Welcome, Hala Alyan!


This month we are featuring the poets and writers who have signed with us in the past twelve months—all writers who submitted work during one of our two annual open reading periods.

Today we bring you Hala Alyan, whose poetry collection Four Cities was accepted last summer and will be available next month.

About the Author

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.


About the BookAlyan_FINAL

“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


Places and Spaces: On Finishing the Manuscript

I took this photograph the day I completed the manuscript. It was in Barcelona in the summer, and the streets were glowing with rain. I was walking around the city with my future husband, and it occurred to me that the poem I’d written earlier that day would likely be the last one for this collection. It was an odd feeling– the poems were mostly inspired by Arab cities (Ramallah, Beirut, Abu Dhabi) and to complete the manuscript in this unfamiliar, enchanting place was disorienting. But in a way, it was oddly fitting. Space is reconstructed whenever it is written about: it is borrowed and revised. Writing these poems taught me that.


Birthday Art
Not jungle, but pastel, the color
of the first bruise paled
beneath the second. Mama,
I want to be a woman of dusklit
mosques, of ginger prickly in tea,
steam netted for a lover. Sky
becomes circular, spans itself
like hair. Hair, thickets, copper
with pollen: the mouth is a
key in the shape of echo. Rouge,
coral, center the suns. He
terraces bones for invisible
gods, blackening with
shale. And then a stream,
chromophilous water. Rinsing
the form, nipples dark as
coins hidden in a silk purse.
The backcloth is spent, another
flimsy dream about a doll
factory in Beirut, sirens lighting
the empty birdcage. My dream
self tastes the Turkish coffee:
graphite. Some treetop
ornaments with paper cranes
dangling from wires until wind
rustles all that white into a
froth like steam or cresting wave.
Like something spilled.
On a bed. Where bodies dance.
Not Snow, Not Sun
Sea glass flits through the sand like the halo
of grenades, glistening with ordinary colors. A rocket
falls in Tel Aviv, a bearded man lifts his arm, a village
near Saida eats ash for a week. And your smile—
it split open like a sky that March, the first
of the decade. Your hand swam over my knee, forearm,
neck. Even the plundered would have smiled
at our singing, the trees flush above our heads like a
parasol. We must have looked careless, licking jam
from our fingers, tallying what we could not forgive.
I kept a bullet from that spring and bought some velvet
for a necklace, the metal chandeliering between
my breasts. But the steel rusted and I keep it in
a cactus pot now. Let it sprout: Some metal-
lipped flower, land sprung forth, or a single bulb,
hairless and green, or flame, flame the size of lungs.
A quartet of chickens squawk
and the smell is cinnamon and
shit. One man calls out to me in
Hebrew, another Arabic. Both
carry crates. A peddler says his
necklace of gold and orange
beads will help me marry, and
some teenagers grin, flash teeth
coconut white as the muezzin
calls for prayer, for the pull of
bodies tired and brown and soft
to the ground, as though God
spread this land like a gypsy’s
pillowcase, littered with silver
hills and slinging rivers, stars
like a scarab pendant. I ask for
Gaza, and a woman ushers a
piece of bread into my mouth,
says the art is in the pinchful
of sumac. The city—an engine,
a specimen—turns with the
voices peddling mixed candies,
almonds, veils the precise tint
of pomegranate flesh, tin stars
painted white. Bateekh bateekh,
kousa kousa. I smell like dirt,
or bread. A boy at the refugee
camp taps his cigarette, waves
widely as though he is erasing
something. Every day I walk the
winding road east to the cluster
of buses. I ask for Nablus. I ask
for Hebron. I ask for Jaffa.