a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Nathalie Handal


Salacia

I pull you out of the sea,

drag you across the risky waters,

where the distances are longer,

where pain has laws.

On your face a wave as long as a tomb,

behind you, the cities you left,

all moved, like winded and un-winded

hearts. I look for your bruises,

knowing some damages are irreparable.

I listen: No one dies in the sea alone.

I wonder how it’s possible,

decades later, across continents,

not to find all the parts of you I need.

I take you back to the waters,

take you back to the waves,

to the blue we break and unbreak.

We enter. We get lost. And salt, salt, salt

holds the sea in us, the way desire

holds distance, and deities hold death.


Before I Left

We just loved. Listened to Fairuz and Peppino Gagliardi. And loved.

Listened to the sea play to us in A minor. The first scale we learned.

 

I leaned on the light of our past, wore a white flowing dress.

My heels pointy, like the end of a war with my mother

 

or the nation. Or the city traffic. The things we say to stay. Ourselves.

You said, Let’s go to the tip of the mountain. There, we watched the waves

 

down below, and forgot where we were, where we were about to go. I knew

heaven was just a vinyl stereo with no speakers. That a kiss would keep all

 

we were about to lose. That time is a hole. Humming all it takes to awake roars.

Why didn’t we practice singing? Or listened more deeply when they said,

 

Blood of my blood, you’ll never have a country but cut my veins and make it

your land. Were these their sentences? Were we born or alive yet?

 

Where are they now? Which earth are they buried under?

Which heaven holds their hearts? How many bodies must we become

 

to dream a dream that we can trust, or is there another side to this story?

Who knows what it takes to break a heart?

 

To invent a word that is full of life, a world that is full of words that help us stay.


Bethlehem, My Mnemosyne

Memory is measureless.

 

Note: Mnemosyne is the goddess of memory and remembrance

broken chairs and sofa underneath a tree's canopy

an elderly hand holding rosary beads

black bras hanging on a clothes line with an orchard in the background

clothes hanging on a clothesline with a large pile of discarded furniture in the foreground

two heavily-used canes and an antique key rest on a worn table

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Nathalie Handal was raised in Latin America, France and the Middle East, and educated in the United States, United Kingdom and Asia. Her recent poetry books include Life in A Country Album, winner of the 2020 Palestine Book Award, and the flash collection The Republics, lauded as “one of the most inventive books by one of today’s most diverse writers,” and 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, among others. Handal is the recipient of awards from the PEN Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, and Fondazione di Venezia, among others. She is Associate Professor of Practice in Literature & Creative Writing at New York University – AD, and writes the literary travel column ‘The City and the Writer’ for Words without Borders magazine.


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