The Twenty-Ninth Year NPR coverage of The Twenty-Ninth Year: Poems by Hala Alyan. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
NPR logo The Twenty-Ninth Year

The Twenty-Ninth Year


by Hala Alyan

Paperback, 83 pages, Mariner Books, List Price: $15.99 |


Buy Featured Book

The Twenty-Ninth Year
Hala Alyan

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

NPR Summary

A collection of verse from an award-winning Palestinian-American poet describes feelings of displacement, from war-torn cities in the Middle East to addiction and recovery and from transitioning from single to married life.

Read an excerpt of this book


Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: The Twenty-Ninth Year

I’m allergic to hair dye and silver. Of the worlds,
I love the Aztecs' most of all, the way they lit fires
in the gouged chests of men to keep the world spinning.
I’ve seen women eat cotton balls so they wouldn’t eat bread.
I will never be as beautiful as the night I danced in a garage,
anorexic, decked in black boots, black sweater, black jeans,
hip-hop music and a girl I didn’t know pulling my hips
to hers. Hunger is hunger. I got drunk one night
and argued with the Pacific. I was twenty. I broke
into the bodies of men like a cartoon burglar. I wasn’t twenty.
In the winter of those years I kept Christmas lights
strung around my bed and argued with the Italian landlady
who lived downstairs about turning the heat off,
and every night I wanted to drink but didn’t.

You tell me we must forgive the heat. Everyone is talking about the latest shooting.

The city shimmies its indigo rooftops. A soldier couldn’t forgive his daddy. A sheriff wanted to chalk the pavement.

In Aleppo a child white as a birthday cake, limp in her father’s fists. 600,000 dead. You must’ve added a zero by accident.

                  I tug your pants to your ankles and make you speak God.

There are a hundred videos of the same moment shot from a hundred different angles. I watch every single one.

                  I let her pull the white out of you.

The father looking the camera directly in the eye. Look, her name was. Who will catch him when his knees buckle. Look, the mortar grows on our houses like moss.

The exile knows his bones are 206 instruments. There is a song in each one.

I filmed the sky to show you the pale face that lives within it. See that eye? Ask it to love you.

The Female of the Species
They leave the country with gasping babies and suitcases
full of spices and cassettes. In airports,

they line themselves up like wine bottles.
The new city twinkles beneath an onion moon.

Birds mistake the pebbles of glass on the
black asphalt for bread crumbs.
If I drink, I tell stories about the women I know.
They break dinner plates. They marry impulsively.

When I was a child I watched my aunt throw a halo
of spaghetti at my mother. Now I’m older than they were.
In an old-new year, my cousin shouts ana bint Beirut
at the sleeping houses. She clatters up the stairs.

I never remember to tell her anything. Not the dream
where I can’t yell loud enough for her to stop running.

And the train comes. And the amar layers the stones
like lichen. How the best night of my life was the one

she danced with me in Paris, sharing a hostel bed,
and how sometimes you need one knife to carve another.
It’s raining in two cities at once. The Vendôme plaza
fills with water and the dream, the fountain, the moon

explodes open, so that Layal, Beirut’s last daughter,
can walk through the exit wound.

Dirty Girl
See, I knew I’d make my mama cry if I stole the earring, and so into my pocket it went. I asked America to give me
the barbecue. A slow dance with a cowboy. Pop goes the grenade. Pop goes the Brooklyn jukebox. Give me male hands, oleander white, hard, earnest, your husband in the back seat of his own car, my jeans shoved down, the toxic plant you named your child after, a freeway by the amusement park that jilted girls speed across, windows rolled down, screaming bad songs at the top of their lungs.
After the new world. Before the New one. The Peruvian numerologist told me I’d be trailed by sevens until the day I died.

Everything worth nicking needs an explanation: I slept with one man because the moon, I slept with the other because who cares, we’re expats, the black rhinos are dying, the subway pastors can’t make me tell the truth. Tonight
                                    Z isn’t eating, and five states away
                                                                        I’m pouring a whiskey
I won’t drink.
I count the green lights. Those blue-eyed flowers your father brought when I couldn’t leave my bedroom. The rooftop, the weather, the subway empties its fist of me, the red salt of my fear. A chalky seven stamped on the pale face of the sleeping pill.
                                                      What I mean to say is
I’m divisible only by myself.