Hala Alyan’s poem “Naturalized” opens with a question: “Can I pull the land from me like a cork?” A question presumes and accommodates a multiplicity of responses; it is, as the poet Jos Charles says, “a program for contradictions to emerge.” In Alyan’s poem, the horrifically divergent matter of the world—brunch and marigolds and Vice and genocide—commingles, not only globally, but also in the speaker herself, who summons her father and thinks of Gaza, even as she wonders about the frivolity of her own life: “Sundays are tarot days. Tuesdays are for tacos.” But if the speaker is critical of her own consumption, she is also attuned to the ways she is consumed—her position as a diaspora Palestinian in empire’s transnational scheme means that she, too, is flattened to a form easily metabolized: “They like me. They like me in a museum.” Near the poem’s end, questions return, this time in rapid succession, as though struggling to reopen space for the irreconcilable: “Tell me, Tell me, / what op-ed will grant the dead their dying? / What editor? What red-line? What pocket?” But in the poem’s final line, the question mark falls out even as the syntax persists, the interrogative what transformed into declaration, testimony, indictment. There is no out from here, there are no two ways. There is only the fact of the world, refusing to be folded back into itself. Now what will you do with it?
– Claire Schwartz
Listen to Hala Alyan read "Naturalized."
Can I pull the land from me like a cork? I leak all over brunch. My father never learned to swim. I’ve already said too much. Look, the marigolds are coming in. Look, the cuties are watching Vice again. Gloss and soundbites. They like to understand. They like to play devil’s advocate. My father plays soccer. It’s so hot in Gaza. No place for a child’s braid. Under that hospital elevator. When this is over. When this is over there is no over but quiet. Coworkers will congratulate me on the ceasefire and I will stretch my teeth into a country. As though I don’t take Al Jazeera to the bath. As though I don’t pray in broken Arabic. It’s okay. They like me. They like me in a museum. They like me when I spit my father from my mouth. There’s a whistle. There’s a missile fist-bumping the earth. I draw a Pantene map on the shower curtain. I break a Klonopin with my teeth and swim. The newspaper says truce and C-Mart is selling pomegranate seeds again. Dumb metaphor. I’ve ruined the dinner party. I was given a life. Is it frivolous? Sundays are tarot days. Tuesdays are for tacos. There’s a leak in the bathroom and I get it fixed in thirty minutes flat. All that spare water. All those numbers on the side of the screen. Here’s your math. Here’s your hot take. That number isn’t a number. That number is a first word, a nickname, a birthday song in June. I shouldn’t have to tell you that. Here’s your testimony, here’s your beach vacation. Imagine: I stop running when I’m tired. Imagine: There’s still the month of June. Tell me, what op-ed will grant the dead their dying? What editor? What red-line? What pocket? What earth. What shake. What silence.
Hala Alyan is the author of the novels Salt Houses, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and The Arsonists’ City, a finalist for the Aspen Words Literary Prize, as well as four award-winning collections of poetry, most recently The Twenty-Ninth Year.