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Editors’ Note: This essay is one of a group of essays on Arab American poetry. Read the rest here.
Instead of an Abstract
Here, the archive will be held accountable for the bodies taken, at its expense. This is how existence is written into contradiction. In truth, my work thus far has centered around these violences, and the central contradiction that Palestinian voices are both systemically silenced and only digestible in their pain. Which the archive writes into both cyclic and inescapable.
In truth, my family survived. Because they were in Ramallah. What of the Palestine that did not make it? The villages written into abandoned. Whose remains give way to overgrowth & bled folliage. Here, life will be held accountable for the death it paves over. In truth, these sites, after being emptied, have been repeatedly violated. White men shoot porn scenes over this rubble. White men build condos over this rubble. White children laugh on playgrounds built over this rubble. Before it was rubble, it was house & home & bakery & olive press & water & wells hand-dug & kha’ik shedding sesame seeds like summer rain & life & life & life & life &.
I mean to ask, can I write about Palestine without writing of its erasure? Can Palestine exist in the space outside of its negative, outside of the trauma we are told is both cyclic and inescapable? Does the archive have the capacity to avenge these bodies, the land, & the bond between them? I do not have access to pre-1948 Palestine. The landscape has been violated. Irreversibly so in some respects. And yet, I can’t help but see Palestine. Everywhere.
• • •
In the movie Annihilation, an Eden-like land known as Area X radiates from the coast, expanding and eventually swallowing cities under a force-field known as the Shimmer, which refracts DNA sequences and mutates all life into a continuum of hybrid species. Examples of mutated species include a bear absorbing the human voice of its last victim’s dying moments, and trees made of salt sprouting on the shoreline. The following are a series of landscapes and mutations from the film, as explored by the main characters, including a biologist, a psychologist, a medic, a linguist, and a physicist.
1. Still Life of Abandoned Village
instead of a body, a vine
threads itself into fractal twirl –
tendrils like endless fingers, reaching
for child, spat up from soil & root –
a continuum of rosebuds blooming
from the exit wounds, say the body
writes itself into casket
hollow – finds life blooming
in every absence; but do not say
they abandoned their bodies
in this country of nameless wind –
i cannot look at them & not see Palestine –
2. Still Life in the Mouth of Bear with Stolen Voice
& beneath those jaws :HELP ME: a tongue to call :HELP: human :HELP: there :HELP ME: the beast :HELP: -throated :HELP ME: voice box :HELP::HELP: splitmouth :HELP ME: splitsilenced :HELP: can i :HELP: write silent :HELP ME: without :HELP ME: unfleshing :HELP: history takes :HELP ME: no victims :HELP: writes victim :HEL[into DNA]P::HELP ME: morphology :HELP: of bodied night :HELP ME: sometimes the body :HELP: splitmaps :HELP ME: we unbecome :HELP: our cartographies :HELP:& unsee :HELP ME: those mouths :HELP ME: their ripping :HELP: of flesh :HELP ME: i cannot write :HELP: history :HELP ME: without blood :HELP ME: -ied hands :HELP: i exhale :HE[wound]LP::HELP ME: if i survive :HELP: as victimsong :HELP ME: did that voice :HELP: ever belong :HELP ME: in my mouth :HELP: forever swallowing :HELP ME: my rupture :HELP: -d chords :HELP ME: i void :HELP: an eternity :HELP ME: of shapeless :HELP ME: screaming :HELP ME::HELP::HELP ME:
3. Still Life of Shoreline with Salt Trees
-ion, the sea
in fracture –
4. Still Life with the Physicists’ Scarred Forearms
you have seen the jawbone erupt into ambrosia
clouds & escape from skull in flowered exit wounds –
you have seen the ribcage turned vine rivulet, survived
the water lillied pillows, plucked from our refracted matter
before you swore you housed an expanding genome –
you knew self-detonation’s song before nature mothered
you into everything & nothing all at once – the ghosts
of a thousand knives blooming inside that earth-still
skin; what parts of us were born into a history outside
of restless; i confess, i too have dreamt myself flowered
in death; annihilation was the easiest history i could write
of myself; i immerse myself in refracted rivers, of chalk
& blackboard – i construct arcadias to forget myself
in every framework; yes, every history of self is a suicide
mission by construction – sometimes, the bloodiest
destinies are written in the gardener’s palms –
here, every vine & root demands blood –
here, every life is birthed from hollow absence –
• • •
Lexicon with Auto-Translate 
once, a language failed me & i hadn’t a home
to claim in my own throat –
in Arabic, the word for tonsil translates to
daughters of the ears –
we are taught, to have a body is to carry
its lineage inside of us –
& i’ve tried to make a language where my body
is just my body, my blood just my blood –
but my tongue rejected it. spat it out
like a mouthful of Arabic –
maybe it was defense mechanism; maybe it’s the only
way i know how to cough up blood, or History –
i was never taught Arabic growing up
[ translation – my father never wanted my throat to become threat]
i don’t watch the news any more
[ translation – i am worried my people might be on it.]
