Guest Review: Dan Olivas

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The Lives of Rain
By Nathalie Handal
Interlink Books
Paperback, 67 pp.

“The Doors of Exile,” the prologue-poem of Nathalie Handal’s accomplished and affecting debut collection, presents the bleak and disorienting nature of the Palestinian diaspora: “The shadows close the door / this is loneliness: / every time we enter a room we enter a new room / the hours of morning growing deep into our exile / prayers stuck in between two doors / waiting to leave to enter / waiting for memory to escape / the breath of cities.” For those in exile, there is no arriving, no here or there, only loneliness and a hope that memory-of something unspoken and unspeakable-will fade. And exile produces a multifaceted loss; it has more than one door. This poem sets the tone and theme for the collection.

Handal divides her book into three untitled sections. The first set of poems focuses on the nature and consequences of Palestinian displacement. In “Gaza City,” the narrator laments: “My hands and my cheek against / the cold wall, I hide like a slut, ashamed…. / Every house is a prison, / every room a dog cage.” This is the nature of being made unwelcome in one’s own home: the victim feels guilt, like a “slut,” nothing more than a “dog.”

With remarkable and brutal clarity, Handal shows us the longing created by war when she focuses on an individual’s suffering. “It’s been a long time-,” begins the narrator in “The Combatant and I,” remembering her absent lover, “where have you been, where are you?” She recounts her loss: “I miss your frowns, / the dark shadow of your oval chin. / I can’t breathe at night, can’t feel my legs. / Dreamed I stopped seeing. / Are you lost?” And she imagines his response: “I suppose you would say, / I should be happy that I can still love.”


Part two of the collection follows the Palestinian dislocation into Latin America displaying the wonderful and unusual blending of culture and language. In “El Almuerzo de T

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