furies shivering in our spines and what we hoped we’d never have to see.

34

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:45 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Home in Transit

We can’t estimate the distance between a titled sky and a broken heart so we memorize the sheets of sound in our moving

35

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:45 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Interior Roads

To move alone by the river

to define travel in different languages

To love a man and a woman but refuse their shadows

to wend the mind on a thousand shattered leaves

To have an accent behind someone with a heavier accent

behind someone with an even heavier accent

Some find another country

others only a motion in the same hour

like a road that distracts a second

36

to give it a minute

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:46 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Your Mystery Is the Milky Way Mahmoud Darwish

: These planets remain nameless. : Just open the skies to Gilead. : Where we will keep meeting? : Where we will keep believing. : What is death like? : Like midnight with many moons. : Not like the shrill sound of another century? : Like a house emptied of home. : Where does war live in the body? : Where is the heart without memory? : What is longing on this line? : What is this line without longing? : Who wants most when the wave is weary? : Who’s marred most when the map is missing? : Don’t maps lie? : Like a country with two names. : The hours are fiction. : We need inventions. : We need wanders more. : You mean wonders. : I mean the sea is lonely. : That happens when water is warfare. : That happens when love is lament. : Borders will be broken cords. : Will we dream the same dream in another life? : Probably. : Will we desire the same person at a different time? : Probably not. : Who belongs together? : Who undresses their wounds? : Those with a roof.

37

: Those without. : Those with a compass. : Those without. : Those with an oud. : Those without. : Those who dance. : Even if grief wears a dangling ankle bracelet. : Even if we can’t gather all the natives. : But we’ll always be able to gather their hearts. : Maybe when I finish this line, you will reappear and the metaphor you left me in a verse, will liberate me from what is about to happen.

38

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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[Album méditerranéen]

The Record Keeper

He carried a black wing. He parted the curtains after a bomb fell on a loaded song. He asked a comrade if there was a long distance between what we disarrange and need instructions for, he disassembled fire to overhear history whisper to history. He said on his tongue lies a ruin and there are commas all over his body. He said there is no perfect exit, there is only absence falling into absence and there’s also a high window and there is always evening prayer. He said clues don’t belong with the dead— dim the lights, the other country isn’t close.

41

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

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Europa Nostra

Now that we are guests in our bodies, how do we survive? Zainab operated a boat to be close to the hundred and three members of her family who drowned. Bassem learned to speak a language with another alphabet. Atiq gathered feathers from trembling snow. Bekim carried splintered glass across a hundred mountains. Bina stole prayers from forgotten bodies. Saba held the sound of the drums as if it were breaths. Chinelo kept the sun in a folded leaf under a mattress. Roya kept the shadow of the Caspian Sea in the man who needed her. Mykola dreamed a mystery turned cruel by another dream. Maybe the past is the beginning and return is staying absent. Meanwhile, when anyone says toughen up, look at them until they fade.

42

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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Aleppo

Nothing matters but the arrow about to be aimed at the bride in the dark

43

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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Ghetto

Why didn’t I say: Take the leaves, the fork, the photos, take the jars, the albums, the postcards, take the doors, the windows, the floors, the ceilings, take the house, take the breaths, take every magic and empty hand, take the bad news and good news. Take it all. Take the grief of evenings. Take the high waters. Take nothing. Everything will remember us. Even the water from the jar, and the world inside of it. Look at what will happen to happiness, to dreams, to the spirits, the shadows, the voices, the wings. Heaven is not high enough for our hearts, this is the peak, this is the place, this is where love will— Who separated me from my father, who stole my god, who expanded me from my heart, who told my body it wasn’t allowed to weep or love, who cuts pride to empty shame, who shames to empty denial? When will we rid ourselves of these ghetto-skyscrapers? When? When will we not have to pray only in confined spaces— only to the left or only to the right? When will the gates not close at night? When? Where is the song? Where is yesterday, and the cries, and silence? Where is the world? Where are the damned? Where are our stares? Where are our yearnings? Where are our minds? Where is our fall? Where are we? Where?

44

And here we are again. Here, with the windows open and the windows shut. I don’t know what to choose, the rooftop or the sky, when it’s only the sea I long for, and all the names I can’t find. Play it again. Play it. That last tune. Play it. Am I still beautiful to you? Do you still long for me, for all the stories that fill me like every lost hill and every wave we couldn’t count? When will we know if we made it, when will we be able to say all that we thought we didn’t need to say? When will we be face to face? What are you singing? Louder please. Louder. Louder—so we can march. The only way out of the ghetto—is to march. To march out of the ghetto—together.

