You Can Be the Last Leaf

Maya Abu Al-Hayyat, trans. from the Arabic by Fady Joudah. Milkweed, $16 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-57131-540-3

The commanding U.S. debut of Palestinian poet Al-Hayyat draws from two decades of the poet’s work. As Joudah writes in his foreword, “A poet’s house is language, and Abu Al-Hayyat is relentlessly direct in everything she speaks.” The opening poem, “My House,” is a fine example of how Abu Al-Hayyat combines the realities of political persecution in Palestine with the mysterious and metaphysical, even fairy tale–like: “None of the many houses I lived in/ concern me. After the third house/ I lost interest, but lately my organs and body parts/ have been complaining of inexplicable ailments./ My arms extend higher than a tree.” In “Similarities,” she asks, “Even if what you mean is justice,/ pain, or history,/ is there a difference?” What is consistent throughout these deeply felt and strong poems is Abu Al-Hayyat’s interest in the preservation of humanity. In “I Don’t Ask Anymore,” she writes: “Tell me how you crossed the street/ after you were released/ from long detention—/ it matters to me what you’re thinking now/ as you coerce your kids to sleep/ in the middle of shelling.” Al-Hayyat’s writing is full of well-chosen details and haunting contrasts that will linger with readers. (May)
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