the day war came

the day war came 
i folded 
into a million pieces

as 
europe
took up arms 
to defend her homeland

becoming the sorrow 
found in every note 
in a playlist 
awaiting the apocalypse 

the day war came 
i folded 
into a million pieces
more

becoming the rage 
found in every immigrant 
whose motherland was once

invaded
 raped
 and pillaged 

by foreign policy 

in places where
mud is fertile 
enough to fetishize
the glow of dark skin 

dancing at the threshold
of orientalism 
and military occupation 

western imperialism 
rearing its 
ugly head 

now tell stories 
littered with double standards
in the grips of lessons 

familiar 
to the psyches 
of my 
people

notice the silence 
between sentences
and in long gazes

it’s full of answers,
hear the breaking of clouds 
before the thunder 
claps 

notice the pretense 
in words
hoodwinked,
something hopeful 
or patriotic

certain struggles 
are worthy of fanfare 
and heroism

these are the hands 
that carry 
a new world order 
into clear skies 

the same hands
that lift ashes into mouths 
used to being fed
lies and conspiracies 

i was 7 when 
9/11
happened 

growing up,
words like terrorist 
and uncivilized 

sprang across screens
in every home
as america waged 
her holy wars  

on foreign lands
and peoples 
felt deserving of death
and destruction

while the earth slept,
we traveled 

traversing makeshift borders:
into damascus 
beirut 
and 
the west bank  

over the entrails of
kabul 

transgressing boundaries:
into the belly of 
baghdad

once
the cradle of 
the world’s civilization 

call us what we carry 
inheriting the war 
and traumas 

that crossed a bridge 
as it trembled 
and drowned us at sea

holding skeletons
and secrets
i would never say
but would rather sing 

refugees 
gaze at the ocean
in search of home

eat salt
learning to breathe
in luminous waters 

be warned 
the ticket to safety 
will be your proximity to whiteness 

the tabloids say
this tidal wave of migrants
is different,
this time 

they are clean,
prosperous,
educated,
middle-class folk 

don’t worry
they are not from 
the middle east

not black or brown 
dirty or violent 
and certainly not,
disposable 

they will not steal your jobs
or raid your homes 
they are
just. like. us. 

freedom,
now
looks like 

strapping a bomb
to your chest
and declaring your kinsman:

a
  brave
hero 

he died for 
his country 

martyrdom 
looks different depending on 
where you come from 

what you look like
and 
who you worship 

today,
allies of the world 
welcome boycott
divestment
and sanctions 

against the sworn enemy
sending their troops
and missiles 
and well wishes

but none for saigon 
cape town 
or the ira  

the day war came 
pleas of scorched suns
summoned omens 
of sacred covenants 

rupturing treaties 
and two-state solutions 
wondering,

whatever happened 
to the dead and 
their portraits?

one of these days 
when lilacs bloom 
between cracks of doorways 
and regimes 

i will unlock the cage
for all to witness 
soothe wings that take off 
into radioactive turmoil 

bones will crow
but at least,
what you have heard 
is true 

we are coming 
to take back what is 
rightfully ours

and we’ll rise in the sky 
together
free,
at last. 

lh
mar 2022 

his anger

his anger 
reflects
all the times 

he wanted to
weep 

but
couldn’t 

heaving enough
hot air
to beat himself
into oblivion 

he carries it 
close
like a companion 
of the hard seasons

that rages
on 

until his fists
pound all
the walls
and broken mirrors, 
he owns

and 
her pupils
soften into streams 

her face
now,
a ghost town 

mapped and abandoned
along her
cheek bones 

calling a wolf
a wolf
is not enough 

to stop 
this house 
from burning down 

it’s already 
engulfed in the debris
of his destruction 

and 
boyhood 
wounds 

nothing hurts 
here 
anymore 

at least,
in darkness 
we can pretend 

do not go
gentle into the 
nights 

when she is angry 
at the sun
for not setting 
to extinguish 
the fury of her days 

and writes poems 
that make grown men 
cry.

lh
nov 2021

gaslight

this one’s for all the times
i’ve ever been told
it was never personal
they’re just like that

that it was all in my head
a vivid imagination
against my own better
judgement

that i’m just too sensitive
or overthinking it
i’m sure they didn’t mean
what they said

the good news
is that these flash burns
on my skin
from your gaslight
are starting to heal

but it’s still happening
and no
it’s not all in my head
and yes, it is personal

some call it islamophobia
others call it hatred
or bigotry

but i don’t care
what you call it

because
for me
it’s

1.

staring down
the barrel of a makeshift gun
made of trigger fingers
from a passing vehicle

a violent gesture
with a cautionary tale
that says
i’d rather have you dead
than to see you alive