45

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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Echoes: A Historical Afterward

The reason is they’ve been killed The truth is you’ve been too The truth is you are now without a home The reason is they’re in your home The reason is they’ve convinced themselves you left The truth is you only went to safety The truth is they never let you back The reason is they needed to protect their tribe The truth is you are part of the same tribe But no one speaks about that The reasons is it’s easier to be a treat How else can they justify the killing

46

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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Letter from the Levant

There is no city behind the window. No place of worship. No stars between our stories. No gleaming meadow. The ruins we never named are endless. The survivors our scars. We have to believe God is the faint resonance inside, that silence will take eternity apart and hang it on death’s small door. It’s true, once we knew every stop on the Palestine Railway. Now from other windows, we still see the route to Baghdad, Homs to Tripoli, Baalbek to Beirut, Tyre to Acre, Haifa to Jaffa, Jerusalem to Gaza before Alexandria. Now from distant places we read postcards that say, my hands are for my absence only. We pretend not to believe. Where we come from the truth never disturbs the horse in our sleep. We close our hands to forget what we know and are unable to tell.

47

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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The Oranges

They were all around me but grew heavier and heavier until I couldn’t carry them anymore— who can live with such weight around the heart who can carry a bent flame across the night where pieces of a moon keep trying to declare something to each other but never do who can see anything when light is displaced when the oranges have been taken far away from where they belong

To Sami, Jaffa

48

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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Lettera a Damir

Remember this tune,

who’s playing?

Is it you?

Is this happening in one of our dreams,

when you were a boy in Split,

I in my mother’s womb in Zagreb,

when it was still the Yugoslav-Italian border

and we composed requiems

for the Istrian Exodus

before we composed for migrations

we couldn’t have imagined,

or is this happening where war

is just a painting in an empty pool

somewhere in a foreign country?

Remember god

and the men who began to live

the unspoken dreams of other men

but finally couldn’t?

Remember what was written on the earth

we neglected to love enough:

we’d give our life for an unknown world.

And here it comes again,

the beat we first heard in Dubrovnik,

city of red wings.

Let’s follow it—

where do you think it will take us?

Friend, we are only shadows

in our sorrow.

49

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:48 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

The Messengers

They came from Limerick or Dublin. It was late. They were covered in grass. Their wings attached to the wind like quivers in an Irish folktale. What’s harmony? we asked. A choir in a man’s nightmare or dream? They whispered, Follow the blackbirds. We knew we’d find our solution here— the Irish are Mediterranean like us, just placed elsewhere. On the breezy platform we declared ourselves to the Irish language we didn’t know but promised to learn.

50

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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Keskin Bıçak

Ancient nostalgia when I see you their faces return their long stares in the middle of the night but when I move towards them they vanish

as you did



after you recited me



a poem



Suleiman wrote to Hürrem



by the half-open window



after you entered my heart



near Hagia Sophia



like silence



falling into the rain

Hold me against you one last time don’t leave me between two nowheres whisper maybe whisper something don’t leave me at the sharpest edge of desire like an agony at the end of history

Years later



you come into focus



at the corner of a street



in Cihangir 51



in Taksim Square



a chorus moves towards me



I want to sink my lips in the air



stop sailing



but the band is on the other side



of the Bospherus

52

Keskin Bıçak means sharp knife or the sharpest edge in Turkish and is the title of a song by Sezen Aksu.

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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Cara Aceitunada

In Granada a man asked for the birds inside of me I told him I’ve never belonged to anyone He asked where I was from I gave him a list of cities He said the mirrors of history confuse history but in your olive-colored face no one can disturb your heart

53

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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Sculpting Time Seven Times

I was born on a road in the sky I was born to water and wells I was born on a summer morning with my eyes filled with sea and my heart full of old windows I was born under arches that multiple time I’m from those who walk through columns to recite hymns those who record suras in their dreams near and far I’m from fishes and loaves from the Dead Sea and the glory of angels It doesn’t matter where I was born where I lived, where I went, or what I did what matters is that time sculpted me seven times in the eternity of the old city and saved me from those who tried to reinvent us

