Rasha Abdulhadi

Four Poems by Rasha Abdulhadi

Like a Cypress, Headlong

on my best days.
and like a cypress, I dream the rhizome of spring
humming through brethren bodies of sistren trees.
I want to dream the dream of forest
and wake to new roots, new spindlings we made
as easy as we breathe, with
what difficulty as breathing comes
or doesn’t
when hands and steel
cut at our sometimes trunks, at our always branches.

Sometimes, I dream of falling headfirst
without a thatch of limbs to catch me.
I would fall if the crashed body could buy more
than fire for my killer, new beams for my killer’s house.
I don’t wish for machetes—what would sharp edge
cut but me from my own trunk severed—
If I fell trunklong on cutting hands, would more come
to cut down those partisan who remained—
If we could blaze rage into flames in the grove,
what would we burn other than our own homes—

On the worst days, I dream of mineral in the tissue, dream calcium
and carbon petrifying through the axe that cuts,
fleshfiber become rock at the heart
that no blade could fell—but then I would not
hear (at night and in the morning and every afternoon)
the shivertaste rolling along this stand of seaside cypress
rooted in rocky soil, our green hair blown and bent
away from the shoreline.


Beth Ojalvo, “Rolling Fog,” acrylics and mixed media on watercolor paper, 22″ x 30″, 2019. https://bethojalvo.com/

Dad’s Combs

A gun is like a comb, he says,
you can put it in your pocket,
and take it out or use it, yes.
You know what is a comb:
it’s not going to do anything
here in your pocket.

I want to ask about accidents:
what happens if a comb explodes,
the fbi finds it, or you use
a gun to brush your hair
and it takes the top right off.
After that, Baba, can you slip the comb
back in your pocket,
can you put your head back together,
can you put it down, once the gun picks you up?

He told my mother she saved him from life
carrying a gun, but today in her closet I find
the receipt for his Remington, firm and sound
as a headboard or banister and I know
he was carried by a gun his whole life long.

What happens when you’re gone, Baba,
and no one carries your combs?
Should I bury them or join a club,
learn to trick-shoot, teach my sister
and every city friend I know?
Should I polish the smooth walnut
of this rifle until it wears away the line
dividing target from practice?
If my friends could be ended any day
for the mistake of carrying any comb
maybe we should carry one of yours.

Halfway between Selma and Montgomery
and halfway between dusk and morning,
a veteran pulled himself out of retirement
by the cords of his neck to conjure the past
too present, one in which he carried
a long walking stick and rifle. For every shot
fired on the camp of registered voters
in the county where the black panther was born
—”a country animal,” Gwen Patton reminds us—
a cow would be found dead in a field.
WE WILL SHOOT BACK was the message.
One my father would have understood.
As the man spoke, his left hand
brushed past his temple like a comb.


Olive Harvest

packed in oil with my earliest memories
is the brief fuzz of bitter olive,
dusty green thumbs among silver leaves,
me lifted by my father’s arms
to find hidden fruits before he vanishes:
first everywhere, then nowhere.
least of all his grave, event horizon
of existence, that maw which eats
all my father is or ever was.


Your Oysters

they say the world is your oyster
when they mean the world
is your pearl to find, but really:
the world is just oysters
and you’re here shucking
in foul smelling wellingtons
and a shrug of the shoulders
that says: i hope you like shellfish
while trying to remember
how lucky you are
to put the question
to so many oysters
with the knife-edge of your lifetime.

if the world were your oyster,
you’d wish for no pearls, seldom pearls, never any pearls,
because pearls are signs of the problem, aren’t they:
the heartsharp abrasion against
flesh wriggling in hardshells
to feel less, to feel only beauty, to
layer a pearl against pain.
give me instead the salty morsel,
twisting muscle in its armor—
a spasm of hunger open to the current,
a hinged house that anchors the shoreline to itself.


“Your Oysters” reprinted from Shell Houses with permission of the author.



Rasha Abdulhadi is the author of the chapbook Shell Houses (The Head & The Hand, 2017). A queer Palestinian Southerner who grew up between Damascus, Syria and rural Georgia, Abdelhadi cut their teeth organizing on the southsides of Chicago and Atlanta. Abdelhadi's work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Lambda Literary Review, Mslexia, Mizna, and Room and is anthologized in Halal if You Hear Me, Stoked Words, and the Hugo-nominated collection Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler. Abdulhadi has received fellowships from The Poetry Foundation and Maryland State Arts Council and is a member of the Radius of Arab American Writers, Justice for Muslims healing collective, and Alternate ROOTS.