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Sharif S. Elmusa Within a year of his birth in Palestine in 1947, Sharif S. Elmusa and his family were made refugees. He grew up in a refugee camp in Jericho. He eventually left to attend Cairo University, then earned a master’s degree from Northeastern University in Boston and in 1987 received a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Poetry East, the Christian Science Monitor, and Banipal. His poetry has been described as “meditative and melancholic,” probing the “untrodden areas of sadness.” Through poems that are at once strongly personal and engaged in the communal, “Elmusa succeeds in subverting the definition of freedom maintained by the West in relation to Palestine.” In addition to poetry, he has produced scholarly writings and translations and, with Gregory Orfalea, coedited Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab-American Poetry. He is currently a professor of political science at the American University of Cairo. Flawed Landscape And it came to pass, we lost the war and became a nation of refugees. It is always the beginning. Fueled by fear, my father gathered the clan, lugged me in his arms, and headed, on his peasant feet, across plain and impassable mountains, without a compass, headed east. We set down in a desert without the sinuous sands of the movies, in a camp, 84 1CHARARA_pages_i-164.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:36 PM Page 84 by the gateless Jericho. In that flawed landscape, under the shadow of the dark rocks of the Mount of Temptation the world was kind to us. The United Nations, our godfather, doled out flour and rice and cheddar, “yellow,” cheese— sharp beyond our palates. My father remembered his twelve olive trees every day for ten years. He remembered the peasant saying to the olive tree Had she felt for his toil, she’d yield not olives, but tears, and the tree answering: “Tears you have enough; I give you oil to light your lamps, to nourish, and to heal.” Then one day he let go. Let go. My father was no Ulysses. He found a new land and stayed away on the farm, eking out some rough happiness. My mother stayed home, shepherded a pack of twelve, cleaned and yelled and, for punishment, summoned father’s shadow. She stuffed our thin bones with sentiments, as if to make us immobile. Sharif S. Elmusa 85 1CHARARA_pages_i-164.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:36 PM Page 85 Her past was insatiable: The new house they had just built, with windows on four sides, windows tall and arched to let in the ample light, to spread out the prayers; how my father rushed to ask for her hand the day after she had kept him in line at the water well; how they found the body of her brother soaked in sweet-scented blood, in the police station, after he was killed by the discriminate bullets of the British soldiers. No statues were built in the camp; the dead would have been ashamed. The living dreamed—the dreams of the wounded. In their houses the radio was the hearth, and news the oracle. 86 Sharif S. Elmusa 1CHARARA_pages_i-164.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:36 PM Page 86 With New Englanders I miss my Boston dentist. The first time I met him, before injecting the Novocain into my anxious gums, he paused and asked where I was from. From Palestine, I answered. “How is the weather in Palestine?” he wanted to know. The weather there is temperate, soil terra rosa. The shepherds on the hills have all but disappeared. Winter sends modest rains, animates the hardened earth: red poppies swaying in the breeze, little spokesmen of beauty; cotton flowers, purple, on erect stems, the sting of their thorns final, like the rebellious gestures of Jesus. Summer’s sun is reliable, vertical. The old man would be dejected without cartloads of watermelons. No blunt pleasures. Season blends into season in good faith. With New Englanders you muffle the sandstorms. Sharif S. Elmusa 87 1CHARARA_pages_i-164.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:36 PM Page 87 Roots Home is where people can read your name correctly on the tombstone Attila József At birth my parents called me Sharif Said Hussein Elmusa and on and on—a caravan of names lagging behind as if to rein me in from straying on the crooked routes. But one night...


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