To Paola

54

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

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Orphic

As a child I believed God was in the wind that carried us elsewhere that departures were returns, I buried the sun in my father’s ashtray to see him in eyes in Berlin or Stockholm, where the cold is another country longing another landscape and the past comes back: close the door solitude will not leave close the window light will not escape close the wooden trunk memory will not vanish close your eyes home will not disappear close everything close all will remain like Mostar and Jerusalem like our Roman chants Byzantium icons, Muslim prayers. The years passed— I looked for death in Palermo and found my mother’s womb looked for life in Thessaloniki and found a song about death looked for my image in Venice and found all of my images

55

crossed Trieste with my heart and Naples without my hesitations memorized Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Garde counted all my dreams in Acre found my name in the Colosseum listened to the lemons fall for hours in Rome waited for my lover to tell me the sea can’t break and found the musician born in a small town that reminded me that music always takes us back to the cities we are made from.

56

 Orpheus was a hero of Greek mythology said to possess  superhuman musical skills. Because of Orpheus’s musical  powers, orphic can mean entrancing, and because of the  oracle of Orpheus, orphic can mean oracular.

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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Canto Mediterraneo

The spell of each wave like the scent of absence like the distance between two longings like the ray’s shadows in another light try to heal with a different grief but some heartaches resist even now generations later I return to you, Rebetiko to your qanun, oud toumperleki, politiki lyra and I ask in what language will I love in what waters will I breath in what voice will I find the world in what sound will I find the beats in what sun will I learn to speak in what love will I learn to sing 57

now I listen to Kalaitzidis play Marco Polo’s Dream swim back, swim back some day my life is in your refrains listen, listen a song can change a people I’m Venetian and Greek I’m Jerusalem in Arabic I come from the outskirts of cities and the sea and to you Rebetiko, I return

58

Rebetiko is Greek urban blues. It fuses Greek, Turkish, Arabic, and Jewish musical traditions, and the songs deal with themes of exile, loss, longing, love, and death. It began in the poorer neighborhoods of Asia Minor and grew in the outskirts of Athens, Thessaloniki, and Piraeus after the Greek Catastrophe of 1923. Kyriakos Kalaitzidis is a composer and oud player, and he is considered one of the most important contemporary musicians and scholars of music of the post-Byzantine era and of the Mediterranean.

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:51 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

RED WHITE BLUE

[American Album]

& Co.

Tim says angles divide shadows that what unites them is the heart or the desert Ray says there is a howl inside of us that pierces the sky when we sleep a sudden impact to the spin while Star Trek is on while Marfa contemplates what an American city says when it’s not speeding— a Cadillac passes by, then a truck with Lone Stars, John Wayne movies and fears we can’t stop the Rio Grande’s in danger Juárez isn’t far and neither is El Paso we never learn to apologize properly to bring a lie to its knees arrest its breathing but we promise to conserve a river of lost translations listen to the oracle of Big Bend to look at Saturn’s irresistible rings when we forget our questions

63



Here rain evaporates in a second

Tim never finishes his thought but Ray tells me between First and North Gonzalez what always waits for us are the rhymes That night, the clouds collide and paralyze the sky for a whole minute

64

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:51 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Holy Cosmos

We’ve been told space is like two dark lips colliding like science fiction it outlines a small cosmos where fear hides in a glow where negative space becomes a place for wishing a constellation of hazy tunes of faint sharp vowels a glossary of meteors a telescope to God a cold bright white maybe distance damages us maybe Jupiter will suddenly surprise us with a notion of holiness but instead an old planet takes over all the space and we are reminded of the traces of fire in our gaze defining our infidelities

65

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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A New Era in Space

Some call it heaven, others a cheap place to fanaticize where bets are made— gladiators versus barbarians— by those who carry their cell phones to the toilet, only permit barbecues and country music, leave the engine of their Mustangs on and tell their women: Honey, I got a mean soul, sleep with me anyway, heaven cost nothing when hell’s not around. I never could but I did. You see, I needed my body to resurrect in their borders— there are beauties we can’t inhabit immediately like the stars the moon the universe, places that force us to draw a knot to our names so we can better understand what it means to hesitate.

