International Labor & PoliticsPoetry and Arts

On a Hilltop at the Nassar Farm

This is for Amal, whose name means hope,
who thinks of each tree she’s planted like a child,
whose family has lived in the same place
for a hundred years, and when I say place
I mean this exact patch of land
where her father was born, and his father,
so that the shoots he planted before her birth
now sweep over her head. Every March
she plucks the green almonds and chews
their sour fuzzy husks like medicine.
I have never stayed anywhere long enough
to plant something and watch it settle into its bloom.
I am from a people who move.
Who crossed sea and desert and city
with stone monuments, with clocks, with palaces,
on foot, on skeleton trains, through barracks
with iron bunks, aching for a place we could stay.
All our prayers, all our songs for that place
where we had taken root once, where we had been
the ones to send the others packing and now—
Amal laughs with all her teeth and her feet
tickle the soil when she walks. She moves
through her land like an animal. She knows it
in the dark. She feeds stalks to the newborn
colt and collects its droppings like coins
to fertilize the field. Amal loves this land
and when I say land I mean this
exact dirt and the fruit of it
and the sheep who graze it and the children
who eat from it and the dogs who protect it
and the tiny white blossoms it scatters in spring.
And when I say love I mean Amal has never married.
All around her land the settlements sprout like weeds.
They block out the sun and suck precious water
through taps and pipes while Amal digs wells
to collect the rain. I am writing this poem
though I have never drunk rain
collected from a well dug by my own hands,
never pulled a colt through
the narrow opening covered in birth fluid
and watched its mother lick it clean,
or eaten a meal made entirely of things
I got down on my knees to plant.
And when I say settlement I mean
I love the red tiled roofs,
the garden in the shape of a garden,
water that comes when I call it forth
with the flick of my wrist and my hand on the tap.
Only lately I find that when I ache
it takes the shape of a well.
And when I bleed I emit a scent
something like a sheep in heat,
like dirt after rain,
like a patch of small white flowers
too wild to name.
—Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from Eyes, Stones (2012)