The Rumpus Inaugural Poems: Lena Khalaf Tuffaha


Each day from January 7 to January 20, Rumpus Original Poems will feature work written in response to the coming presidential inauguration. Today’s poems are from Lena Khalaf Tuffaha.


Let Us Now

______We hold
like religion we believe sight unseen
or hold like assets to grow into a future
or hold like a child’s hand in our own
______these truths
which implies there are others
we’ve allowed for it by choosing
these particular truths
______to be self-evident
listen to it; the arrogance of the knowing–
what fools cannot find evident the truths we hold?

Even the slave-owning white men
of not so long ago could not deny,
even the native-eradicating white men
of not so long ago could not deny
the evidence of the truths they held, o
only the trap of who was permitted
to hold the truth or more precisely–
who was person enough to hold
______that all men are created equal
(not black men)
we used our science and our god
to make a man less than
the self-evident truth of his life subordinated

(not women)
we used our science and our god
to make a woman less than
the wombs that first housed us
still not entrusted to the people who carry them
and then we placed
______that they are endowed by the creator
into our declaration,
a fulcrum upon which we steady
our mighty holdings.

What underscores evidence better
than the Creator?
And to equally-created men we grant
______certain inalienable rights
even as we call human beings
who crawl across minefields
of hunger and horror aliens,
even as we brand those who survive
the wreckage we’ve strewn across the earth a menace,
we who were cast out for our rebel prayers
and claimed for ourselves the lands of First Nations
we who view
__________________and the pursuit of happiness
as a sunlit birthright. A life built on
a land without people,
the liberty to take
from those who do not share our gods,
and a singular happiness in the taking,
we are renewed only in our pursuit.

______We hold these truths
evident to our selves
and in service of none other.

Let us now
inaugurate an era in which we speak
only truths about ourselves,
what we hold.


Future Perfect

When I was young Peter Jennings had a voice
like my parents’ cigarettes,
comfort of a familiar burning,
fragrance of nightly never good news reports.

I learned that in America
I didn’t have to take Peter’s word
for anything. Tom and Dan and other people
on news stations that never slept
would tell me some version of what was happening.
But no one seemed to translate what the women were saying
or film anything that looked familiar.

The country where my father learned
to grill fish by the riverbank
became Eye-Rack
a dark place
pockmarked with green lights
on a TV screen in my American living room.

At school, some teachers talked about protests.
There was a mass at St. James and someone at the University
threw red paint to make people think of blood.
After the first week of war, prayers changed
from give peace a chance to pray for our troops.
There was so much country music.

When I was old enough I voted for a President I thought
would never turn another country into a video game.
Then I learned about no-fly-zone trickle-down wars
fought on the margins of maps.
People found quiet ways to die off-screen,
to live the slow burn of hunger, searing of malignancies
for which no medication was allowed.

Someone asked the first female Secretary of State,
the one my feminist friends admired,
if she felt it was worthwhile
that over half a million children
had died in the non-war we were waging.

She had a way, the Secretary
who wore bedazzled brooches of ruby-eyed serpents
and eagles with sallow pearls in their bellies,
she had a way of curling her upper lip
and settling into her chair,
of hardening her jaw and saying: “Yes.”

When Peter and Tom and Dan said
it appeared inevitable
that we were going to war again
in the same place for new reasons
I began to think of war as a season –
I knew what clothes to wear, what signs to put out in the yard.

I remember believing that evening streets full of protestors
and the Seattle Peace Choir singing on 6th Avenue
were my new country, and my friends’ kuffiyehs were its flag.
I remember the sound of my own voice, chanting. Sometimes
the world we believe in distracts us. Sometimes
we aren’t listening closely, noting the verb tenses.

We don’t see that decisions
have already been made, that Peter and Tom and Dan
and all the smoky-toned storytellers were just reading eulogies.

– Lena Khalaf Tuffaha


Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is an American writer of Palestinian, Syrian, and Jordanian heritage. She writes poetry, literary translations, and essays. Her first full-length book of poems, Water & Salt, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in April 2017. Most recently, her poems have been published or will soon be in Drunken Boat, Blackbird, Compose, Barrow Street, and the Massachusetts Review. She is the winner of the 2016 Two Sylvias Chapbook prize for “Arab in Newsland.” Lena is an MFA candidate at the Rainier Writing Workshop of PLU.

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →