I’ll write about a joy that invades Jenin from six directions,
about children running while holding balloons in Am’ari Camp,
about a fullness that quiets breastfeeding babies all night in Askar,
about a little sea we can stroll up and down in Tulkarem,
about eyes that stare in people’s faces in Balata,
about a woman dancing
for people in line at the checkpoint in Qalandia,
about stitches in the sides of laughing men in Azzoun,
about you and me
stuffing our pockets with seashells and madness
and building a city.
I selected this poem by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat, from her collection You Can Be The Last Leaf, before journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was assassinated. It is a coincidence that its opening line names Jenin, the city where Shireen stood in a helmet and Kevlar vest emblazoned with the word PRESS, to report on yet another Israeli military incursion into the often-punished refugee camp on the last morning of her life. But there aren’t really coincidences in the Palestinian conversation. Maya’s book, her American debut, was published last week. At the edge of that night, morning in Palestine, Shireen was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper. Shireen was an exceptional journalist, but she was also a fixture of daily Palestinian life. Maya’s poems are made of such dailiness, the extreme violence of a colonizing force punctuating days filled with humor and compassion and small failures and sweeping loves.
What stays with me most of Shireen’s historic funeral is the sight of her best friends, the women whose oceanic grief could not be held back, and the stories we are learning about how, in life and in death, they carried each other. We Palestinian women are in conversation in time-defying, siege-breaking ways. There is a net we weave with our voices, to hold each other. And that embrace, that loud resilient Palestinian love was on full display as Shireen’s body travelled from Jenin to many of the cities and refugee camps named in this poem, where her Palestinian family greeted and mourned her. People who had never met her paid their condolences to one another, dressed her in rose petals and olive branches and prayers, in Palestinian flags and in our grandparents’ kuffiyehs, stood together against violent blows, and sang her home to Jerusalem.
From You Can Be the Last Leaf by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat, translated by Fady Joudah (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2022). Copyright © 2022 by Fady Joudah. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.