2.

it’s the pickup truck
barrelling down the road
towards us

as we scurry across
barely making it to safety
his middle finger waving
warning

3.

it’s creeping shadows
that follow
our every footstep
during our evening stroll

harassing stalker
greets us
with bible thumping
verbal venom

4.

it’s taking one glance
at me
and assuming that my name
won’t fit the contours of your mouth

this shade too dark
this clothing too veiled
this face too foreign

my presence too much
for you
to comprehend

how this muslim body
could be volunteering
her time
at this soup kitchen

and still i disintegrate
crumbling into a hollow shell
before those very words

5.

it’s the vandalized brick walls
of family businesses
and defaced exteriors
of our masjids

an act to intimidate
to strike terror in hearts
that beat on

an ugly reminder that
we do not
belong here

6.

it’s—
ma’am,
you’ve been “randomly” selected
for a secondary screening
follow me

and i follow

7.

it’s quebec city
and christchurch
and chapel hill

it’s deah
yusor
and razan

it’s 6 dead
it’s 51 dead
it’s 3 generations
dead

i remember exactly where i was
that one fateful night
ran downstairs in a panic

saw my brothers
my father
my uncles
on the evening news

and touched their faces
to make sure
they were still here

8.

it’s
opportunist politicians
offering their thoughts
and prayers

when all i see
are crocodile tears
and class a theatrics

the irony is not
lost on me
they are part of the
problem too

yet they won’t even
leave us in peace
to grieve our dead

9.

it’s
what’s the word for
not feeling safe in your own home?

it’s
i found the word
but what difference does it make?

10.

it’s
i’ve lost count at this point
but honestly,
i was never really good with numbers
anyway.

lh
june 2021

i hear them calling


memorial at the vancouver art gallery honouring the 215 indigneous children whose remains were discovered at the kamloops indian residential school in bc (photography by ben nelms, courtesy of cbc)

this soil is drenched in blood
that runs across highways of tears 
and scorched pavements 

beneath the trenches of this land 
hear the whimpers of an ailing mother earth

her children
their bodies discovered 
by dragging knuckles 
across unmarked mass graves 

dousing gasoline on flames and traumas 
that devour smoke
and entire nations 
like a furnace 

piercing shrieks 
rumble partition walls 
thundering,
between shriving pews

that hold pages of gospel
pressed between the blood-stained hands 
of priests
and rosary beads 

bear witness to the bones
and scattered ashes
the silence 

there’s nothing your half-mast symbolisms will do
to reconcile the wreckage 
you’ve unleashed on young spirits

i hear them calling 
hushed whispers
asking to come home 

if the root of oppression is the loss of memory
then is remembrance the threshold to justice?

an open door
towards a mosaic of truths 
a balm for healing

a tender loving softness
against these hardened plastered walls
built on genocide and theft 

oh, little ones
you deserve more than
empty apologies 
and hollow promises 

you deserve more than 
candlelit vigils and teddy bears

you deserve to be seen
to have your names and stories released
from these secret shrines

to finally put to rest everything that has ever hurt you 
you deserve justice 
we will keep fighting 
for you.

dedicated to residential school survivors and their families

lh
june 2021

nakba ’73

palestinian refugee, “‘baq’a camp in jordan, 1967 (photography by munir nasr, courtesy of unrwa).

today is not a poem 
woke up feeling guilty for resting my head on the pillow
as gaza laid her children to rest 

i remember their faces 
their names scattered in a sea of stars and survivors
they came to me in my sleep last night 

pleading: 
we are hurting 
we are afraid
we are tired 

today is not a holiday
donned my mother’s taub and keffiyeh on my shoulders
as haifa and ‘akkā wrapped white linen 
around the limbs of lynched bodies 

to contain what’s left in the lasting rupture
between flesh and blood,
still warm 

between occupied and occupier 
between past and present 
or rather, 
between what was and what has become 

today is not a celebration
spoke with my uncle
prayed for his safety before wishing him eid mubarak

told me that death came knocking 
but fled as soon as it arrived 

he reminded me of memories we once shared
as if nostalgia can somehow erase the goodbyes in his voice

i wanted to say i love you
but couldn’t find the words
instead, i said:

i miss you amu
please take care amu
we will be reunited again someday inshallah  
amu 

what’s the equivalent translation of love 
for a people that have a long-lasting affair
with poets and hopeless romantics
anyway?

