for the nawajah clan, and others
in the south hebron hills the slanted hills
recall old songs, and the women collect
them like rain. the men have two-syllable
names—'azzam, yūsuf, khaled, nasser—each
name (from their fathers and their grandfathers
before) a dark foot binding them to the
land. they tend sheep and honour the resistance
a windpipe gives a blade. when the machine
arrives with its yellow claw, the clan sings
thalāthīn nijmah—a love song
for the hills. khaled's throat is a dry well.
if he could split his tongue in two, he would
stake half in the earth and tend a singing
tree, a slim upward band of green with fresh
water from places they knew. now they camp,
and memory is an urgent neighbour.
but just as hope seems severed from hope, one
amongst them lifts the shabbābah—the old
six-holed flute severed from pvc pipe.
feet spring up on fevered earth: ten pairs of
hands are clapping, and sara nawajah
at seventy is dancing, the slim green
band at her waist turning circles with her.
see the embroidered white cloth streaming from
behind her head a flag in the absence
of olive branches? see their jaunty
shadows, long in afternoon's light, knocking
upon a fence, asking it for a dance.
1. Titles can deliver important information that may inform how you read a poem. How might you determine what Susiya means, and its relationship to the rest of the poem? (Don’t forget to consider the dedication, too!)
2. Why might the poet have chosen to write this poem in two columns? How does the shape of the poem influence how you read it, and how did you determine which way to read it?
3. How many references to water can you find in this short poem? What might water signify to the speaker, and to the individuals in the poem?
4. About halfway through the first column, the “machine with the yellow claw” arrives. What kind of a machine could this be? Are there any clues elsewhere in the poem?
5. In addition to the title, this poem contains names of people, places, songs, and objects in a language other than English. Consider what it might be like to read this poem out loud, and choose the following question below that best applies to you:
If these words are unfamiliar to you: While reading aloud, how would you ensure that you demonstrate respect for the poet’s choice to use non-English words in this poem, especially those that denote people and places?
If these words are familiar to you, and/or you speak both languages used in this poem: How does it feel to encounter these words in a predominantly English poem? How does it feel to read the piece out loud? Is this something you might want to try in your own writing – and why or why not?
Take this opportunity to try writing a poem close to the form that Doyali invented, the Split Sonnet (susiya is considered a double split sonnet). While Doyali incorporates 7/7 lines or 14/14 lines for her double split sonnets, as well as two voltas (a volta is a turn in thought or argument) you can start by trying to just write in two columns. Consider the following:
- Does this shape influence your choice of subject matter? If so, why?
- Will you signal the direction and order in which you’d like the reader to approach the poem? If so, how?
Take some time to listen to a version of the song referenced in this poem, “Thalāthīn Nijmah.” You can learn more about the musicians in this recording, and read a short translation of the lyrics – which are from another poem! – in this article. Does listening to the song, and learning more about its origin, change how you read the poem?
Poet Doyali Islam’s biography includes her thoughts on a poetics of survival. Consider how this and the advice in Islam’s biography might inform this particular poem.