66

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

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Submarine

You trip over a cold wind but you have no part in cursing the moon You trade your honor for her love but have nothing to do with kinky motels You listen to Tom Waits and deliver your twisted heart haunted by wild daisies to some higher divine You throw God out the window swallow some feel good pills recite word for word the sermon you heard at City Lights You pour fame on her body— can’t hold her back in your breath— you call another lover to forget your pain You walk to every parlor then tend to your toothache to the memory of your mother with another man that numbed you forever You look around for another bay but damn it—realize— you can’t love underwater

67

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 04:52 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Jesus Hung the River

You get to watch triple x and I get to sing the blues You get to wear a jumper and I a fuchsia skirt You get to smoke a pipe I get to screw with what gleams You get to spell Amen I get to spell Adieu You get to cut your stanza I get to cut the exit line No chasing or escaping the degrees of fever in our vocal cords So let’s wear our polka-dot shirt and make sure we save our alphabet in a safe place because here no one walks straight lines or slow dances no one understands what avant-garde means no one follows the clock or disobeys compulsions

68

keeps refrains that grow shades of black or collects miles of prehistory masks Here everyone carefully picks the nouns they will use later because look who hung the river

69

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

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[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 05:02 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Midnight Train to Georgia

My cousin the Army Captain didn’t say much, then one day he wrote to her: Didn’t I adore you harder than silence? Didn’t you know I kept trying to reach you but kept appearing on the other side of wherever I wasn’t? Didn’t you know I tore time into pieces to understand how I harmed you? Kiss me one last time. Who can really escape the heart well enough not to leave a trace? Kiss me one last time. Didn’t you know I was afraid to count the music on your side of midnight, to count the steps

70

that would never lead me to where I could tell you, free me?

71

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

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Ovid & Us

Maybe our nostalgia is the size of a cloud and our sacraments buried in the stems of the royal palms Maybe worry doesn’t understand death it invites it in la sala para un café that la tía of another lifetime prepared for us one afternoon after the sun burnt our foreheads and spared our lips— that’s what happens mi cielo in the city of a hundred fires We were made, assembled and imported by the same angel She told us, la luna tiene sus voces We grew up with la revolución keep meeting in La Habana Vieja for morning moon rum Hace años we met in the middle of the street in Miami and said in chorus, Capitán, journeys are great circles Years later our eyes still carry us to la Cuidad but now we are on top of the mountain overlooking the island 72

Para Richard Blanco

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

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Twenty Tattoos

Misspelled lives—their beauty lingers like tattoos.



—Tomas Tranströmer, Prison

I asked you not to hurt me the way history did asked you if the moon will expire if a helicopter and a bomb will fall again if the light posts will light up, if we will find what starves the lonesome inside the years we weren’t allowed to enter the mind we weren’t permitted to unpack you played Haydn because Tomas did joked that there’s freedom in the afterlife and I fell into your eyes to find the perfect somewhere I wanted the bird in your chest the bird on the balcony you tried but couldn’t get rid of so you wrote about longing stole a secret from the bird, then asked if it knew the meaning of time and if beauty will only survive if we stay misspelled

73

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

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On the Seven

Dancing on Roosevelt Avenue The tracks shriek. I stop dancing. And in the eight breaths I take (and the four spins of a boy’s yo-yo) before I hear them again, look at the pigeons rule the avenue. Their stain everywhere, like silver paint (except it’s not). The deaf man on 75th asks for a samosa, says Namaste to the bride shopping for a sari, turns to me: There are secrets hiding between the Jackson Diner and the Patel Brothers store. Silence is like listening—you have to master its voice. I am not sure what he means but know I shouldn’t ask. There is a country here that finds its dreams in colors, in the names: Padma, Priya, Arundhati. I’m Punjabi, he reminds me twice. He needs to name himself. Maybe I do too. The train passes. Exile understands motion. And dancing takes sound apart.

Sergei’s Conditions What is memory? My country was bombed 27 times. My body blown apart 3 times. But Allah told me—believe. Sergei replies, Malic, eat this pie, it’s a Bosnian recipe, from your home. Sergei is Russian, he always says Yugoslavia. I remind him that country doesn’t exist. That name, just like crying, is forbidden. My mind veers to half of my body trapped under a building. A woman’s whisper nearby told me, Sing Malic. I responded, I’m under the rubble, you’re free, and you want me to sing? She laughed. It was the type of humor we needed. So I sang. I wish I played the piano, she interrupted, like Balakirev, Rahmaninov, Malic Hadˇzi´c. A M30 mortar hit, like earth falling on metal. Her face all over my body. Now around Steinway Street, Allah walks in the Greek Orthodox churches—Astoria has different ways. I hold on to the one leg someone saved by cutting off the other. I stopped asking why we war. Stopped playing the piano. She plays to me sometimes but I can’t see her fingers. As for Sergei’s conditions—no memory in his restaurant but chilled vodka is always allowed—Budem zdorovy. To our health, I say, Hvala. 74

