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Selected Poems From The Earth in the Attic

In The Earth in the Attic, Fady Joudah, a Palestinian-American physician, explores big themes—identity, war, religion, what we hold in common—while never losing sight of the quotidian, the specific.

Join us as we reflect on the role poetry plays in our lives and appreciate the contributions of the poets who have enriched us with a selection of excerpts for National Poetry Month.

Fady Joudah—

Sleeping Trees

Between what should and what should not be
Everything is liable to explode. Many times
I was told who has no land has no sea. My father
Learned to fly in a dream. This is the story
Of a sycamore tree he used to climb
When he was young to watch the rain.

Sometimes it rained so hard it hurt. Like being
Beaten with sticks. Then the mud would run red.

My brother believed bad dreams could kill
A man in his sleep, he insisted
We wake my father from his muffled screams
On the night of the day he took us to see his village.
No longer his village he found his tree amputated.
Between one falling and the next

There’s a weightless state. There was a woman
Who loved me. Asked me how to say tree
In Arabic. I didn’t tell her. She was sad. I didn’t understand.
When she left, I saw a man in my sleep three times. A man I knew
Could turn anyone into one-half reptile.
I was immune. I thought I was. I was terrified of being

The only one left. When we woke my father
He was running away from soldiers. Now
He doesn’t remember that night. He laughs
About another sleep, he raised his arms to strike a king
And tried not to stop. He flew
But mother woke him and held him for an hour,

Or half an hour, or as long as it takes a migration inward.
Maybe if I had just said it,

Shejerah, she would’ve remembered me longer. Maybe
I don’t know much about dreams
But my mother taught me the law of omen. The dead
Know about the dying and sometimes
Catch them in sleep like the sycamore tree
My father used to climb

When he was young to watch the rain stream,
And he would gently swing.


I am the distance from birds to Jerusalem
Is a metaphor I like, just because
It follows the laws of calculus,
Much as how the chicken crossed the road:

Not why, but how
A humility of science:
In the first instance,
There is a point A, which is fixed,

And a point B, which is in flux,
And I am the distance
Between them. In the second,
Two objects collapsing in on each other

In an oblique time,
The car pushing perpendicularly,
The chicken running hysterically
Across the long way out,

Children cheering on both sides
Of the upright road. Which goes along
With a story about my mother
When she was a newborn: They

Ran back to the tent
And found her cooing, next
To a bomb that didn’t explode. And so
They named her the amusing one.

I do not say the shelling
Scattered them, I do not say
What Daniel my friend told me: how
He fled across four borders,

And with each
A cerebral malaria that nearly killed him.
The ducks, however,
Get it right from the first time.

The goats, less so, run
Straight ahead of the car for a while,
Before they find their sidestep. The drivers
Slow down, or gun it, and grin.


The rice field birds are too clever for scarecrows,
They know what they love, milk in the grain.

When it happens, there will be no time to look for anyone.
Husband, children, nine brothers and sisters.

You will drop your sugarcane-stick-beating of plastic bucket,
Stop shouting at birds and run.

They will load you in trucks and herd you for a hundred miles.
Old men will teach you trade with soldiers at checkpoints.

You will give them your spoon, blanket and beans,
They’ll let you keep your life. And if you jump off the truck,

The army jeep trailing it will run you over.
Later, they will accuse you of giving up your land.

Later, you will stand in distribution lines and won’t receive enough to eat.
Your mother will weave you new underwear from flour sacks.

And they’ll give you plastic tents, cooking pots,
Vaccine cards, white pills, and wool blankets.

And you will keep your cool.
Standing with eyes shut tight like you’ve got soap in them,

Arms stretched wide like you’re catching rain.

From The Earth in the Attic by Fady Joudah. Published by Yale University Press in 2008. Reproduced with permission.

Fady Joudah is a Palestinian-American medical doctor and a field member of Doctors Without Borders since 2001. He lives in Houston, TX. He is also the translator of Mahmoud Darwish’s recent poetry The Butterfly’s Burden.

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