i read somewhere once 
that when a body carries a trauma
not yet metabolized 
it learns that to love bares an attachment
not ready for loss 

catches on the tongue
slicing it in half 
twisted,
i’m sorry for not being better when i had the chance 

today is not a feast 
ate kahk that tasted bitter
as our fingertips
curious and penetrating,
scrolled through our news feeds

sprinkled powdered sugar
until it resembled the tops of snow-capped mountains 
purged guilt and bile and confessions of an exiled mind

digesting the pleasure of sweetness
is a privilege my body cannot seem to bear 

today is not a ceasefire 
it is a liberation movement, uninterrupted 
sheikh jarrah was once every city’s worst nightmare

resistance is greater than this iron fist 
it also looks like jerusalem 
she was dancing colours and patterns 
children twirling in laughter and joyful bliss
all around her

a defiant hum 
something like a hopeful melody 
sung
from the tops of the minaret speakers
of al aqsa:

we are an uprising, 
multiplied 

we are an exodus, 
returning 

we are an ode to the people, 
singular and united

we will never leave
we are here to stay
we are here
we are
we. are. 

lh 
may 2021

last words of the unarmed

ghosts from the recent past’ exhibition at the irish museum of modern art in dublin, 2018.

on most nights
if you listen close enough
you can hear the echoes of the last words of the unarmed
whose names reverberate the chants of movements
that mattered long before they were cool

i stand on the shoulders of giants and freedom fighters
from bds to black lives matter
born of legacies before my time:
civil rights, decolonization and anti-imperialist struggle

are the reasons we kneel
we bow
prostrating
before god

we the people
from ferguson to gaza
south africa to kashmir

take up our grief in the streets 
light the establishment on fire with our fury
shout prayers into the night skies
wage a holy war against a system that claims to serve and protect 

the
people 
over profits
has always been profits 
over people

you say they’re just a few bad apples
but how could that be 
when one is known to spoil the bunch
and the rotten fruit kills 

don’t be deceived 
you see
george zimmerman, darren wilson, and amy cooper
were deliberately placed there

like a perfect game of chess
strategic and intricate in design 
to keep the emmett tills and trayvon martins of this world in their place

i can’t breathe
birthed a national slogan 
in legacy and death

say his name
no justice, no peace 
#ericgarner 

left for dead on the scorching pavement in july 
fo(u)r hours 
hands up, don’t shoot

say his name
no justice, no peace
#mikebrown 

failing to signal
is not a death sentence 
but apparently sleeping in your home is

say her name 
no justice, no peace
#sandrabland 
#breonnataylor

mental illness is not a crime 
and a child’s imagination 
wielding nothing but creative playtime energy 
is not a threat 

say his name 
no justice, no peace
#abdirahmanabdi 
#tamirrice 

if taking a knee
makes you a patriot
then what does it make you when you kneel for…

8 minutes and 47 seconds
on our necks?

#georgefloyd 
takes the world by storm
all smoke and mirrors, 
no fire this time

say his name
no justice, no peace 

more than 2000 still missing and murdered 
never forget
#tinafontaine was only fifteen 
verdict of yet another white, male assailant: not guilty 

say their names
no justice, no peace 
#nomorestolensisters

there is no just-is
when the ahed tamimis stand defiant 
against the unwelcomed presence of idf soldiers 
at the doorsteps of their homes 

brave and steadfast
feet planted, palms shaking 
they strike blows in the face of zionist invasion 
and resist the plunder of their birthright to exist 

i once heard that real justice is what love looks like in public 
it’s #rachelcorrie 
rising from the rubble in rafah

her memory bigger than 
a fleeting moment 
 of solidarity 

before the bulldozer that demolished homes
and dreams 
and the barrier between two worlds 

the privileged, the american 
and the underclass
the occupied 
the marginalized 

she knew this well 
before she died,
she wrote:

“i have a home.
i am allowed to go see the ocean”

spineless political class of the 1%
lie to us between their teeth
with clenched fists behind their backs

and media moguls spin a narrative 
where muslim is synonymous with terrorist
black with criminal
mexican with illegal 

our protesting becomes looting 
and they claim israeli airstrikes are in self defence 
against hamas rockets

we are the collateral damage
that no one cares to fit into sound bites 
memorializing through hashtags
will not bring them back 

whiteness reigns supreme
claims colour blindness as alibi 
while bombs rain down on baghdad 
and chokeholds tighten around the hearts of childless mothers everywhere 

on most nights 
when i shut my eyes tight
transported into the belly of the underworld

i imagine
an alternate universe 
where the echoes of the last words of the unarmed
reverberate a promise 

handwritten from the future 
sealed and signed 
by working class poets, artists, thinkers and healers

whisper,
we’ve already won.