Tenoch’s Confession If I speak for the dead, I must surrender to them, he tells me, must tell you how they went from Oaxaca to D.F. without their longings, or their small baskets of earth, how they left their donkey, and counted their children to make sure they were all there; must speak of the edge of the mirror where they saw themselves fall, saw a god resurrect, discovered that sleep is alive, and confess I’ve arrived to Queens because they are died. He looks straight into my eyes: I’ll never stop speaking Náhuatl. Takes the chocolate from my hand: Xocoatl, the name came from our language. Did you know? I know we accept to be alone because we have seen sky-light; because the messages from the graves have a way of drifting elsewhere. Where to? The north wind tells us when we are not preoccupied with knowing.

Steam Engine Dream He tells me he used to wear a uniform, saved a girl from burning. He confuses 1917 and 1944. His lips tremble as he laughs. He is happy to see me. Calls me Alenka. I can’t tell him I’m not who he thinks. We walk to Monika’s Polish Meat & Deli. I am suddenly part of his life. I help him buy pa˛czki. He is from Warsaw. We walk down 37th Avenue. Past the Jewish Center in Jackson Heights. He looks into my eyes: I burnt all of her pictures by the steam engine. I didn’t want to leave any evidence. I dream they never found her. Suddenly sad, he walks away. I watch him find his world, and I remember his words: We are the past tense. We are completely still and we understand the photo now—why we took it. Why we came here. This is what it’s all about—a glass wall where history is not bruised and neither is light, where we unfold maps to find a winter, a summer, an alphabet but not the same river, same voice, same verse, not the same minutes we once counted before our departure.

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Brasserie Creole Boullette sounds like bullet. Ti Doudou tells me, Eat. I do. Then she tells me: Look at the sky—it crosses our heart when we pretend to be far. La nuit, la nuit, she repeats with a Creole accent. I was born in Port-Salut. Came here at 10. Moun yo voyem ale. Today I am trapped—the ceiling holds me in one position. No one taught me how to miss properly, how to listen to water. I braid my hair on evenings I can remember faithfully what it was to belong. Before the burying—the things I’m sure I tried to forget, the faces I’m sure changed me, the guava I no longer eat because it reminds me time cuts what it’s not allowed to have. Now, I see the ache of the sun, see what I took too seriously, see what I should have allowed myself to fear. There is hell, there is home too, but mostly, there is always a bullet close.

Lee Tan’s Jintian My father loves Bei Dao. It’s eagle that taught song to swim, he reads out loud. He loves that line as if it is the only one the poet has written. It’s eagle that taught song to swim. Echo that chases dream. A dangerous shade. An empty gallery. A broken sentence. A relentless kiss. A fountain smaller then a bed. Death—a painting by a window. Life—a window by a painting. The stairs are weak. The wind, though, never cracks. I run after Bei Dao but he isn’t in Flushing. My father either. But today, I find his voice. In the ruins. In the tea. In the smoke. In what we betray and worship. I find the eagle, the song, the swimming—a language where people never forget one another.

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Milky Way She stands at the tip of the Pepsi-Cola sign and draws small light like balloons, magic under the tongue, laughter behind the walls, yellow strokes of paint along the avenues, pale hues on shoes, no borders just cold drinks and the water, the water, the water. People leave a lot behind to be here. One thousand fireflies wait to greet them, as do the rain, the sun, and the golden grapes. Now the planet is a giant wing. The New York Times a passport—new words displacing the breeze. Making way for a postman, a roller skater, a writer, a scientist, a painter, on the docks, the boardwalks, the sand. And the kites are small whispers, the whispers small kites along the Milk Way of Long Island City. That’s the name of her installation for PS1. She creates an anthem like the rest of us do when we stop on the seven to find a house, to find sound converging.



Tenoch from Tenochtitlán, was the ancient capital of the Aztec Empire before the Spanish conquest. Pa˛czki is a traditional Polish doughnut. Jintian means today in Chinese. 77

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 05:07 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Takes at the Bowery

Take 1 Is it an American god or the Egyptian one? What’s the difference? Neither is ever there. Take 2 We listen to “Funk me up” and go to a hardware store to find a wrinkled vowel. We quit happiness. Take 3 We save a recording of the Star-Sparkled Banner and make Napoleons for our guests, fix our satellite, wear our baseball caps, leave the sweep stakes on the counter for later. Don’t over think life. Take 4 My brother listens to Sinatra in the other room as the stock market crashes. Take 5 There aren’t enough tramps, explorers, and navigators here any more— only vampire movies. Thank God Anne Waldman and Bob Holman haven’t given up. There’s still hope at the Bowery Poetry Club. Take 6 My Islam is Cool t-shirt pissed you off, but you slept with me anyways.

