Nathalie Handal

The Witness


The Witness

Nathalie Handal




The witness witnesses himself

in the gaze of a bruised child

in the throat of a national song

in the chest of an oak tree, a walnut tree

in the heartland of lime tree after lime tree

in the testimony written on yellowing paper

in a month, not about to finish

in the mute rivers surrounding the pregnant wife

of a young warrior

in the footsteps of folk dancers

in the bloody gates of government buildings

in the dark gray gusts of wind


The witness stands between leafless trees

laments dead refugees, observes the cloud's beard

and the dullness of the sky after days of bombing,

thinks of those in warm beds while naked bodies

weave their last prayers under the snow, realize that

hospitals no longer give life, only death roams the sheets

who will finish all the unfinished sentences-

like the one standing in the middle of a whole dream with an empty gun


The witness looks at the dead years piled up on lost chests

coughs in the cough of winter and leaves the conversation

he has with himself in a broken ashtray

somewhere in this divided country

and the witness says, the heart is like time with fewer seconds

the witness witnesses his heart stopping

as time moves on


Una Noche de Salsa

Una Noche de Salsa

Nathalie Handal


The night is covered with salsa tunes and blood transfusions,

with Willie Colon's "Asia" and bullets lodged in walls,

gunshots, one after another, nothing new

when in the company of those selling death.

What better sales- "your dinero" and "your life"

for some marijuana, some perico, an overdose.

The night is furious, people's hands on their heads,

screaming, no one forgets the dead

screaming, we forget to love, drink una limonada,

forget to give un abrazo to our amorcito

to tell una historia to our ni–os.

Colon sings to us, tells us the story of AIDS

and empty hospital rooms-

no visitors, too ashamed,

sings to us the stories of the streets of hell

and the killing darkness in parts of the Bronx.


The night is covered with the trumpet's fury

echoing, now we see, now slowly we must go

now how do we leave

and I question:

were we happy once and didn't know.


Mahmoud Darwish: Palestine's Poet of Exile

"Absent, I come to the home of the absent," the leading Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, writes. No other poet captures the Palestinian consciousness and collective memory the way he does. At sixty-one, whether he is giving a reading in Paris or Palestine, he draws crowds of thousands, from government officials to schoolteachers, taxi drivers to students. In his latest collection, Judarieh (Mural), the poet finds himself in between love and death, wondering which of the two will conquer. "After the stranger's night, who am I?"

The Lives of Rain

The Lives of Rain

Nathalie Handal

The old Chinese man

in the health food shop

at 98th and Broadway tells me

that the rain has many lives.

I don't understand what he means

but like the way it sounds.

I wonder if he tells everyone the

same thing or if this is something between

us, wonder if he fought any wars, killed

anyone, wonder if he ever fell in love,

lost a house, lost his accent, lost a wife or

a child in the rain, wonder if he calls for

the rain when he stirs his daily soup,

wonder what hides in his silk cloth-

rice, pictures, maybe memories of rain.

Rain he tells me, carries rumors of the dead,

of those with suitcases and epidemics.

Rain carries the memory of droughts,

of houses gone, rain like lovers

comes and goes, like soldiers go

and sometimes return to a life

no longer standing.

The Chinese man waits for me to ask

for more. I stand, outside is the rain-

who really knows how many lives to come.



      Nathalie Handal


A night without a blanket, a blanket

belonging to someone else, someone

else living in our homes.

All I want is the quietness of blame to leave,

the words from dying tongues to fall,

all I want is to see a row of olive trees,

a field of tulips, to forget

the maze of intestines, the dried corners

of a soldier's mouth, all I want is for

the small black eyed child to stop

wondering when the fever will stop

the noise will stop, all I want is

a loaf of bread, some water

and help for the stranger's torn arm,

all I want is what we have inherited

from the doves, a perfect line of white,

but a question still haunts me at night:

where are the bodies?