Dust

By Lana Habash

Stone streets of an old city,
carts lined with rings of fresh bread,
seeded sesame, the scent
of coffee mixed with zalabieh,
where songs of prayer mark time–
here, the hand of God is pressed
in stone. Touch your hand there
palm to palm,
and time will pass
through your fingers,
more enduring than belief. Uniformed men
set against the sky, the dawn
ignores them. A young boy stands,
circled by men, guns
slung over shoulders
like shopping bags. The boy
leans back, delivers the blow,
runs. He knows where and how.
And like the Sea the merchants part,
then rushing back,
one current now, an old man slows
the push of his cart, a woman
slows too and smiles.

***

Stories We Tell

How Haja stood at the door,
hands raised to her son
Don’t come in
with those.

How he took
the grenades
from each pocket
as if they were lemons,
with a smile that said,
There’s no need for all that.
Or how the khuwana
stopped our men,
bent over the road,
the last pieces of home
on their backs,
how the men
lifted their heads
to ask Did you sell it
furnished?

Or how the checkpoint soldier
questioned the farmer
What do you
feed your chickens?

day after day,
then turned him back
for the wrong answer.
How finally the farmer
said with a shrug,
I give them money.
They decide for themselves.

Or the young boys loaded
on an army truck,
set free
by pleading hands,
women
who cry My son!
and tear their hair.
How the women took
the puzzled faces
to their own,
saying, Go to your own home now,
child.

How on the morning
of tawjihi,
the schoolboy
arrived early,
stopped at the designated
knot on the string,
threw down his books,
took off his shirt,
to demand
that the beating
be quick.

Or how the teacher,
now the line
that won’t
be crossed,
laughed
as she picked up the stone,

The land
knows
who loves it.

***

Stories We Don’t

Women who carry life
give birth to the dead
at the waiting points
on the open road.

An olive tree on its side,
gnarled fingers reach to the sky,

land is not place.

Of course there was the house
lost,
child loaded
onto a garbage truck,
eyes toward home,
eyes always toward home,
and of course there were those
not so lucky as that,
who died on the long walk,

and of course for the living
the attic came next,
the cold floor,
the seven bodies.
Yes, there were tents, walls, stone,
perhaps a house,
and the names our children bear:
Jaffa
Haifa
Beisan
Jenin,

what a people must swallow:
the hollows of a culture not ours,
the land wet with blood
of others like us
thrown into
the singular
strangeness
of exile,
the thirty years it took
to see their shadows
on every Washington and Main,
this land of ghosts,
the outlines of a brother here,
a sister there,
their eyes, accusing
their eyes, the future.

Maybe regret is passed on
to daughters.
We carry it with us,
pieces of home
on our backs,
one camp to another,
waiting.

And yes,
we remember, still see
her, sister, bearing life,
as she begged for maya
on the dusty road, see her stumble
on the stones,
push herself
up,
bearing life,
stumble again,
till finally
she lay still,
the dust
from the road
mixed with her hair
and dry lips
bearing life–

dust
means something different
to us.