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Take 7 A foreigner abandoned Jesus last week for a pack of cigarettes—American Spirits. He named his dog Balzac then Elvis. Take 8 Time making noise. Yes, we had abbreviated sex—and held on to the prelude. Take 9 Our faces flooded the water, we argued with the mist, tried to exit a book, to contemplate disappearance. Take 10 We forget the Arabs gave us algebra. That Thomas Jefferson kept a Koran in his library. Take 11 Why are all these takes different? Cause it’s New York City, asshole.

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Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 05:07 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Edge

A woman is perfected.

—Sylvia Plath

She is bare. She is open. Petals around her neck, the moon on her shoulders, she stares at the world, takes it to the edge of all the words men weren’t able to invent.

To Rachel

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Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 05:07 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

American Camino

She opens her voice to me the way freedom does, when it walks to all the directions of the dream. How long must I walk to see her entire body? In the 1980s between Little Havana and Collins Avenue, my uncle ate Reuben sandwiches with his best friend, a Jew from Long Island, and my cousin and I listened to Miami Sound Machine, in awe of Emilio Estefan. When a man told us, your accent is a cemetery, bite your tongue and speak like the rest of us, we thought, like the rest of who, but said nothing.

Who is American?

I watched violet-red-gold colors unearth the bones of dead languages through the Grand Canyon like artifacts, and by Ouchita River realized some of my poems spoke in a Southern accent I couldn’t replicate. Descending a white mountain in Boulder, I wondered if we are always leaving something behind. She hears, upon that water without sound, A voice that cries, “The tomb in Palestine is not the porch of spirits lingering. It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.” I replayed Wallace Stevens’s words like a canticle, as I retraced his steps in Hartford. When I listened to “Night Shift” by Bob Marley near the old Chrysler plant in Delaware, starlight pierced me like needles,

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and in Columbus, everything was believable until the loneliness broke out and the hunter forgot to ask when to sing, and I understood The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, understood, in Atlanta when my cousin announced his enlistment in the Marines, that exile is merciless.

Who is American?

A farmer born in Texas, another born in Mexico who calls Arizona home; a politician born in Honolulu of Kenyan roots, who lived in Indonesia, is Christian with a Muslim name; a Cuban exile in Miami turned music legend, an Afghan refugee turned entrepreneur, a writer of Middle Eastern roots whose home is New York City.

Who is American?

In Boise, I translated les bois, tried translating the way wood saps memories. I celebrated Chicago-style jazz born of southern African American musicians who came North with the Great Migration, celebrated the efforts of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, Haitian immigrant, who built the first settlement that became the Windy City, home of Ebony Magazine, Silk Road Rising, and Barack Obama. When he walked off the stage eight years later, I kept his word, Hope, reread Reverend King’s A Testament to Hope.

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Who is American?

In Indianapolis, I revisited Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country: Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on. Pain gathered to free itself, the earth held the sky in Iowa, and suspended glories asked, Who loves in the right place? In Lewiston, Maine, a stranger told another, Go back to your country. I wondered which—didn’t we all belong somewhere and now belong here? God Save America. My home sweet home! Driving through Maryland I sang until only the song remained. I celebrated America the way Whitman did. I celebrated Boston for teaching me English, where I heard constitution and citizen for the first time. The first time I heard the muezzin in Detroit, I also reheard Theodore Roosevelt’s speech: There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American.

Who is American?

At the Guthrie Theater, I hummed to “Purple Rain”: I never meant to make you turn purple. I never meant to turn you into rain. I watched golden eagles migrate through the mountains of Montana and thought of Benjamin Franklin’s words:

