Fatima :: Seminary

An abstract painting composed of round colorful shapes

The nuns teach us Quran, or rather they teach us
how to read with fire at the heels of our feet.

I behold daybreak, my father lively with god.
He is good and so I am good. On Fridays I pop up

from the prayer rug like the tallest spear of grass.
I never meant to learn the language. It was an accident,

those vowels stuck in my teeth like corn silk.
I only disobey my father once. That comes later.

For now, the nuns line us up, crow attendez,
attendez, the neighborhood boys whistling

on the other side of the school gate,
they whistle at our indigo skirts, call us by

our father’s names. There is a sura about modesty,
gazes dropped like a plate, but these are our aunt’s sons,

the butcher’s, we drink from the same pitcher, dance
on the first day of Eid. They’re good boys,

their feet making rivers in the dirt when they run.
We’ll marry them someday, or wish we had.

Hala Alyan is a Palestinian American writer and clinical psychologist whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times, Guernica, and elsewhere. Her poetry collections have won the Arab American Book Award and the Crab Orchard Series. Her debut novel, Salt Houses, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2017 and won the Arab American Book Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Her newest novel, The Arsonist’s City, was recently published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.