The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Letters from the Interior by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

Dear Miss Sahar

First Letter

Everyone is gathering in the square
and the square is a center that cannot hold
and the center is alive and burning.

I don’t know how it happened
and yet I’ve known it always,
the poems we sang. Now

I understand—
they were a compass rose.
We were afraid.

the architecture of our cities
is designed to house the fearful.
Maybe we’ve reached the limits of fear,

our bones broken so often
they’ve set in new shapes.
Maybe we are finally free

of ourselves. Everyone
is in the square, Miss Sahar,
and the streets are reclaiming their names.

We’re taking long drags of tear gas
when they fire it into our midst.
Our lungs have been decolonized

or incinerated, I can’t tell. The sound
of singing and the scarcity of sleep
are making me light-headed,

language and all its rules re-ordering my mind.
Yesterday a groom carried his bride through the square,
slender vine of Damascus jasmine. A people’s wedding,

the joyous rave at the end of sorrow. Everywhere
is liberation and chanting
threaded with gunfire. The girls have flowers

in their hair. The boys are sharing their cigarettes.
There is suddenly bread enough
for all of us

or do we hunger for something more?
The time for Kaan is setting, Miss Sahar,
I need a new grammar for this country.

This selection comes from the book, Letters from the Interior, available from Diode Editions.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Sarah Ghoshal.

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is a poet, essayist, and translator. Her first book, Water & Salt (Red Hen Press) won the 2018 Washington State Book Award. Her chapbook, Arab in Newsland, won the 2016 Two Sylvias Press Prize. She is the recipient of a 2019 Artist Trust Fellowship and has served as the inaugural Poet-In-Residence at Open Books: A Poem Emporium, in Seattle. She holds a BA in Comparative Literature from the University of Washington and an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. She has been published in Barrow Street, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Kenyon Review Online, Michigan Quarterly Review, New England Review, TriQuarterly, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day feature.

Sarah Ghoshal’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Arsenic Lobster, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Empty Mirror, Red Savina Review and Broad! Magazine, among others. Her chapbook, Changing the Grid, is available from Finishing Line Press. She earned her MFA from Long Island University and teaches at Montclair State University. Sarah lives in New Jersey with her husband, her ten month old daughter and her dog Comet, who flies through the air with the greatest of ease.


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