lh
sept 2020 / feb 2021

You Are a Settler & So Am I

Understanding settler colonialism and so-called ‘Indigenous issues’ (which are only ‘issues’ because of settler colonialism, so it’s more accurately a settler colonial issue) are necessary to understanding justice in this place currently known as Canada. Being Canadian also allows us to better understand our sense of belonging, our rights and responsibilities, and how we come to define ourselves, both individually and as a nation. It is an integral part of who we are. But the truth is, this part of who we are, is founded on genocidal violence against Indigenous people. Canada was built on unapologetic colonialism. The centuries-long expansion of European imperial powers like England and France directed the coercion, domination and ethnic cleansing of Indigenous communities to make room for newcomers. Today, Canada only really exists because European colonizers seized Indigenous peoples’ land, killed Indigenous people who lived on that land (so that they could have it), and, then, when that didn’t entirely work, efforts to ‘kill the Indian, to save the man’ resulted in the complete destruction of Indigenous cultures and ways of life. European colonizers resorted to every last means possible to remove Indigenous people from their land so that they could own and exploit it for their very own benefit. This, in short, is Canada’s shameful history – and learning of its legacy helps us to recognize just how colonization has and continues to affect us today. So, if I am interested in contributing to a place that is safe and inclusive for all, then this fundamentally involves the need to grapple with and fight for a way to end the ongoing colonialism that is Canada. That is, if there is a settler colonial problem that is hindering peace, I am interested in ending the settler colonial problem. This process, however, is not only the mere grappling with reconciliation, but is one that recognizes that the problem of settler colonialism, and the terrible violence it inherently brings on Indigenous people, is ongoing. Settler colonial violence underpins the very way in which Canada operates as a nation today. The objective of removing Indigenous people from the land so that settlers may exploit it is still very much part of our national fabric.

We see this in the ways in which Indigenous women, girls, Two Spirit and Trans people are made missing and murdered. More land is being seized by large corporations in Alberta and British Colombia for the creation of pipelines, like Kinder Morgan, resulting in worsening health and environmental conditions. Large bodies of water are being polluted with oil and harsh chemicals, poisoning vital sources for clean drinking water and food. Harsh living conditions on reserves are a driver behind chronic illness and poor health, under a health care system that is largely inaccessible and underfunded. Unemployment rates are the highest they’ve ever been. The education system fails to support Indigenous youth, as more and more are being pushed out each year. Indigenous youth suffer tremendously with mental health issues, leading to alarmingly high suicide rates. Indigenous men and boys are overrepresented in Canada’s prison system and detention centres. The legacy of residential schools has ensued in a vicious cycle of intergenerational trauma, whereby problems of domestic abuse, addiction, homelessness, and alcoholism are pervasive. Indigenous children are forcibly being ‘scooped’ up and placed into the ‘care’ of the government. Most recently, verdicts in the murder trials of Colten Boushie  (22) and Tina Fontaine (15) have failed the Indigenous community once again. In the past month, both case have acquitted their murderers, claiming innocence to their crimes. In the aftermath of such injustices, many will often say that the criminal justice system and other major institutions are broken. But the fact is that they were designed to carry out the very outcomes we see today. While these current events are often invisible points of colonial neglect and violence in the Canadian political imaginary, settler colonial violence is a normalized, daily part of Indigenous peoples’ lives in Canada. Especially as Canadians gathered this past summer to celebrate 150 years of the nation, with a central theme of ‘reconciliation’, we must be able to disrupt the national myth-making of Canada as a peaceful, multicultural nation for all. For many, the celebration of Canada 150 was nothing more than a moment to mourn the ongoing years of colonial violence and to recommit supporting Indigenous sovereignty as central to resisting colonial violence. This colonial violence, and our complicity within it, is something that all Canadians need to understand. You do not need to be Indigenous to do this work, and doing this necessary work doesn’t make you Indigenous. Everyone has a role to play in ending the violence that has marked 150 years since Canada’s formation. 

