Laila Halaby

Laila Halaby | Photo by Shelley Welander

Laila Halaby is the author of two novels, West of the Jordan and Once in a Promised Land, as well as a forthcoming collection of poetry from Syracuse University Press, my name on his tongue.

She was the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship for study of folklore in Jordan, as well as a PEN/Beyond Margins Award. She lives in Tucson, Arizona with her family.

Please visit Laila Halaby’s website:

Amman, 1989

for my father

I pack
in the afternoon sun
stuffing and folding the last year
into my maroon suitcases
ready to return home
where I will start fresh
stop fighting for what
you will never let me claim

you watch me
with drunken eyes
distracted by the voice
on the small cassette player
praising the hills
of Lebanon
my country of complicated birth

I push into corners
the last-minute things
you brought
things you don’t normally buy
henna, kafiyyehs, kohl, zaatar
and a gold bracelet for my mother

do you know that when I was in Lebanon last week
you tell me for the third time
even though there was no running water
and we only had electricity for three hours a day
despite the fact there was shelling on the outskirts
I had more fun in Lebanon
than I’ve had in this depressed country for years
God curse this country we live in

you turn up the volume
on the tape player
so the neighbors can also hear
about the Lebanese hills


standing by your side
the line moves quickly
in a blink and a short conversation
you have given my passport
to a man in blue military clothes
kissed me good-bye
and pushed me away

I turn to wave
one last time
try to smile
at you
watching me
out of heavy drunken eyes
some of the drunkenness
spilling down your face

did you know
at that moment
that you would never see me again?
that you would never make right
your part in my story?

the small airport man
stands tall with his power
as he leads me away
past waiting passengers
and officials
onto the plane
where he settles me
into my seat
as first passenger
gives me a blanket
wishes me a safe flight

and so it ends
and so it begins

I take my Walkman out of my bag
let praises for the Lebanese hills
serenade me home

For other contributions by Laila Halaby, please follow the link below:


Poetry in this post: © Laila Halaby
Photo by Shelley Welander
Published with the permission of Laila Halaby