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First Person

Three Hundred Sunflowers

Tala Abu Rahmeh

Photo: courtesy of Mike Daly

This May, Tala Abu Rahmeh received the Myra Sklarew Award in Poetry for her capstone thesis in creative writing.

Abu Rahmeh moved from Palestine to Washington, D.C., in summer 2006 to participate in AU's MFA Program in Creative Writing. "It was a life-shaping experience in many ways," says Abu Rahmeh. "The faculty are good critics that both expect a lot from you and respect the work that you do. They taught me what good writing is and how to be tough when editing my own work"

Named after Professor Emerita Myra Sklarew, the award is given by the MFA faculty each year to the graduating MFA students with the most original prose and poetry theses.

Below, Abu Rahmeh shares "Three Hundred Sunflowers," a poem from her thesis of the same name.



My aunt shakes,
“who told you?”
her voice bleeds through the phone,
“three hundred in one night, and we
haven’t gotten over
our one natural death.”

Before my mom died,
she hesitantly collected sunflowers.
She would contemplate ripping them from the ground,
“Everything has a mother,” she would whisper
in the mountain’s green ear.

A girl, two-years-old,
held the hand of a stranger.
Her mom told her never to, but now,
she is buried in the rubble
of a mosque.
They were hiding from ten thousand bombs exploding
like light bulbs, and who is kinder than God
to shield them in his holiest house?

A boy, sleeping under the bed, dreams
of windows, the bringers of oxygen.
He smiles, in quiet revenge of missiles
that are sucked out of breath.
There is nothing more beautiful
than air.

In the police station,
down the street from the sea,
there was a graduation.
Policemen celebrated learning the laws of traffic
on streets, where cars park in the middle
to buy bread or bananas.
Drivers yell,
 “we didn’t wait for the Israelis
to halt our stones and you think
we are going to stop for red?”
One policeman dreamed of the day he raises
his hand and freezes a river of vehicles.
He believed in the sugar of magic.

When the doctor arrived, right after the bombs
fell everywhere, he didn’t know which arms
belonged to which body,
they were all equally toned.

A woman, twenty-two,
has been putting olive oil on her hair,
every single day, these last three months.
Her grandma, whose breasts are still firm
told her that the juice of olives,
pulls the hair longer, triple
its natural capacity.
She counted months and thought,
her summer wedding would have to brace itself
for locks of curly, black hair.
When they found her, curled up under her building,
with an iron wire passing through her heart,
her shower cap was fully intact.

There is a man the neighborhood hated,
He used to beat up his wife,
in the dim of the night.
When he got mad at her,
For drawing flowers on the living room wall,
he would throw her food out the door.
Pieces of the fifth missile,
pierced through his belly,
and the pot.

One of the men whose ceiling
melted onto his body,
really wanted to be in love.
He said he wasn’t in it for sex,
but for the drunkenness of emotions.
He wanted to be so love struck
he would write letters to the moon.
He wanted to say things like “your
eyes are the irises of the universe,”
and not feel ashamed.

Last night, I slept with my teeth clenching
news headlines tattooed
on burned bodies.

I had a dream of a big bandage comforting
the city with mint ointment.

As ten giant men were lining
the brown parts on the smoky buildings
my mom stepped in, and shooed them away.
She put my hands together,
pressed them like jars of pickles,

we can do nothing but pray for healing,
so pray baby, pray.