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A Widowed City

Tayseer Abu Odeh

To portray this widowed city,

I look over her rounded shoulders

for her jars of pickles, and figs, her lost kids, their shoes.

Without a camera, I walk my murdered house,

from ruined kitchen to buried chair.

I walk from one carcass to another. Quiet,

quiet, they waive their bleeding arms to me.


I met a stranger from Khan Younis,

who said, “I found a wounded dog

licking her tail, starving for days,

and near her, on the ground, pages of Men

in the Sun and a torn album of wedding photos.”

People’s smiles, they mock me in my melancholy.


Tayseer Abu Odeh

Thirty-nine times I came to my life,

each time carrying my mother’s stories,

her stoic smile, her pain, too.

Thirty-nine times I experienced my private tragedy,

still it estranges me.

Thirty-nine times I put on my exile

(unlike neighbors, I never found my birthplace).

I grew up a stranger at home.

I carried Jerusalem’s map on my shoulder.

I waited for silence to speak.


I began to narrate my story, but scars aren’t meant to talk.

For thirty-nine years I inherited my father’s wounds.

I forgot his words, but they sprouted beneath my skin.

like fungi grows in my body and soul.

And my mourning flowers in the backyard.


And now, after thirty-nine autumns, I’m a stranger to myself,

a stranger to my childhood memories, its bitter groaning.

I write my forgetfulness on the wall of history

in my rose-colored blood, with a lantern in my hand.

from A lullaby from Gaza

Tayseer Abu Odeh

We’ve inherited ancient chores:

We count martyrs. We count

wounds. How many amputated legs?

We record wrecked ships, buried

dreams, and murdered goats.

We survey slaughtered olive groves.

Count out our sleeping pills.

We store memories in the attic

of Arabic. And stand in the rubble

at dawn. We recall lullabies.

We rename chrysanthemum,

rename cities, and citadels.

We take the alley. To what ends?

We say: every poem is a ladder

up to the gates of Jerusalem.

from A lullaby from Gaza

Tayseer Abu Odeh

Living in exile, my body is a flute

pierced by bullets. It sounds its scars.

I wait for a singer, church bells

clinking, my mother’s face.

At my face, the southerly blows,

stirring its sighs and rhymes.


Then sometimes I take my body off

to go light and immortal,

free of sacred songs, and signs.

And then my soul mourns me alive.

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