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I wish that the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country, he is a bird of bad moral character, he does not get his living honestly. . . . Besides he is a rank coward. . . . He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest . . . of America. When a great eagle followed me to Lincoln then to Cairo, Nebraska, where I passed a pyramid-shaped sign, a statue of a camel, and streets named Nile, Nubia, Suez, Alexandria, Mecca, Syria, Medina, I dreamed I was Faten Hamama in Land of Peace. From the wings of the Milwaukee Art Museum to the Kansas City Public Library to the Super 8 in Ohio, I saw my life do backward somersaults through a haze of old wine in Oklahoma. I consorted with Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek ghosts of forced migration. When I walked back to the future in Iron City, downtown Birmingham, a man asked, “I Wish I Was In Dixie,”— is it Confederate or America? I queried back, What will the next band play? Was I American when I bought cowboy boots on my way to my uncle’s house in Lubbock, or when Naomi Shihab Nye told me about her walk with Edward Said to the Alamo? Was I American when I told her how I found myself in Scranton on Merwin’s birthday, and wondered if Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” was inspired by Kostis Bezos’s rebetiko song? Oh Mississippi, Twain took us traveling, Twain changed our direction. I stumble to find the tunes, the magic spells, when only God could climb the piano, or tame the hurricane. And the body was emptied of water— yes—the flesh created sound out of what it couldn’t see in New Orleans.

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My heart cracked open like a drawbridge at the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway, so beautiful, like the wild horses of North Dakota running breathlessly. Outside in Anchorage between ice spirits, a passerby told me, It’s a border town, a violent, a racist town. I said, Read Joan Kane, a great native.

Who is American?

Think Clifton, Brooks, Rich, Walker, Jordan, Paley, Sapphire, Lorde. Think a century of angels on a Hollywood screen, an episode of HawaiiFive-O followed by Happy Days, Think Moby-Dick between two old ladies feeding a jukebox in Little Armenia, reciting Sevak’s poem, We are few but we are called Armenians. Think eternity at Big Sur’s coastline—the sea is a hymn you have to be loyal to hear. Think San Francisco, where an Italian told a Chinese who told a Pakistani: Things will change for you. Once Joe DiMaggio’s father couldn’t visit his son’s restaurant in a prohibited zone, where 600,000 Italian-born residents were considered enemy aliens. I found myself in a moonlit Lake Tahoe dreaming of a pinot noir I drank in Portland with my Brazilian friend Flavia, dreaming of the immense American deserts I filled with sincere apologies— Black Rock, the Mojave and Death Valley. At the Arizona-Utah border, at Coyote Buttes, I was stunned by The Wave, sand spirals like secrets winding to liberty— 85

as I did in a ‘52 Ford F-1 pickup in Reno, listening to rock and roll and confessions at a hundred miles an hour. What else can we practice in infinite space if not honesty? And what should we practice at Mount Rushmore or Devil’s Tower?

Who is American?

Through West Virginia’s Harpers Ferry, where the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers meet, site of the Civil War raid, I wondered: Who are the divided? Who is the reflection I saw years ago in a window in Bennington as silence filled solitude with perfect frost? Who is the reflection I saw on the autumn leaves in New Hampshire, or on Helen Amelia Thomas’s grave, or the doors of The Carter Center? My youth anthem came echoing back in Providence: “Love is a Battlefield,” until Pat Benatar’s siren-voice was interrupted by “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “ You’re A Grand Old Flag.”

Who is an American?

In Charleston, under Angel Oak on John’s Island, an African American told me: Rehearse. We are American. Rehearse. We are American. I’m the grandchild of a slave, you are born in the first black republic. I’m a singer, you’re a poet. I’m a Southerner, you’re an Easterner. America is Steve Jobs and The Great Gatsby, Yankee Stadium and The Rose Bowl, Muhammad Ali and Gloria Steinem, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman and Jasper Jones, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, Michael Jordan and Meryl Streep, Ms. Magazine, Vanity Fair and Vogue. She is Tender Is the Night. 86

Yusef Komunyakaa reminds us that Robert Hayden said, I’m an American, and you better believe it. Rehearse. We are American. Home is a drum, and the road an opus. In New Jersey, between “Speak Softly, Love,” from The Godfather and Sinatra singing, the city came to me: The Irish bars in Woodside, little Athens in Astoria, Atlantic Avenue, Little India on 74th Street, Little Italy, Little Lebanon in Bay Ridge, Little Syria— where the World Trade Center now stands—Harlem, 5 Pointz, Chinatown, K-Town. I’ve walked Roosevelt Avenue, seen the world with and without parentheses. So what if some hyphenate, and others don’t? In transiting the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the MTA, I witness the ways beauty commutes here, the ways New York City is ageless. On Spring Street at Poets’ House, when Philip Levine and Gerald Stern showed me their books, and Stern wrote: Nathalie, avec amour, Jerry. I didn’t imagine I’d call Jackson Heights a home—where Jack Kerouac spent 11 years and Billy Collins grew up. When Billy told me: Jackson Heights, I have come to realize, is the Mesopotamian Valley of the United States. EVERY OTHER PERSON comes from there. . . .

