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Zeina Azzam

The Physics and Chemistry of Things



The physics and chemistry 

of things elude me


the way water sensibly 

becomes a cloud


feathers propel an eagle skyward


white light penetrates glass

to emerge as a rainbow

on the other side


In fact 

sometimes I’d prefer not to know

why hydrogen and oxygen cling

to each other


or how yeast coaxes dough to rise


please tell me about the speed of light 

another day



let me admire unencumbered

the geometry of a daisy


allow me to be awed

by the flash of shooting stars

fanning across a moonless sky


Death in War


After the headlines,

the photographs of still bodies

in utter surrender


the stacking and burying

in unmarked graves


don’t turn away.


Say a prayer for each farmer,

teacher, bearded grandfather

on a cane,


mother whose scarf flies in the air,

father staring at the ground.


Think of the empty chairs

at the dinner table,

the shirt and socks missing

from the clothesline.


Remember each pair of hands

that opened and closed,

held a pencil,

clapped with joy…


and when 

the wheat and flowers they sowed

reach toward the sun


bring water

to these tenacious

flags of presence


on the land.



     For my brother


We used to be five

like the fingers on the Hand of Fatima

hanging at my front door


Suddenly winter paused,

stopped its march toward spring,

arteries shriveled, bones unclasped


Father’s lonely fig tree,

bequeathed back to the earth,

gave up, too


Our eldest brother, a mountain

we’d glimpse from far away,

vanished behind the clouds


In her final days, Mama closed her eyes

and swayed as your oud melodied

old lyrics, old friends


And now, an outstretched hand—

we’re two fingers alone, a bilingual 

peace sign proud and hopeful, yet mourning


You keep strumming

as my journals fill with odes to cardamom

and cloves, jasmine and wild mint


Each visit, I long to touch our past together,

a little sister in familiar arms


of remembrance


Zeina Azzam is a Palestinian American poet, writer, editor, and community activist. She is the poet laureate of the City of Alexandria, Virginia, for 2022-25. Her chapbook, Bayna Bayna, In-Between, was published in 2021 by The Poetry Box. Azzam’s poetry also appears in literary journals, anthologies, and edited volumes including Pleiades, Mizna, Sukoon, Gyroscope, Barzakh, Pensive Journal, Split This Rock, Streetlight Magazine, Cutleaf Journal, Bettering American Poetry, Making Mirrors: Writing/Righting by and for Refugees, and Gaza Unsilenced. She holds an M.A. in Arabic literature from Georgetown University and an M.A. in sociology from George Mason University.

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