Lisa Suhair Majaj: Warbreak

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Lisa Suhair Majaj is a Palestinian-American writer, poet and critic. Her creative work has appeared in more than fifty journals and anthologies across the US, the Middle East and Europe.  She also writes about Arab-American literature, and is co-editor of three collections of critical essays on nonwestern women writers. Her poetry chapbooks are available from Her full length poetry manuscript, Geographies of Light, recently won the Del Sol Press Poetry Prize and is forthcoming. She lives in Nicosia, Cyprus.


Always knew it would come back
to haunt me. It was war, time was short,
the truck was leaving, and with it my hope
of safe passage from that besieged city.
She was in another place, phone lines
down, no time to search her out.
I had to flee. And so I did. I knew
the spool of time would never
rewind, that there would be no
going back; that with that leaving,
I would lose my chance to find her
before the bombs exploded–
her home destroyed, her brother burned,
her eyes torn to darkness.
Where is she now? Would she
remember me if I found her?
And if I kissed her cheeks three times,
Lebanese style, and called her habibti,
hayati, would she speak to me,
smile? Or would she turn away,
her life so changed, her griefs so far from mine
that there would be  no point in saying, even, goodbye?

Night Sky        
(Nicosia, Cyprus)

I line the candles up in my window:
tall, short, fat, round, square.
Lit, the flames burn equally.

Outside, the sky holds constellations
I remember from childhood nights,
my mother’s patient voice

directing my gaze. Big Dipper.
Little Dipper. Hunter Orion’s belt.
They shine unchanged

over this divided capital
on a divided island
in our divided world.

Candles and stars
are easier than news.
Television announcers detail

the infinite variety
of bombs. One flattens everything
in a two-kilometer radius:

libraries, movie theaters, schools.
Another sucks up acres of oxygen,
suffocating cats, cows, children.

From Baghdad, Barbara writes of families
so desperate to get a child out
they stop any foreigner in the street.

She pleads, “Just imagine our lives.”
Tilting my head to the night sky
I watch the stars shine calmly

over our small world.
From wherever we are,
Baghdad is not so far.




Outside the U.S. embassy, barbed wire imprisons everything:
empty lot with its chant of wildflowers
tired shadows of olive trees, broken sky.

Memory flaps like a bat in the attic.
We’ve been here before: war and coffee,
full-color photos in the glossies.

Only this time they’re calling them
“decapitation strikes.”
Every war needs a bit of variety.
Low sun flares its crimson light
across the land. It will rise again tomorrow,
vigilant and weary as hope.