And I knew I was American.

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My father’s idea of a fun Saturday morning was to take me on a long walk to LGA and watch from the Observation Deck as the planes took off and landed. Do you hear the planes flying over your building at night, I wonder? Yes, I hear the planes, like a mother tongue, their music is a motion I’m made from, almost as much as poetry. Motion took me to the intersection of Chinatown and Little Italy, to the night my lover showed me how deep we belong, how a kiss bemuses like good whiskey, burning like Anthony Corleone playing Brucia la Terra, as if his life depended on it, like knowing this land is my land, this land is your land, like knowing we can’t begin until mouths open, and sins spill.

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Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 05:08 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

ALBUM MIXTE

Eleutheria

Though I walk without chains or fears I am not the light in midnight’s dream Though I walk two separate roads at once my body leaps from dream to dream where beliefs burden gods with disbeliefs and replace this place placed in place of pleasure Though we know night is unfinished and we are our imperfect wishes spinning our compasses playing perfect overtures we enter a labyrinth of vestiges drift into directions undefined where the sounds of myth is different from its noise

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where freedom is everything we want it to be nothing we hope it to be we know if horses can’t gallop if the streets break our skull our invisible hurt our lull we will no longer see stop signs we will no longer know low tides we will no longer feel the indifference of the wind we will reset our wings

Eleutheria means freedom in Greek. 92

Life in a Country Album Handal, Nathalie

Published by University of Pittsburgh Press Handal, Nathalie. Life in a Country Album: Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. Project MUSE.

muse.jhu.edu/book/68124.

For additional information about this book https://muse.jhu.edu/book/68124

[ Access provided at 14 Jan 2021 05:08 GMT from McGill University Libraries ]

Acknowledgments

Sincere thanks to the editors of the following publications in which these poems previously appeared, sometimes in earlier versions: Los Angeles Review of Books (“Even in Love” and “The Oranges”); Wild River Review (“Shur-e hayat”); Talking River 45 (“& Co.,” “L’amour au près de Rabelais,” and “Un western avec Gary Cooper”); Barrow Street (“Killing Me Softly” and “La gaffe”); Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East & North African Migration Studies (“Declaration of Independence” and “Letter from the Levant”); War, Literature & The Arts Folios: Peace (“Une fin”): Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art (“Country of Torn Men”); Missing Slate (“Borders,” “Your Mystery is the Milky Way,” “The Record Keeper,” “Echoes: A Historical Afterward,” and “Midnight Train to Georgia”); Irish Times (“Europe Nostra”); Poetry Wales (“Aleppo” and “Sculpting Time Seven Times”); Transect Magazine (“Ghetto”); The Common (“Lettera a Damir”); Literal Magazine: Latin American Voices, Voces latinoamericanas (“Keskin Bıçak” and “Ovid & Us”); Canto Mediterraneo, Nathalie Handal (Italian/ English), Ronzani Eitore Vicenza, 2018 (“Orphic” and “Canto Mediterraneo”); Academy’s Poem-a-Day, Academy of American Poets (“Holy Cosmos” and “Dor”); Normal School, a Literary Magazine (“A New Era in Space,” “Submarine,” “Jesus Hung the River,” and “Twenty Tattoos”); Aster(ix) Journal (“Edge”); Mizna (“Eleutheria”). Endless gratitude and love to my parents and to my siblings—Alexandra and Dimitri. Profound thanks to those who accompanied me on this journey: Alberto Quattrocchi, Paola Handal, Tina Chang, David Groff, Lorraine Adams, Richard Price, Rachel Holmes, Michael Archer, Gioia Guerzoni, Ed Pavlic, Tracy K. Smith, Valzhyna Mort, April Ossman, Ru Freeman, Rick Simonson, Brian Turner, Raluca Antonescu, Samira Negrouche, Kathy Engel, Afaa Weaver, and Maria Sticco. Thank you to the foundations that supported my writing: The Lannan Foundation, the Ledig-Rowohlt Foundation/The Château de Lavigny, the Emily Harvey 93

Foundation, and Residenzia Ca’Foscari. A very special thanks to Ed Ochester for believing in my work. And immense thanks to everyone I worked with at the University of Pittsburgh Press.

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