A balcony
Four chairs
My mother, brother, and I sat
With the Tante Fathiyye of my childhood
At a scraped plastic table
Its once whiteness smudged.

Her back turned to the view of the sea
Wearing her wrinkles like its waves
She nibbled at her mankoushe
Stirred gunpowder into her tea
As she
Told us how
Kiryat Shmona was founded over skeletons
in her hometown, how
Her family evacuated
Fled a war and snuggled in the arms of another
A series of houses
With scraps of life between escapes

How her eight-year-old nephew drowned
His mother lost her mind
And two of her cousins
Threw their lives on a border
And snuck
Back into Palestine
In an ambulance

How her brother’s accidental nap
On the roof alone
Was enough
To declare him missing,
For flowers remind them more of graves
Than of gardens
For they have residence permits in hospitals not countries
For there’s an hourglass
At their bedside

Running infinitely
Keeping vigil
Keeping count
Of family members
With unknown fates
Of stories
Told with halved sentences
And a slur.

She tamed her frizz
With a palm of a hand
Whose fingerprints had
Been rubbed out
Whose flesh had morphed
Into sandpaper
After forty years
Of cleaning house
Building lives
For parents
Nieces, nephews, cousins,
But none
To call her own.

She said it all with humor
Smiles, laughs
Gums blackened by puffs
Of Three Stars cigarettes
Smoke that brought her back
to the ashes of home.

And I marveled
At the way she said it
The peace booming in her face
Her l’hamdillas uttered with intact faith
While my modest turmoils
Had long sewn my lips shut
While words are broken glass
In my mouth.

I could only ask her
To hell with talks of things happening for a reason
Talks of God’s will for this season

Why has the universe been
Stuffing our mouths with almosts from the start?
Why are we allowed
To fall in love with the temporary
To clutch what death can touch

I get that life cannot be
A walk in the park
A cup of tea
But does it really have to spite?

How could you speak?

In the end,
Is not to be eliminated
But navigated
Words mend.
Hearing’s at the root of healing
And hearts are thusly patched.

The mouth un-sewn
The dam crumbled
The words spilt

And now
I allow
Myself to write
Write my floods, my wars
My own blazing, barbed frontiers
That ink might put out the fire
And in time might soothe the sears.

Lina Hassoun

Lina Hassoun is fascinated by words and silences. In a parallel universe, she speaks 17 languages, has 21 degrees, and masters all the trades of Jack. In this one, she is a fourth year Civil and Environmental Engineering student at the American University of Beirut. She has soft spots for elephants, cinnamon, and lavender. Her favorite writing medium is pencil on table-tops.

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