But to completely honour our commitment to embracing a spirit of truth and reconciliation in this country, this process of negotiation further calls on us to assess our own complicity in upholding and perpetuating colonialism, and to examine whether our ideals truly help or hinder Indigenous movements. The term “settler” refers to anyone who is not Indigenous living on Indigenous lands. It means not just long-dead ancestors, but any non-Indigenous person who continues to benefit from the colonial seizure of land from its original inhabitants. I too am interested in invoking an anti-colonial conceptualization of the term “settler”; one that not only recognizes non-Indigenous complicity in Canada’s ongoing colonial project, but that also stands in solidarity with the decolonization projects of Indigenous people. There’s an identity binary that exists in which I believe further limits our scope in effectively contesting the question of settlement: that is, the binary of white settlers vs. the Indigenous peoples of Canada. As a person of colour, who was born and raised in Canada, I often wonder, where do I and other people of colour fit into this equation? Are we innocent just because we are people of colour and do not have a relationship of conquest to this land? Is our relationship to First Peoples colonial? Well, the truth is, whether you are white or a person of colour is irrelevant. Neither identity negates your status as a settler. Unless you are First Nations, Métis, or Inuit, you are a settler, and so am I. We are all settlers. This may be difficult to accept, but it’s necessary nevertheless. Especially as a Palestinian woman, I cannot deny my settler identity. My people too have a history with settler colonialism; one rooted in a Zionist movement claiming birthright to our land. Palestine today is still under illegal occupation and apartheid by the state of Israel, and has been since 1948. As a young boy, my father had to face the daily presence of tanks and heavily armed soldiers on his way to school. The constant imagery of force, acts of violence, and genocide was very much the norm. He witnessed the destruction and shelling of homes, schools, and hospitals and tragically lost friends, neighbours, and classmates to bombings and sniper attacks. Tight border controls restrict the free flow of goods, and the movement of bodies anywhere. My mother, also hailing from the same reality, lived in exile all her life. To this day, they still speak of the injustices they faced, noting great emphasis on being denied the basic right to living a safe and dignified life, free of violence and discrimination. Both my parents originally hail from Gaza. In 1987, my father, still a teenager at the time, left home to seek refuge someplace else. He ended up coming to Canada, my mother joining him shortly thereafter. This is the entry point to my family’s origin story. This is how I come to understand myself and the relationship I have with the land. Denial is not the way forward. Love and solidarity with my Indigenous sisters and brothers is a choice I make every day because it’s the only way. This is our collective struggle, and I honour it by doing my part to challenge colonial oppression and state-sanctioned violence imposed on Indigenous people here and abroad. If I, as a Palestinian, can do that, then there’s absolutely no reason why the rest of us cannot.

I often hear people of colour with leftist political views claim that “our relation to this land is different.” How is this difference lived differently by communities of colour? On the one hand, many of us are fighting for justice in the name of being Canadians. We stand in various anti-racist events claiming our rights as Canadians. On the other hand, we also attempt to distance ourselves from white settlers, claiming innocence. We say that we are coming from other post-colonies that have also fallen victim to the direct contact of European colonization and American imperialism. Even when we do identify that we are settlers here, there is no sense of urgency for us to organize with Indigenous people and nations. I call on us then to not only question where we are coming from, but also to consider the place we have come to. What does citizenship mean for racialized people in a white-settler-colony? What does it mean when we demand our citizenship rights, which are rights entrenched in white supremacy, dispossession, and the genocide of Aboriginal people? For example, when Muslims today (including myself) protest and organize against legislation like the Anti-Terrorism Act, do we also draw parallels to how the Indian Act still works to subjugate Indigenous people? Do we even consider the long history that Indigenous activists and community organizers have had with being labelled as terrorists? Do we ask ourselves why Indigeneity and urbanity are mutually exclusive? If we think that we people of colour have a right to be here, then where do we think people of native nations belong? To clarify: this is not to imply that we share the same power as white settlers, or that race, class, gender, and citizenship do not define where and how bodies are organized in Canada. Yet a conversation still needs to be had about the ways we come to organize against racism and colonialism. We need to discuss what it looks like, which means that we must be able to carefully map out strategies for doing this work. People like me who have the privilege of mobility, and have the resources and platform, and whose status is not as tenuous as that of refugees, should definitely engage in serious political action. Whether we first came to this land as freed slaves, refugees, or under the racist policies of the Immigration Act, we are all here now, and we benefit from the settlement process. We need to reimagine and rework our anti-racist efforts in ways that do not continue the erasure of Indigenous communities. We need to stop paying mere lip service to Indigenous sovereignty and recognize that the forces that dehumanize us as racialized people are the same forces that continue the genocide of Indigenous peoples. We need to stop being defensive when we are told that we need to be more critical of how we are working for Indigenous sovereignty in our organizing. If these important negotiations and discussions do not happen in the organizing of all settlers, then there can be no real fight against the racial and colonial violence that this country was built on. To self-identity as a settler rather than as a Canadian does not necessarily negate the rights and benefits of citizenship that settlers have come to accrue as a result of settler colonialism. But mobilizing all settlers to become aware of the ways in which their settler privileges are anything but natural and well deserved can constitute a first step in supporting Indigenous activism against settler domination.

Photo: Nicole Brumley
Rally for Tina Fountaine, Toronto

Up ↑