it is, as they say, tomorrow’s history
[ translation – hence always written by the victors]
i mean to say, it repeats itself
[ translation – i’ve come to expect the obvious outcome, a learned helplessness]
i saw the girl die on facebook & the video autoplayed
[ translation – how do i mourn without a language to name our dead ]
& repeated. & repeated. & repeated. &
[ translation – i am always translating]
• • •
Instructions for Survival, for the Children of Exile
When they erase you from the textbooks, remember collapsing history is just God’s way of keeping his children in arms’ reach –
When they say your home is the closest thing to call past tense, or warzone, unfold yourself like ash-hewn scripture: praise song to the God of crumbling citadels, child of shattering dawn & crystalline twilight –
When they teach every fiber of your being to drift Westward, teach your tongue to dance in Greek mythology metaphor, remember their Gods burnt temples before men wrote them into patient –
When they touch you like a museum exhibit, ask your every atom, so what are you really? Correct them.
Not dead. Palestinian.
Do not let that word stray from your tongue like your amnesia for all things holy: descendent of Christs lineage – the only way God’s people can digest you is by erasing your contradicting holy –
Remember the way they label your throat, colonization’s aftermath; your ecosystem, willingly endangered; your laughter, venomous –
Remember sunken treasure is never beautiful unless it’s drowning –
Remember how your hair was coarse, rugged like the Gethsemane they exhaled us from –
Remember how easily our bodies, too, become whispered prayer –
Pray, child, for somewhere our every breath doesn’t have to be a revolution. It’s okay to cast your nightmares holy, on nights like these when existing feels like another deadly sin, & hanging like a Babylonian garden is the only way to write yourself into something worthy of faith –
Remember, it was your voice that woke Jerusalem before the rooster’s cry –
Remember the way you knocked on Hades’ door just to laugh in his face –
Remember how fire tends to craft metaphors out of you?
Warrior. You, invisible. You, invincible –
Tell them, I named you Hawa, translated wind or love, for the way they silence your windchime heart & still it beats, despite –
Tell them, I named you Al youm, translated today, because even that isn’t guaranteed –
Tell them, I named you Khadijah, translated Palestinian who died in the fire; child, there are days our land wears our ribcages like bullet-proof vests –
Tell them, I named you Hayat, translated life, because the most beautiful things are contradictions –
Or Amal, translated hope, because you contradict every history that unwrites us –
Child, the holiest love is the love you have to survive for –
They will remember your name like scripture, & the way we reclaimed this lineage of ash & blood even when it cost us our bodies, & this ghost town of a homeland, that was always yours.
To begin with –
 Originally published in Mizna
George Abraham is a Palestinian-American poet, activist, & PhD candidate at Harvard University. He is the author of two chapbooks: the specimen’s apology (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019) and al youm (the Atlas Review, 2017). His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, Washington Square Review, The Rumpus, Mizna, Puerto del Sol, and Nepantla.
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