What She Said

"They don't have snow days in Palestine,
they have military invasion days."

--International Solidarity Movement activists,
describing the children's lives under Occupation.

Lisa Suhair Majaj

She said, go play outside,
but don't throw balls near the soldiers.
When a jeep goes past
keep your eyes on the ground.
And don't pick up stones,
not even for hopscotch. She said,
don't bother the neighbors;
their son was arrested last night.
Hang the laundry, make the beds,
scrub that graffiti off the walls
before the soldiers see it. She said,
there's no money; if your shoes
are too tight, cut the toes off.
This is what we have to eat;
we won't eat again until tomorrow.
No, we don't have any oranges,
they chopped down the orange trees.
I don't know why. Maybe the trees
were threatening the tanks. She said,
there's no water, we'll take baths next week,
insha'allah. Meanwhile, don't flush the toilet.
And don't go near the olive grove,
there are settlers there with guns.
No, I don't know how we'll harvest
the olives, and I don't know what we'll do
if they bulldoze the trees. God will provide
if He wishes, or UNRWA, but certainly not
the Americans. She said, you can't
go out today, there's a curfew.
Keep away from those windows;
can't you hear the shooting?
No, I don't know why they bulldozed
the neighbor's house. And if God knows,
He's not telling. She said,
there's no school today,
it's a military invasion.
No, I don't know when it will be over,
or if it will be over. She said,
don't think about the tanks
or the planes or the guns
or what happened to the neighbors,
Come into the hallway,
it's safer there. And turn off that news,
you're too young for this. Listen,
I'll tell you a story so you won't be scared.
Kan ya ma kan - there was or there was not -
a land called Falastine
where children played in the streets
and in the fields and in the orchards
and picked apricots and almonds
and wove jasmine garlands for their mothers.
And when planes flew overhead
they shouted happily and waved.
Kan ya ma kan. Keep your head down.


This poem was a finalist in the 2004 War Poetry Contest sponsored by Winning Writers. Copyright is reserved to the author.

About the author

Lisa Suhair Majaj, a Palestinian American, has published poetry and creative nonfiction in World Literature Today, Visions International, South Atlantic Quarterly, The Women's Review of Books, The Atlanta Review, The Poetry of Arab Women, The Space Between Our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings from the Middle East, Unrooted Childhoods and elsewhere. She has also co-edited three collections of critical essays: Going Global: The Transnational Reception of Third World Women Writers, Etel Adnan: Critical Essays on the Arab-American Writer and Artist and Intersections: Gender, Nation and Community in Arab Women's Novels. She lives in Nicosia, Cyprus. Links to her writing on the web include:







Ms. Majaj's poem, "It Wasn't Poetry", was critiqued in the September 2004 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter.