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ISBN: 978-1-62557-939-3
Categories Poetry

Four Cities

Publication Date: September 2015



Like lions we circle. A sundew plant dangles.
Green neck with long curling filaments

unfurling like steam in a chemist’s test tube.
I want the slow awakening, that life of marveling,

to follow a man down a dark hallway, watch him dip
his face, his neck, into the water, flicking it over his

wrists. I want god, I want God, to bury myself
towards the swarming. Tomatoes

or cucumber, the market stall was paltry today, squash
bruised to touch, the fingerling potatoes muddy.

I like them with pepper, a crumbling of baguette.
We light taper candles to give the meal

a crown. The sangria you made with ice
and lemon and real cane sugar. I fish out morsels of

cherry and apple with bare fingers.
What we do not say crowds us with manic teeth:

the failing light, the junkyard coffins,
the forests receiving bodies like wife.

The names, they shutter with distant lights:
Gaza. Homs. Alexandria. O, Damascus.


“Following her mesmerizing debut collection ATRIUM, Hala Alyan offers a sustaining and luminous meditation on love and war in FOUR CITIES. Baghdad, New York, Beirut, Tel Aviv, Tripoli, Detroit and Paris are just names on maps, “for when maps fold and countries vanish…it is just you and the dust you carry on your skin.” These gritty, volatile communities dissolve into dreamscapes, redolent with lemons, dazzled with snow, awake to conversation and kisses. The sky is always open for possibilities: fireworks, moonlight, the call to prayer, dandelions parachuting through the air. What a splendid majestic if troubled world we find ourselves in love in.”

-D.A. Powell, author of Chronic and Cocktails

The poems in FOUR CITIES are soaked in music and are haunted by all of music’s radiant possibilities. They glisten with the difficult world’s luminous grit.”

-Kazim Ali, author of The Far Mosque

Hala Alyan creates a realm of dark mystery, dazzling us with beauty while ever-aware of the world’s ongoing conflict and turmoil. Her voice is at once intimate and oracular, personal and political. In ‘Ya Bint,’ the speaker recalls how, ‘[b]efore your mother died, / she would extract fish bones, one after the / other, giving you the good, clean meat.’ Prepare to emerge from this collection transformed, as Alyan revels in and reinvents language in a manner that opens us to new perceptions. A striking and vividly-rendered collection.”

-Dilruba Ahmed, author of Dhaka Dust

‘Where are the small miracles?’ Alyan asks in her poem ‘Sestina for December,’ and they can be found on each page of this book. Miraculous the lush descriptions and gnostic wonder, miraculous the imagistic leaps and perpetual surprise. In FOUR CITIES I found a city where blue jazzes its way onto your buttons, one in which you braid hair and ask for lighting, one where ecstasy murmurs God’s name against red seeds, and one where the muezzin sings only for the dead. These poems are miraculous in their elusive lyric machinery, taking you half way around the world to a new city, filling you with a new and devastating awe.”

-Traci Brimhall, author of Our Lady of the Ruins

About the Author

Hala Alyan

Hala Alyan is a Palestinian American poet and clinical psychologist whose work has appeared in numerous journals including The Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner and Colorado Review. Her first full-length poetry collection, ATRIUM (Three Rooms Press), was awarded the 2013 Arab American Book Award in Poetry. Her collection HIJRA was selected as a winner of the 2015 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press. She resides in Manhattan.

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