December 6–12, 2021
Dina Abdulhadi is a Palestinian American writer and ex-scientist. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and has lived in Brooklyn since 2016. Her work has previously been published in Mizna’s Queer + Trans Voices issue. This past spring, she was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Ariel Francisco’s Portals into Language workshop on poetry in translation.
The End of the Guide //
I held my father’s hand again, now
cold and coming to visit us from winter.
Mother told me in the waiting room
that losing a father is harder
than losing a husband, but
plastic tubes frosted from last breaths
made it hard to hear if he agreed—
she refused to go to her pa’s Baptist wake years ago,
a crying adult on my child shoulder.
In burial, I pleaded to wash my father’s hands and feet,
but the imam wouldn’t let me.
I heard my father scream permission
for daughters to carry out the duty he also did in youth:
washing away earth never leaving
father’s brown skin,
wrapping in a white muslin envelope
a body for return.
Father, you told me this world would never run out
of oil years before you collapsed into the glass
car showroom where you worked.
And you were right—I see that pipeline still running
from Kuwaiti oil-field remittance,
from money letting you be buried in this soil,
to the fuel keeping your black pickup truck
running long after you do.
From the earth We created you,
and into it We will return you,
and from it We will extract you another time.
But white cotton that wraps him also muffles
and men can’t hear as they break
this new world’s blood-red clay
over his cumbersome body.
These graves guarded in Atlanta,
are targets in America.
I have to jump a fence when I visit years later,
after no imam picks up my call
to prayer for a protocol that will let me
visit my stubborn father’s grave.
Kneeling at the machine-polished plaque
that claims he believes in god I imagine
the four feet under me, see weeds
I didn’t come to trim.
The caretaker of graves approaches
from behind, asks more about me
than my father, shows photos of his
wife and daughter, tells me that I have a pretty
smile while I cry. When I ask to be alone:
“You are trespassing and I could
still call the police.”
I remember my father’s rage—
that in this world not even
a shallow grave is sacred enough
ground for women to be left
alone and without fear.
But no wringing sets of hands,
neither pistol nor rifle he left behind
shoot through the earth. He gives me
only a dandelion, clover,
and unruly blades of growth.
—Originally published in Mizna 21.1, 2020.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I started this poem in 2018, in one of my first poetry classes. The prompt: write a poem titled “The End.” I hadn’t written about my father’s funeral yet, so I thought it was as good a time as any to try. I think it took two full years for me to finalize it and make sure it had the right amount of context, and that I’d be fine with this being my final word on this set of experiences for a while.
What are you working on right now?
So many things, and soon I will be returning to poetry. Right now, my main writing is homework assignments in Arabic for a film class I’m taking. I do end up being poetic with my word choices, mostly because I’m still scrambling for any word that conveys a semblance of what I mean in that language.
What’s a good day for you?
A day where all of my loved ones are doing well; or, a day that life at least feels possible for them and me, all things considered.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I moved to New York City for a job at the NYU School of Law, just a month before the 2016 election. I was very hopeful (and naïve) about really digging into climate advocacy after working in science research for a while. I got my expectations shifted real quick, but I’m still glad I moved here. I first lived in Cobble Hill, partly because I love Brooklyn Bridge Park at night and partly for all of the Arab food on Atlantic Ave.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
I’m currently in Clinton Hill. I have only been here for a few months so am still taking in what it’s like to live here. Having my first Halloween here after COVID was really heartening, though. So many kids came by for trick-or-treating, dressed up as all kinds of characters. Seeing the joy in their faces and their parents’ faces at the sight of our costumes was so nice. It reminded me of why I love cities and public spaces, and the shared recognition and witnessing that happens in small moments of awe and appreciation.
From my window, I’m watching a luxury high-rise slowly being constructed on Atlantic Ave, though, and I know another behemoth is coming soon.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
The bike ride down the Bedford Ave bike lane, from Eastern Parkway to Sheepshead Bay. I’ve done that ride so many times to get to the ocean. It cuts through both some of the busiest and some of the most suburban parts of Brooklyn, and through a lot of places I’ve lived. It was the start of so many memorable days, from meeting friends at Riis Beach before the pandemic, to cold solemn rides to the boardwalk in the worst part of pandemic winter.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
I’ve made connections with individual people I cherish, but I wouldn’t say I’ve found a writing community here yet. That’s largely on me—I was just getting into going to readings more regularly when the pandemic hit. I’m slowly starting to make connections with other people working on creative projects again, including other writers.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
The Brooklyn poets who’ve been most important to me have been the folks I’ve met in poetry workshops, in readings or through my regular life. They’ve had the biggest influence on my poems, both in helping refine them and in encouraging me to stick with writing.
I’d say that, as far as more famous poets, the first poet from Brooklyn I remember reading (other than Walt Whitman in school) was Suheir Hammad. Her work was one of my first exposures to contemporary Palestinian American poetry, and more generally, what it’s like growing up in New York City, far before I thought of coming here. After living here for a couple of years, I was listening to a podcast on the legacy of Walt Whitman in Brooklyn and, lo and behold, it included a clip of her oral history interview for the Muslims in Brooklyn oral history collection. Her discussion of place (and displacement) really stuck with me.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
My first workshop teachers were both vital mentors for me in sticking with writing and taking it seriously. Elaine Sexton was my first poetry teacher. I studied with her by chance, under an NYU program where I qualified for a fee waiver, at one of the most difficult moments in my life, when I decided to dip into creative writing again after not doing much of it since I was a teenager. Laura Pegram, founder of Kweli, also offered so much encouragement and support for my decision to start writing again. She taught me about fiction writing, and while the genre was very much outside my wheelhouse, I’ve learned so much about writing from her and deeply admire the unwavering encouragement she’s given to other young BIPOC writers.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Probably this poem by my older sibling, recently published in Poem-a-Day. Check the “About This Poem” section!
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Cities of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif is currently on my nightstand. Most of my reading during the pandemic has been nonfiction and poetry, but I’m hoping to get to it during the holidays.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
I tend to read one book at a time, even with poetry. I usually only plan out time to read if it’s part of a writing project I’m working on or part of my study of Spanish or Arabic—I generally view reading as a treat. I’ve made a promise to myself not to buy any more physical books until I read what I have, but I prefer physical books over looking at a screen any day. Other than writing an occasional quote that I want to mull on, I don’t take notes unless it’s on nonfiction.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Adding more scientific concepts (specifically from ecology) and what they could be metaphors for. I have most of my notes from college, where I studied things like disease ecology, plant biology, biogeochemistry, toxicology. I’d like to go over them, partly to review what I spent so much time learning, and partly to reflect on what bigger meaning that knowledge has to me now that I am no longer trying to become a researcher.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I like parks, particularly Prospect Park, even when it’s cold. I download anything I need from the internet and take my laptop and a blanket, and I’m able to focus really well. Before the pandemic, I’d lurk at Central Library in Brooklyn or different public libraries in Manhattan, with my usual spot being the Science, Industry and Business Library in Midtown.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Any place near the water. Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Coney Island / Brighton Beach boardwalk are some of my favorite places to sit and watch the water. The sounds are meditative and I love the ocean for the reasons everyone does. But I also make a point to pay reverence to it, as it’s slowly swallowing us whole.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the surge,
And what I seek, you shall seep,
For every drop of me as good as thirst engulfed by you.
It’s close to the sea.